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'Don't be afraid of foreign workers. We are a key part of Sweden's future'

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'Don't be afraid of foreign workers. We are a key part of Sweden's future'
Ali Omumi was ordered to leave Sweden after errors were made by his insurance company. Photo: Ali Omumi
07:59 CEST+02:00
OPINION: Ali Omumi is leaving Sweden after his work permit was rejected over errors made by his employers. He explains why he chose to fight the decision, and why Sweden needs to change how it views and treats its foreign professionals.

Sweden is among the top countries in the world in areas such as new businesses, innovation and technology, economy, healthcare, education, transparency, gender equality, and many more. Sweden has a lot to be proud of.

But we cannot ignore the contribution made by the foreign workforce in this country. Going back all the way to the 1500s, when the Walloons came here to work in mining and other industries, migrant labour in Sweden has been a win-win situation for centuries.

Sweden provided security and stability, and immigrant workers have brought their skills, experiences and labour. Sweden's success and growth thanks to diversity is undeniable.

MEMBERS Q&A: Why is Sweden deporting skilled foreign workers?Members' Q&A: Why is Sweden deporting skilled foreign workers?
Ali Omumi with his wife and daughter. Photo: Ali Omumi

Since I first posted on Facebook about my own case [Omumi was ordered to leave Sweden due to administrative errors made by a former employer], I have received literally thousands of heartwarming messages of support from Swedes. So many told me that they were "ashamed to be Swedish" because of what has happened to me and my family. They wanted us to "kämpa" (fight) and repeatedly wrote "ni måste stanna i Sverige" (You have to stay in Sweden).

On the other hand, when I read about developer Tayyab Shabab who faced this exact same situation, when he started his new life in Germany, he said his only regret was "not moving to Germany earlier".

So I have decided to fight. Or rather, 'we' have decided, since my wife and my four-year-old daughter are tied to my visa. There are others who have helped, [industrial company and Omumi's employer] ABB, friends and family.

And we have fought every day. Imagine building a life somewhere and having no control over it being taken away – the stress penetrates everything. My high blood pressure, my wife's depression and our four-year old daughter's stammer are all constant parts of our life now. In the past year and a half I have not been able to invite my father, who has Stage 4 cancer, my mother or my sister to Sweden, nor I have I been able to leave Sweden to meet them.

Photo: Ali Omumi

In late 2017, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce estimated that there were more than 13,700 people in limbo, waiting to see if their work permit extensions would be denied. People like me, Tayyab, and many others. None of us came to Sweden by accident. We all chose Sweden for a better, more secure and stable life.

READ ALSO: 'I'm being deported because I didn't take vacation, but Sweden is my home'

In my case, there were two other options, but we chose Sweden and Sweden chose us. We wanted the same things all Swedes want: a safe place for a family, a stable economy, and we also had some relatives here. Sweden has always been our first choice, and I was fortunate to be chosen by ABB.

When we look at this crisis from the outside, it seems so simple. There are thousands of work permit holders here who have jobs, and our employers want to keep us.

Meanwhile, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise's recruitment survey in 2018 shows Sweden is experiencing the biggest need for skilled workers since the financial crisis. In the same report, 40 percent of Swedish companies included in the survey reported that they had reduced sales or were forced to turn down new business because of lack of skilled workers. Dagens Medicin has reported that 5,000 healthcare centres will have to close during summer because of lack of workers.

Photo: Ali Omumi

So, why are people who already have jobs – good jobs – being deported? How do these expulsions benefit Sweden? Why are we seen as a threat to Sweden, to the immigration authorities, and to the Swedish workforce? Why can't we be seen as assets to the country?  

On the other hand, the same government has suggested an amnesty for asylum seekers, whether they are completely eligible for asylum or not. Don't we deserve the same or better?

On June 7th, Sweden's immigration minister Heléne Fritzon responded to a question asked by MP Mats Persson in parliament about the worker deportations, which related specifically to my case. Her answer put the blame on the previous government for flaws in the law.

I am an engineer, not a politician. Just like the other thousands of workers, I do not even have the right to vote in the upcoming elections. But we all know how politics and elections can affect those with no voice.

The migration policy and authorities have only advanced this hypocrisy. It was the interpretation of migration law, not the law itself, which changes: more people are being and have been deported because the Migration Agency deliberately looked for minor mistakes.

Many people had their permits extended once, but were denied their permanent residency permits later on because of minor mistakes in the first period of their permit. In 2017, 400 workers per month were deported. 

Photo: Ali Omumi

I am one of the lucky ones. I believe I have one of the best employers in Sweden, I have all of ABB behind me. I'll find my way eventually, maybe in Germany, Canada, or Iran… but this is my home, I want to stay in Sweden.

Not everyone is as lucky as me. And that's why Sweden, a world leader in civil liberties should never treat foreign workers like second-class citizens, inhabitants or ‘expendables'. We are workers, we are taxpayers, and we are part of Sweden!!!

I have talked to so many reporters. One of them asked: "Do you think this will change soon?"

"Yes!" I answered, "Sweden is a free and democratic country. Swedish people and employers need us here – so the authorities cannot act against it". Swedes will show this by voting against kompetensutvisning. I might have to leave Sweden and live somewhere else, but I will not give up this fight.

And I am thankful to the work of Diversify Foundation together with The Local and WPHA [Work Permit Holders Association] to give us a voice, and Swedish employers a chance to say what potential there is.

Please do not be afraid of us foreign workers. Rather, please see us as a critical part of Sweden's growth and future.

This is an edited translation of an opinion piece first published on Facebook by sales engineer Ali Omumi. You can read the original post in Swedish here.

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