Hana and Chakib, both 30, fell in love at high school back home in Tunisia in 2004 and married in 2013. He had waited for her to finish her master's studies; she was a top science student and was granted a scholarship in 2009 which took her to Nancy, France, and Luleå, Sweden, for double master's and then doctoral studies.
The couple decided to go where Hana's career took them, so Chakib left his own job as a sports coach in Saudi Arabia, got a visa and eventually joined her in Luleå in 2014. There, he learned Swedish and landed a permanent job working for a food company in the northern Swedish city.
“In all my life, my husband was my support to continue my studies and to build my career as a researcher aiming to become a professor one day,” Hana, who is pregnant with her and Chakib's child, tells The Local.
The couple wanted to stay in Sweden and applied for permanent residency. Hana, who applied based on her doctoral studies, eventually got her application approved earlier this year. But she and Chakib were shocked when Chakib, who applied as her spouse, was rejected and told he had four weeks to leave the country.
“When we got the letter we were laughing at first because we couldn't believe it. But now I'm feeling so bad, depressed, nervous. I didn't think for my life that they would want to separate me from my husband. I can't sleep, I don't know how to solve this,” Hana says. “Who will take care of me and my baby?”
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The main problem is that in November last year, Hana landed a job in a two-year post-doctoral position as a researcher and teacher at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. She then started staying part-time in Luleå with Chakib, who could not leave his job there, and part-time in Gothenburg.
“I rent a room with a family where I can stay when I am there and I was working three weeks in Gothenburg, and one week at a distance from Luleå. We couldn't both move to Gothenburg, because we couldn't find accommodation for both of us; you know the crisis of renting here. The only option is to buy, but then my husband would have to leave his job to move with me, and then we wouldn't be able to afford to buy,” Hana explains.
This is where it gets tricky.
Swedish law makes no difference between married or co-habiting partners, but in order for Chakib to get residence permit as Hana's spouse, the pair have to live together. They both consider themselves as living together, despite Hana's work in Gothenburg, but according to the Migration Agency, the criterion is not met.
“According to the law a couple should be living together, or intend to do so, in order for a residence permit for a partner to be granted. We make a decision based on each individual case. In this case we have, based on what has been stated about the couple's living arrangements, determined that they are not living together or intending to do so in the future. That's why the application was rejected,” Migration Agency spokesperson Lisa Danling explains to The Local.
Ironically, Hana is currently based in Luleå.
Her pregnancy is high-risk because she previously gave birth to a premature baby who passed away, so she has been working long-distance from Luleå since May so that her husband can look after her. After that, she intends to stay in Luleå for a year of maternity leave before returning to work in Gothenburg for the remaining year of her post-doctoral contract.
She then wants to find a job in Luleå and move back in with Chakib on a permanent basis, but according to the Migration Agency's decision, seen by The Local, the couple have failed to prove they intend to live together after her contract in Gothenburg ends.
Hana says they attempted to provide more documentation to convince the agency to change its decision.
“We proved this with two letters from my work at Chalmers and from my husband's work in Luleå to show that we are serious. We were hoping that they take it into consideration, but no, they refuse to change the decision.”
“I don't know what they are expecting us to do in order to prove it. If anyone in this world can give me advice or any idea how to prove that me and my husband are intending to live together in the future, I will be very grateful.”
The rejection has now been appealed to the Migration Court, which means that Chakib is for the time being allowed to stay in Sweden pending a decision.
“Who will take care of me if my husband has to leave?” asks Hana, who is currently on sick leave from her job, explaining that the stress of knowing she and her husband may be separated has affected her work.
“We were so happy when I got pregnant, because the previous experience was so difficult. But I am worried that all this stress will affect this pregnancy as well. I can't understand how those people think and how they insist on destroying my family and my life for nothing.”
“I don't know what we will do if they say no, it's difficult to think about. I'm a very ambitious person and don't want to give up my career, but if he has to leave I have to follow him. We have two options and both of them are bad, but if I have to choose, I choose my husband because I can't continue my career without him either. And if I have been successful, a big part of my success was thanks to his support.”
But the couple still want to stay in Sweden, where they have built their lives.
“We love this country. You feel like even if you are foreigners you are integrated and we have a lot of Swedish friends,” says Hana.
“This will never change my view of Sweden, because I'm very grateful to Sweden for having given me knowledge and experience during my studies and my social life. All the Swedish people we know are surprised at this decision. It's not something from the culture, it's an application of the law in a rigid way.”