Why family reunification is about to get tougher in Sweden

Why family reunification is about to get tougher in Sweden
Lisa Monique Söderlindh. Photo: Migrationsverket
Four out of ten people who get residence permits to live in Sweden cite family reunification as their reason for coming - but the laws are about to change. Lisa Monique Söderlindh from the Swedish Migration Agency tells The Local why they want to hear from people who have moved to be with someone already living here.

Söderlindh is the driving force behind MIG Talks, an initiative created to spread knowledge about migration to Sweden and to highlight the importance of showing the human faces behind the migration statistics.

“It is important that people who have the experience of moving to Sweden contribute with their perspectives to the public conversation on migration. In the coming four months, we would like to hear specifically from those who have reunited with someone here,” says Söderlindh. 

“The proposed changes in the law will limit family reunification,” she explains. 

In June Sweden's parliament is expected to adopt a new law that will make it more difficult for asylum seekers and their family members to get residence permits. The changes are likely to take effect on July 20th 2016, and will be in place for three years as a temporary measure before a permanent law is drafted.

“The amendments to the law will affect more people than I think many understand today. Not only those in need of protection, and their possibility to bring family members after being granted a residence permit, but also anyone – including Swedish citizens – who would like for their partner, who they for example met during studies or work abroad, to come and live together in Sweden. This is because the so called maintenance requirements will also change.”

Migration Agency figures already show a slight increase in asylum seekers withdrawing their applications and taking the risk of going back home to be with their families.

“Many of those who have recently participated in MIG Talks, and who came because of protection needs, have witnessed that if they knew their families wouldn’t be able to come afterwards, they wouldn’t have come to Sweden.”

The Swedish government only wants to allow refugees granted a three-year residence permit to be able to apply for family reunification. People granted a one-year permit will not qualify, meaning their spouses, common law spouses, or children will not be eligible to apply for residency.

“It is important to listen to those who have moved to Sweden and try to understand how the expected changes will affect them and society as a whole. This is something that will be important when the temporary law comes to an end and it is time to decide on the way forward,” says Söderlindh.

MIG Talks aims to provide a platform for discussions like this. It also wants to address misconceptions about the scale and make-up of migration to Sweden. The agency notes, for instance, that some 70 percent of media requests it receives relate to asylum. 

“We see a lot of reporting and attention on migration and in particular asylum-related migration, but family reunification is historically, and today, the most common reason for people who are granted a residence permit. There is a need to cast light on all migration to Sweden,” says Söderlindh. 

In later phases, MIG talks will switch its focus to work-related immigration and student immigration. 

Söderlindh is keen to address an array off misconceptions, with study findings across Europe showing that people tend to over-estimate the proportion of immigrants in their country, and are unaware of the share of newcomers who have moved for different reasons like protection, family reunification, work or studies.

“Knowledge about the drivers and reasons behind migration springs forward with the stories and perspectives of those who have migrated to Sweden,” says Söderlindh.

“Those perspectives and experiences are important in the discussion on how to build society in the face of increased migration to Sweden. That’s also a reason why we try to engage and hear the voice of those who have a migration experience.”

MIG Talks is a joint communication initiative, launched by the Swedish Migration Agency. To register to take part in MIG Talks, you can follow this linkor email [email protected] directly. 

To be eligible, you must have been granted a residency permit for the reason of family reunification between 2010 and 2015. In order to have a balance in representation, MIG Talks is particularly interested in receiving more applications from men, and people from African and Asian countries such as Somalia, Gambia, Afghanistan, Eritrea, India and China, and parents who moved to Sweden to reunite with their children.

Prospective participants should be aware that they will be interviewed and that their participation would be reported on the MIG Talks website and social media channels after their own approval of the interview text.

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