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Revealed: How many work permits Sweden has granted so far in 2018, and to whom

A landmark court ruling in December has changed the way Sweden's Migration Agency assesses work permit applications. Strict interpretation of the law had led to long processing times, complex paperwork, and hundreds of cases of skilled workers being deported over minor technicalities. So, how much has actually changed? The Local takes a look at work permit data from the first three months of 2018.

Revealed: How many work permits Sweden has granted so far in 2018, and to whom
File photo of two programmers at work. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT

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There's a sizeable backlog in work permit cases, due in part to the huge influx of refugees in 2014-2015 which required a lot of Migrationsverket's (the Swedish Migration Agency) resources.

By the end of March 2018, there were 12,047 first-time work permit applications still awaiting a decision. 

Meanwhile, over the first three months of 2018, 3602 work permits were granted to foreign professionals, according to statistics from the agency. This number only included those who were applying for their first work permit, and who were granted the right to live and work in Sweden.

The key job sectors were specialists, accounting for 1,668 of the total applications, followed by technicians and associate professionals (482), agricultural workers (344), service, care and sales professionals (329), other professionals (269), and construction and manufacturing workers (229). 

These work categories can be broken down even further. By far the largest group was IT specialists, which accounted for 1,112 of the approved permits. A further 287 forestry workers, 280 engineering specialists, 213 fast food workers and food preparation assistants, 153 cooks, 130 cleaners, 124 physical and engineering science technicians, and 110 carpenters and bricklayers received permits.

The numbers of permit approvals have been relatively steady each month, considering February is slightly shorter: in total, 1,264 permits were issued in January, 1,055 in February, and 1,283 in March.

Dozens of nationalities were represented among the work permit recipients.The majority came from India, with 1,184 Indian citizens receiving the paperwork to move to Sweden for work. The next most common countries of origin were Ukraine (449), China (193), Turkey (132), Iraq (110), the USA (110), Brazil (90), Pakistan (85), Serbia (81), and Thailand (78). 

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Each of Sweden’s regions is set to benefit from the new arrivals, though unsurprisingly the vast majority moved to Stockholm, which will be home to 2,011 of the professionals. The next two largest regions were set to receive the next highest numbers of workers, with 433 in Västra Götalands län and 389 in Skåne. The three regions where the fewest permits were accepted were Kalmar (12), Gävleborg (9), and Blekinge with just seven.

A separate set of statistics shared with The Local by Migrationsverket showed that on average, 74 percent of first-time work permit applications have been accepted this year. These figures showed that almost 6,000 (5,943) such applications were made, of which 4,848 received a decision. While 3,567 were approved (the slight fluctuation in numbers is due to the datasets being created at different times), a further 1,000 were rejected — mainly applications from former asylum seekers for a work permit.

The agency has also been working to reduce the backlog when it comes to work permit extensions, another issue which has caused problems for non-EU professionals in Sweden. The lengthy processing times and red tape involved in getting and renewing a work permit have long been criticized by foreign workers, Swedish companies — particularly those in the tech sector which rely on international talent to plug the skills gap in Sweden — and other campaign groups.

One of the biggest problems was a strict interpretation of the law meaning that any small mistake, such a missed insurance payment or payroll error, could lead to a rejected permit extension, even if the employee and employer had rectified the mistake.

READ MORE: Why is Sweden deporting its foreign professionals?

In depth: Why is Sweden deporting its foreign professionals?

“The Migration Court of Appeal makes reasonable judgments which are more adapted to the actual circumstances we encounter in this type of case,” Migrationsverket president Fredrik Beijer said in a statement in March reflecting on the impact of December's court ruling.

Though he said it was “too early to say” what the impact would be on work permit cases, Beijer said the decision “opens the way for a less strict application of the law”.

So far in 2018, a total of 990 decisions in work permit renewal cases were made, with 83 percent of these (820) approved and only 88 rejected.

In 2017, more than 1,500 people had work permit extensions rejected; an average of 125 each month. In other words, that’s more than 1,500 people who had in most cases found work, built a life in Sweden and already made important contributions to its economy, and were told to leave. Although it's not clear how many of these applications were rejected due to technicalities, that figure was more than double the totals for the previous four years, which ranged from 653 to 683.

December's ruling by the Migration Court of Appeal set a precedent for cases to be judged based on an overall assessment, meaning that a minor error should not be grounds for deportation. The court was ruling in the case of Danyar Mohammed, an Iraqi pizza chef who has lived and worked in Jokkmokk, northern Sweden for eight years. He was ordered to leave the country after his employer made a mistake in his salary, which he later corrected, but in December was told he could stay in Sweden.

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EXPLAINED: What do we know so far about Sweden’s new ‘talent visa’?

In the new work permit law which comes into force on June 1st, Sweden is launching a new nine-month 'talent visa', which will allow “some highly qualified individuals” to get temporary residency while they look for jobs or plan to launch a business. What do we know so far?

EXPLAINED: What do we know so far about Sweden's new 'talent visa'?

When was the law passed and when does it come into force? 

The parliament passed the new law on April 21st, and the final text of the change in the law was published on May 5th. It will come into force on June 1st. 

What does the new law say about the ‘talent visa’? 

It says that “in certain cases”, a temporary residency permit can be granted to a foreigner who wants to “spend time in the country to look for work or to look into the possibility of starting a business”. 

To qualify the applicant must: 

  • have completed studies equivalent to an advanced level degree 
  • have sufficient means to support themselves during their stay and to cover the cost of their return trip 
  • have fully comprehensive health insurance which is valid in Sweden 

How long can people initially stay in Sweden under the talent visa? 

The residency permit will be valid for a maximum of nine months.

Which agency will assess applications for the talent visa? 

The government has decided that applications should be assessed by the Migration Agency. The Migration Agency will publish more details on the requirements, such as what qualifies as an advanced degree, what documents need to be submitted, and how much capital applicants will need to show they can support themselves, in the coming weeks. 

The Migration Agency is also likely to develop a form for those wishing to apply for the talent visa. 

What level of education is necessary? 

What is meant by an “advanced degree” has not been set ou in the law, but according to Karl Rahm, who has helped draw up the law within the Ministry of Justice, a master’s degree (MA or MSc), should be sufficient. 

How much capital will applicants need to show that they have? 

According to Rahm, the amount of money applicants will need to show that they have is likely to be set at the same level as the minimum salary for those applying for a work permit, which is currently 13,000 kronor a month. If he is right, this means that someone applying for a nine-month visa would have to show that they have 117,000 kronor (€11,259) in saved capital, plus extra for their trip back to their home country.

READ ALSO: How will the new work permit law just passed in Sweden affect foreigners?

Can applicants bring children and spouses? 

“You will not be able to bring your family with this kind of visa, since the idea is that it’s for a relatively limited amount of time,  just to see if there is employment for you, or if there is a chance of starting a business,” says Elin Jansson, deputy director at the Ministry of Justice, who helped work on the new visa. “And if you do decide to stay in Sweden, then you apply for a regular work permit for starting up a business, and then you can bring your family.” 

Where will detailed information on the requirements for a talent visa be published? 

The Migration Agency will publish detailed requirements on the talent visa on its Working in Sweden page when the law starts to apply on June 1st. 

What is the reason for the talent visa? 

Those searching for a job or researching starting a new business in Sweden can already stay for up to 90 days with a normal Schengen visa. The idea behind the talent visa is to give highly educated foreigners a little longer to decide if they want to find a job or set up a business in the country before they need to go the whole way and launch a company. 

How many people are expected to apply? 

In the government inquiry on the new work permit law, experts estimated that about 500 people would apply for the new talent visa each year, but it could end up being either much more, or less. 

“It’s really hard to tell. There could be a really big demand. I don’t think it’s anyone can really say before this comes into effect,” Jansson said.