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

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.

'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

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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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.