Davood Abbaszadeh came to Linköping University in 2016 as a post-doctoral researcher in Complex Materials and Devices at the institution's physics department. He was granted a two-year residence permit in Sweden until the end of his research period, as were his pregnant wife and then only child.
They were all entered into the Swedish population register and given a personal number – the ID number key to accessing services in Sweden – without any issues. But his wife's unexpected trip back to Iran following a loss in the family sparked an unforeseen chain of events that would result in his second child, born soon after, not being afforded the same rights as the rest of the family.
“My wife's mother died recently and she went back to Iran, so our baby was born there. We applied for a visa for the baby, got it, and they're now in Sweden. She (the newborn) got a visa until the end of September 2018 because my contract runs for that time,” Abbaszadeh told The Local.
“When we went to the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) to register the baby in the population register however, we were told that because her visa is valid for less than a year she's considered a visitor, and she's not eligible for a personal number as a result. So now, the three of us in the family have a personal number, but the newborn kid does not,” he continued.
The situation has left the Iranian academic in constant worry about his young child, particularly with regards to her health, as without a personal number she would not have access to free healthcare, and could incur expensive medical bills if she gets sick.
“Before coming here the baby got sepsis, which is a very dangerous illness, and my wife took her to hospital in Iran. If that happens again here it will cost a lot, I wouldn't be able to afford it. On top of that, regular check-ups and vaccinations aren't possible if I have to pay for them myself,” he explained.
“So my family has healthcare but my newborn doesn't. The problem is this inaccurate interpretation of 'visitor'. I have an apartment here, I work here, I live here, my whole life is here. Newborns need a lot of care – it worries me a lot.”
In the Swedish tax agency's letter to Abbaszadeh communicating their decision, which The Local has seen, it is stated that “the child came to Sweden on November 11th 2017 and has a residence permit valid until September 30th 2018, which is not a year. The tax agency considers therefore that the conditions for being registered into the population register are not fulfilled because the duration of stay is less than a year”.
“In the letter they said that if I'm granted a further one-year residence permit for her I can apply for a personal number, but what can I do in the meantime?” Abbaszadeh noted.
His is not the only case of someone with a valid residence permit in Sweden falling through the cracks in the system and being denied a personal number because of strict interpretations of rules.
One woman who contacted The Local through the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers (SULF), who are helping Abbaszadeh with his case, explained that when she moved to Sweden in the autumn of 2010, her husband applied for a personal number the following December and was granted it, but her application from early 2011 was rejected because by that point she would be studying in Sweden for less than a year according to her permit.
Though she went on to study a second one-year Masters programme, a further application for a personal number was denied. She was only finally granted one after a third year in Sweden: “Not having a personal number affected some life decisions. For example I chose not to have a baby during those three years, not only because I was studying and then looking for a job, but also because I was not 'in the system' and therefore it would have been much more difficult to have access to healthcare.”
“I love Sweden but this is one of the things that has to change as soon as possible. People coming here from other countries need to be able to rent a place, or a car and do other basic things which they cannot do without a personal number. That's the case even if they stay here for less than a year,” the woman who asked not to be named added.
The rules regarding what length of residence permit is necessary in order to be eligible for a personal number are confusing to say the least. In a recent case not dissimilar to Abbaszadeh's, a woman who was married to an Iranian PhD studying in Sweden and moved there with him had her application for a personal number rejected because her residence permit was valid for less than a year.
She appealed to an administrative court, and it judged that she should be registered into the population register regardless, as there is no legally defined length of residence permit necessary in order to do so. The tax agency then appealed that decision in turn, but Sweden's Supreme Administrative Court shut it down, siding with the woman and making what should be a definitive judgment on the matter.
The Local asked the Swedish Tax Agency why the case of Abbaszadeh's daughter was being treated differently to the aforementioned one.
“As a result of that case, on July 7th Skatteverket published its position on having someone with a residence permit for less than a year entered into the population register,” Håkan Nilsson, legal expert at the Swedish Tax Agency said.
“One basic condition for registration to happen is the intent to stay in Sweden for at least one year. That applies regardless of how long the person's permit is for.”
As Abbaszadeh's application for his daughter mentioned that her residence permit expires in September 2018, the tax authority considered that basic condition of an “intent to stay in Sweden for at least one year” not to be fulfilled.
But the Iranian takes issue with that, saying he was specifically asked to fill in the end date of the permit when applying for her to be registered:
“Actually when I was filling in the application form, I left the place for the leaving date empty at first, but the officer told me I need to fill it in.”
Skatteverket added that decisions can be appealed or a review of the decision requested if the individual believes it is wrong on the grounds of for example a misunderstanding.
Abbaszadeh has made an appeal, and in the letter accompanying it explained that he is looking for a job in Sweden and intends to continue doing research there. In the meantime while it is being considered, he faces a stressful wait.
“Just consider: 10 months without healthcare. Please consider a family as a whole, not members individually,” he noted.
His case ultimately shows that small details that are open to differences in interpretation, like satisfactorily expressing one's “intent to stay” for at least a year, can make a huge difference to a decision which has a major impact on the day to day life a family leads in Sweden.