According to median figures provided by the Migration Agency to The Local, in the second half of October employed foreigners waited 121 days for a decision to renew their work permit, compared to 49 days for first-time applicants (scroll down for more statistics).
“We do a more extensive check when they reapply,” Erik Holmgren, interim head of the Migration Agency's work permit unit in Stockholm, told The Local when asked to explain the reason behind the difference.
“In autumn 2015 the procedure changed, because of court decisions, so we now have to make sure that the conditions under which the first permit was granted were met when you apply for an extension.”
The change in procedure is one of several reasons explaining why waiting times have risen sharply in the past few years. In 2015 a foreign worker had to wait 95 days for a renewed permit, compared to 33 days in 2010. First-time applicants faced a median wait of 40 days last year and 18 days six years ago.
Those working as IT architects or system developers waited around 12 days for a decision on their first permit and 18 days for renewed permits. They now face a median wait of 24 respectively 73 days.
The Migration Agency does not disclose the shortest or longest waiting times, because they “could be down to misregistrations”, a spokesperson told The Local. However, according to its own website it could in some cases take over 24 months.
Work permits are granted for up to two years at a time, after which holders have to apply for an extension. But the long waits are in some cases leaving workers in limbo without a permit at all, unable to leave Sweden in the meantime to travel abroad for work or visit family back home.
“It is a process, and it is of course also important to us to reduce waiting times. We're working on spreading information to make it easier for those who apply,” said Holmgren.
As The Local has previously reported, another reason behind the long waits is a backlog of cases from last autumn's refugee crisis when Sweden received 163,000 asylum applications, and staff were called in from other departments, for example work permits, to help with the extra workload.
But the pressure has since eased, with the Migration Agency expecting that fewer than 30,000 people will have applied for asylum in Sweden over the whole of 2016 by the end of the year.
And officials believe that foreigners working in Sweden will soon be able to see the effect too.
“We have hired more staff, but it takes time before they are trained up and you start seeing the effects, with shorter waiting times. It is hard to say; we don't know if procedure changes again and the Migration Agency is an authority that is heavily affected by world affairs,” said Holmgren.
“So I can't give a straight answer, but I think that in 2017 we will start seeing the effects.”
Around 13,500 first-time work permit applications have so far been approved this year, and nearly 3000 applications rejected, according to the Migration Agency, compared to more than 7,600 approvals for renewed permits and around 770 rejections.
But the process has been slammed by many as bureaucratic and complicated after a number of high-profile rejections of skilled workers sparked debate this year.
Asked if there is anything applicants could do themselves to reduce their wait for an answer, and increase their chances of a positive reply, Holmgren said: “The advice I can give is that we need complete applications and that's where we, but also the employer and the employee, have a responsibility.”
“Know the rules of work permits, make sure the conditions promised are met, that you have a salary you can support yourself on, that the job was advertised in a correct way. Apply digitally, because that reduces the risk of not enclosing documentation, which contributes to cutting waiting times.”