• Sweden's news in English
'Sweden is crippling its ability to innovate'
Commuters boarding a train to Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

'Sweden is crippling its ability to innovate'

Emma Löfgren · 6 Oct 2016, 19:32

Published: 06 Oct 2016 15:09 GMT+02:00
Updated: 06 Oct 2016 19:32 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

"I think there's a gap in the interest of foreign workers and companies in Sweden and how they communicate their needs and pains," says Justin Phelps, a tech entrepreneur based in Stockholm.

This is part of his idea behind Open Sweden Future, a newly-launched network designed to promote the interests of international workers in Sweden and those of the companies that want to hire them.

"Foreign workers have lots of questions that need to be answered. They think they're alone and have nowhere to go. I've been going through this process myself for eight months and it is very difficult to get the information you need," he tells The Local.

It comes at a time of increased debate about the situation for foreign workers in Sweden, partly sparked by a campaign on Stockholm's startup scene to help rising star developer Tayyab Shabab stay in the country after he was threatened with deportation over an administrative error, as The Local has previously written about.

THE LOCAL: If Sweden wants startups, drop the red tape

Phelps himself, who moved to Sweden in 2011 and had been working as chief technology officer for startup Joors since this spring, received the final push to launch Open Sweden Future after his own work permit application was denied around a month ago, as he told startup newssite Breakit earlier this week.

The Migration Agency cited an insurance error by his employer, as well as Phelps' salary being below the market-rate in 2014 because he was being paid half his normal wages by a former employer, instead of going on a leave of absence, while taking a three-month programming course in the US.

Because Phelps has a Swedish partner, there is still light in the tunnel, as it makes him eligible for a permanent residence permit. But while that application is being processed, he is not allowed to work. And he has been told it could take more than a year, as the Migration Agency continues to sift through its backlog of a record number of asylum applications after last autumn's refugee crisis. 

Meanwhile, many Swedish startups and businesses are desperate to attract foreign talent to plug what is often described as a labour market skills gap affecting the tech and IT industries in particular.

"Sweden is doing a very good job attempting to live up to its reputation as a humanitarian superpower. But it is crippling its ability to innovate and keep its competitive edge," says Phelps.

Justin Phelps. Photo: Private

He suggests a two-track system to process asylum applications while bringing in business workers. One alternative, he says, could be to put more power in the hands of other authorities or business officials.

"It's like there are two different missions that aren't served well by the same organization. Maybe there needs to be a special group that handles this – it seems counter-intuitive from an immigration perspective but makes sense from a business perspective," says Phelps.

He does not claim to have all the answers, but finding them is precisely one of the points of Open Sweden Future. By using his contacts in the startup world – and his own experience taking on the beast that is Sweden's migration bureaucracy – he hopes to build a strategy to secure foreign workers' future.

Story continues below…

"I want to start by collecting people's stories and reach out to businesses. I look forward to meeting ministers. I want to develop an ideal solution that represents the interests of foreign workers and Swedish companies. I think we can make a good impact," he says, adding that he is looking for more people to get involved.

"As a foreigner you have very little knowledge and certainly no agency. Working with the Migration Agency is a bit Kafka-esque and it seems like this big, scary government agency. And people are worried that it's going to negatively affect their application if they speak out."

Phelps stresses that he wants to work together with authorities to make foreign workers' voices heard.

"Migrationsverket is under huge pressure and is going through a period of transition. (...) I'm not interested in being the enemy of Migrationsverket," he says. "I still maintain that the Swedish government works for the people, even if I've fallen between the chairs." 

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Emma Löfgren (emma.lofgren@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Nobel Prizes
'I'd say he's arrogant but I'd be lying': Swedes on Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan performing in France. Photo: David Vincent/AP

Almost two weeks have passed since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and he has yet to acknowledge the win. The Local asked Swedes what they think of the singer's silence.

Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast by thousands
A Swedish migration authority office in Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The country has also slashed its prediction for 2017.

Swedish researchers plan new trucks for women drivers
File photo of trucks in Sweden. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

Could vehicles adapted for women attract more female truckers to the profession?

These stats show Swedish driving isn't so gender equal
File photo of a Swedish woman driving a car. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A new survey shows that few Swedish women get behind the wheel when driving with their male partner.

Revealed: Game of Thrones could be coming to Sweden
Game of Thrones cast members at the Emmy Awards in September. Photo: Jordan Strauss/AP

The producers of the hit show have asked for three rounds of location pictures of Swedish island Gotland.

Prime Minister to meet Swedish troops in Iraq
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and his Kurdish counterpart Nechervan Barzani. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's Prime Minister Löfven is set to meet Swedish troops in Iraq on Tuesday.

Swedish politicians wage war on winter time
Soon it will look like this on your way home from work in Sweden. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Should Sweden stick with summer time all year round?

'Don't turn the Pope into a global teddy bear'
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Leonore visiting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

It's time to hold the Pope to account and make sure he turns his words about reform into action, argues a minister of the Swedish Church ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Sweden.

Löfven: 'Sweden will double its number of troops in Iraq'
Stefan Löfven and Haider al-Abadi during the visit on Monday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised to double his country's number of troops in Iraq following a meeting with Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi on Monday.

Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
Should Swedes think fairtrade with porn? Photo: Karin Malmhav/SvD/TT

A fairtrade attitude to pornography would be beneficial, Sweden's health minister told The Local.

Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available