Sweden needs to do more for its international workers, report argues

The bureaucratic difficulties faced by foreign professionals, and what can be done to make Sweden a more attractive destination for international talent were the subjects of a panel debate between politicians, employers' and workers' organizations at an event in Stockholm on Friday.

Sweden needs to do more for its international workers, report argues
A new Almega report on the rules for international workers and need to recruit them was presented in Stockholm. Photo: Lee Roden/The Local

The “Labour Migration to Sweden – let's improve the regulatory framework” seminar was held by Employers' organization Almega in the Swedish capital, and along with a panel discussion, a new report on Sweden's need for labour migration was presented.

The report predicts that Sweden is heading towards a situation where labour shortages will grow, with the section of the population within working age decreasing according to state number-crunchers Statistics Sweden's figures.

International workers are one way to address that, but Almega emphasized that based on the number of work permits requested each year, labour migration to Sweden appears to have peaked in 2012 and has yet to reach the same level since. High-profile problems with work permit rejections as a result of bureaucratic errors are not likely to help that trend, the organization argued.

Almega's report also cited a recent survey of international students and workers in cooperation with The Local, which showed that they have concerns about being able to fulfill the requirements necessary to work in Sweden, with a lack of understanding of the country's complex collective employment agreements and work permit regulations an issue.

In the panel debate that followed, opposition Moderate migration policy spokesperson Johan Forssell labelled Sweden's recent deportations of skilled workers over bureaucratic errors “a disgrace” that has led to talented people leaving over minor issues.

From right to left: Johan Forssell (Moderates), Fredrik Malm (Liberals), Åsa Odin Ekman (Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees), Rafiqul Islam (WPHA) and Fredrik Voltaire (Almega). Photo: Lee Roden/The Local

Liberal MP Fredrik Malm argued that with the Swedish Migration Agency under pressure dealing with asylum applications alone, the responsibility for dealing with permits related to skilled migrants should be moved to another authority, such as the tax agency for example.

But Åsa Odin Ekman of workers' organization the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees countered that some employers are not doing enough to ensure they adhere to the necessary rules, and their employees are falling foul as a result.

The creation of an agency tasked solely with identifying and recruiting shortages in the Swedish labour market is one solution she proposed, which the panel agreed could be a positive step.

Also present on the panel was the Work Permit Holders Association (WPHA), an organization which campaigns for the rights of work permit holders in Sweden.

Speaking to The Local following the debate, their representative Rafiqul Islam said that while he thinks the situation for international workers in Sweden will improve in the future, he is not optimistic for those experiencing troubles at present.

“We think lots of things will change, but with the situation as is, a future solution can't solve present problems. A lot of people have been dealing with these issues for two and a half years, so most of them are going to be deported anyway,” Islam noted.

“Despite the new proposals, new laws and new decisions from the high court, deportations are still happening, so it doesn't make us optimistic.”

The strict regulation in the area is designed to prevent foreign professionals from being exploited, but Islam thinks there needs to be a clear distinction between those who are suffering at the hands of irresponsible employers, and those who have fallen victim to an innocent error.

“The rules were created to avoid exploitation, that's good. But what about cases where it wasn't exploitation? With some of our people the problem wasn't exploitation, it was a mistake, and they want to correct that. Sweden needs to distinguish between exploitation and mistakes.”

For members


What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Many foreigners living in Sweden need to have a residence permit to live in the country legally. Permits are issued for two years at a time and can be renewed 30 days before expiry, at the earliest. But with waiting times exceeding 8 months for many applicants, just what are your rights while you wait to hear back?

What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Can I keep working in Sweden?

It depends. If you have a residence permit which allows you to work in Sweden, have held that residence permit for at least six months and apply for an extension before your old permit expires, you still have the right to work in Sweden while you wait for the Migration Agency to make a decision on your permit application.

You can apply for a new residence permit 30 days before your old permit expires, at the earliest, and you can’t get a new residence permit before your old one has run out.

Can I leave Sweden?

Technically you can, but it might not be a good idea. This is due to the fact that if you leave Sweden after your residence permit has expired, it can be difficult to enter Sweden again before your new permit is granted, even if you can prove that you’ve applied for a new one.

In the worst-case scenario, you could be denied entry to Sweden at the border and forced to wait in another country until your new residence permit is granted. 

If you find yourself in this situation, you can, in some cases, apply for a national visa allowing you to re-enter Sweden. These are only granted under exceptional circumstances, and must be applied for at a Swedish embassy or general consulate in the country you are staying in. If you are not granted a national visa to re-enter Sweden, you can’t appeal the decision, meaning you’ll have to wait until your residence permit is approved before you can re-enter Sweden.

The Migration Agency writes on its website that you should only leave Sweden while your application is being processed “in exceptional cases, and if you really have to”.

It lists some examples of exceptional cases as “sudden illness, death in the family or important work-related assignments”, adding that you may need to provide proof of your reason for travelling to the embassy when you apply for a national visa to re-enter Sweden.

What if I come from a visa-free country?

If you come from a visa-free country, you are able to re-enter Sweden without needing a visa, but you may run into issues anyway, as visa-free non-EU citizens entering Schengen are only allowed to stay in the bloc for 90 days in every 180 before a visa is required.

If you are a member of this group and you stay in Schengen for longer than 90 days without a visa, you could be labelled an “overstayer”, which can cause issues entering other countries, as well as applying for a visa or residence permit in the future.

The Migration Agency told The Local that “a visa-free person waiting for a decision in their extension application can leave Sweden and return, as long as they have visa-free days left to use”.

“However, an extension application usually requires the individual to be located in Sweden,” the Agency wrote. “Travelling abroad can, in some cases, have an effect on the decision whether to extend a residence permit or not, in a way which is negative for the applicant, but this decision is made on an individual case basis (it’s not possible to say a general rule).”

“The right to travel into the Schengen area for short visits is not affected, as long as the person still has visa-free days left.”

The Local has contacted the Migration Agency to clarify whether days spent in Sweden count towards the 90-day limit, and will update this article accordingly once we receive a response.

Does this apply to me if I have a permanent residence permit?

No. This only applies to people in Sweden holding temporary residence permits. If you have a permanent residence permit and your residence permit card (uppehållstillståndskort or UT-kort) expires, you just need to book an appointment at the Migration Agency to have your picture and fingerprints taken for a new card.

How long is the processing time for residence permit renewals?

It varies. For people renewing a residence permit to live with someone in Sweden, for example, the Migration Agency states that 75 percent of recent cases received an answer within eight months.

For work permit extensions, it varies. In some branches, 75 percent of applicants received a response after 17 months, others only had to wait five.

This means that some people waiting to extend their residence permits could be discouraged from leaving Sweden for almost a year and a half, unless they are facing “exceptional circumstances”.

You can see how long it is likely to take in your case here.