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What getting deported from Sweden (twice) taught me about life and business

Farzad Ban's life in Sweden has been a series of highs and lows. Despite growing up in the Nordic country and building two successful businesses, he is now being deported – for the second time. Here's what the process has taught him.

What getting deported from Sweden (twice) taught me about life and business
Farzad Ban is the founder of 3drops and onroadmap. Photo: Private

I don't believe in right or wrong. I believe in experiences. I believe there's no right path in life, there are just different experiences. The fork in the road metaphor that we were taught in school at a young age is just too extreme and not the reality we live today. Do you remember the picture? The left path takes you into this darkness and what seems to be a horrifying jungle where pain and horror await and the right one takes you to this beautiful land where all your dreams come true.

But to tell you the truth, between these two paths, if I had to pick, the left one has always been more appealing to me than the right one. Why? I think it's because I just don't believe there are any shortcuts to your dreams in life. In fact, whenever I've been shown or offered a shortcut, I've always turned around and run the other way. From getting job offers with fancy titles at industry-leading companies to acquisitions offers for my company from the big league and investment opportunities from the rich gangs in our own ventures.

To me, these are all distractions. My goal has always been the same. To own my own time by doing what I love. To me, that means turning my passion into a business and to run it until it can run itself.

I don't believe working for a big company would teach you anything about running your own company, so I've always declined the job offers, no matter how good the titles were. I also don't believe selling your company is such a good happy ending as most people think, regardless of how much money you are offered. I would rather have a recurring income doing what I love than a fixed big sum in my bank account. And lastly, I don't believe you can learn how to make money by spending someone else's money. I believe you need the financial constraints to keep your team's focus in check. Otherwise, it's effortless to jump between things and develop this shiny object syndrome most founders seem to struggle with and as a result, lose sight of what really matters.

That's why I believe walking in that dark jungle is necessary, regardless of how many bruises you get when you come out. Those are just signs of the lessons you had to learn in order to find your own way out.

I've been using the same framework, the same core principles that I apply to make decisions in my professional life, in my personal life as well. That means I tend to take the path with the highest risk and endure the pain in the short term to get to my long-lasting reward. Sometimes I get the reward I aimed for, and sometimes I benefit from the lessons I learned later in life, which always turn out to be much more valuable than the reward I was aiming for in the first place. But unlike my professional life, I've spent the last 14 years of my life trying to find a way out of this jungle with no luck as of yet.

Let me explain.

I currently have no country I can stay in more than 90 days. That means I don't have any permanent citizenship or even a temporary one, in any country at this moment. Not even the country I was born in. Nor the country that I grew up in. Yes, there are two different countries. And no, this is not my first time. I believe most things that “happen” to us in life are just the result of our own choices and actions which means these could've easily been avoided if I took the right path, the shortcut but somewhere deep inside me, still believes that beautiful land is just a facade. The real destination lays after this dark, scary jungle.

Let's take a walk.

I was 14 years old when I moved to Sweden with my family and applied for asylum. Roughly six years later, thanks to my mother's job, my parents got the citizenship. Me? I got deported because I was 19, adult in the eyes of the law, no longer dependent on my family to survive. With no country to return to, I had no choice other than picking a random country I had never been in nor did I know anyone there, outside of Europe which would grant me a 90 days tourist visa just so I had a bit of time to figure out a plan to get a temporary one-year visa. I chose Malaysia (one of the two countries with more than 30 days tourist visa), booked my own ticket, and left Sweden within the four weeks' time frame to avoid getting deported by the police. That was the first time I got deported.

After almost three years of living in Malaysia and a few other neighbouring countries and airports in South East Asia, I came back to Sweden with a work permit. 

Fast forward to today, five years later I'm getting deported, wrongfully, again, at the age of 28, because of an insurance we missed from the beginning. It's a matter of a few thousand kronor (a few hundred dollars). For some reason, the Swedish Migration Agency never bothered to let us know we were missing the insurance five years ago when I applied for my work permit or three years ago when I extended it. They simply waited until I applied for my permanent citizenship to tell me I never actually met all the requirements to begin with and therefore need to be deported. Again.

I'm going to skip the part when the Swedish Migration Agency lost my case for over a year with no effort whatsoever from their side to get things back on track. For the record, let me just say that it's the waiting that takes the most toll on you, not the final answer.

That's 14 years of my life spent in uncertainty. That's half of my life, not knowing where I belong. Even though my entire family are Swedish citizens now, I don't seem to belong here. I mean this is the second time I got deported from this country.

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Let me put things in perspective for you. 

I started my company in Sweden when I was 20. A few months before my first deportation, I signed the ownership of my company over to my family so I could keep it alive. For the past eight years, I took it from absolutely nothing to a world-class agency working remotely with Fortune 500 and governments as clients. In fact, if you've applied for a visa lately, the chances are you went through the system we designed together with governments in over 60 countries to make the process simple, transparent and more efficient for you and the staff.

The success of my first company gave me the opportunity to reinvest some of our profit into our own ventures that gave birth to our second profitable business. I like to think that these are the results of the constraints I've lived in for so long. But I also sometimes think that I might have jeopardized my own comfort in my personal life to keep myself in check and focus on what matters the most.

To tell you the truth, I've never felt comfortable in my comfort zone so I've always done whatever I can to make sure I never end up there. Or maybe I've never really been that comfortable to see what it's like. I just know there were shortcuts I could've taken to get my visa like marrying someone as most people do in this situation. But both times I got the option I turned around and walked the other way. Mainly because I believe I shouldn't have to marry someone just to get what is rightfully mine. I mean I grew up here, my entire family is here, I went to school here and when I wasn't allowed to continue my studies in university because of the lack of permit, I instead started a business while I was in the refugee camp and grew it into the successful business it is today from absolutely nothing and created jobs in Sweden and paid millions in tax in the process, just in the past few years.

This is why how I get this visa is so important to me. I invested too much of my time and energy here just to take a shortcut now. This is why the How is more important to me than the What, and it has become a core principle, both in my personal and professional life.

The system in the Swedish Migration Agency is unbelievably broken, and I have my life to prove it.

As I'm preparing to leave Sweden again, within the next two weeks, with no destination where I can stay longer than 90 days, I can't help but feel resentful. But I've been here once before so this time around I'm more mindful about how I can use this energy to my benefit. I'm more aware of what kind of opportunity I have on my hands too. There's a rare luxury in having everything taken away from you. There's a certain freedom to it that I now come to desire. You get the chance to start over from scratch with nothing in your luggage. I see it as a plain canvas with endless opportunities. Do you realize this is what most people are afraid of? Here's what I've learned in the past 14 years of living in uncertainty:

  • Realize there are no right or wrong paths in life, just different experiences. Believe in yourself and trust your own intuition. Somehow, deep down, unconsciously, we all know where we need to go.
  • Realize you are where you chose to be. Nobody took those steps for you. Take responsibility for everything you are and everything you are not. You are always in control of your life.
  • Realize you are more than what you own and what you don't own. You are not your house, your car or in my case, where you are from. Never let this stuff become a reason to stop you from taking risks necessary to achieve your dreams.

  • Realize all you have in life is what you choose to do with your limited time. We are all going to die. Sooner than we would like to. People put their money in the bank to buy the things they don't need and continue to sell their time until it runs out. Do the opposite. Protect your time and ruthlessly prioritize what you invest it in, and spend your money on things that buy you more time.

  • Last but not least, realize the power of spoken words. Always speak your truth or don't speak at all. We tend to listen to our own words more than we listen to our own thoughts. It's like a magic spell. What we say, we feel, what we say often, we believe, and what we say the most, we become. That's how our mind is wired, and that's how we can reprogram the picture from within. To reach our true potential, we must carefully select the words we speak because it will change the way we think which leads to desired behaviours and that becomes the force to change our lives.

Farzad Ban is the founder of independent digital product studio 3drops. Follow him on Twitter here. This article was originally published on Medium and is republished with the author's permission.

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WORK PERMITS

INTERVIEW: Are Sweden’s liberals ready to fight for work permits?

Sweden's liberal work permit system is under assault from the Social Democrats, but Tove Hovemyr from the liberal Fores think tank is worried liberal right-wing parties have lost the appetite to fight back.

INTERVIEW: Are Sweden's liberals ready to fight for work permits?

For Tove Hovemyr, public policy expert at the liberal think tank Fores, the employer-led immigration law Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Alliance government brought in back in 2008 marks the high watershed of Sweden’s formerly enlightened approach to migration. 

“Sweden became the most liberal labour migration system in all of the OECD countries,” she tells The Local’s Paul O’Mahony in this week’s Sweden in Focus podcast.  “And this has been very successful and great, most of all for Sweden’s growth and labour market situation, but also for our competitiveness in the globalised world that we live in.” 

The 2008 law scrapped Sweden’s old system of arbetsmarknadsprövning, Sweden’s version of the so-called “labour market test”  where the unions and the government would assess which were the roles, professions and industries where Sweden had a shortage of skilled workers.

“It basically says that if someone has offered you a job in Sweden with a wage that is adequate, and that also follows Swedish labour market regulations and so forth, then you were welcome to come from a third country to Sweden and work,” she explains of the 2008 law. “It was not dependent on whether there was a shortage of workers in a sector or industry. And this is still the law that exists in Sweden.” 

However, this liberal law, which has enabled so many people to come and build their lives in Sweden, is now under threat from both left and right. 

Changes to work permit laws which come into force on June 1st already make work permits harder to secure, requiring applicants already to have a signed contract before applying for a work permit, and also to prove that they can support any family they bring. 

But at the end of April, the Social Democrats announced plans to reverse the Reinfeldt reforms and bring back the labour test, while the Moderate Party wants to limit work permits to those on salaries of 27,000 kronor a year. 

“What we can see now is that both the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party now want to restrict Sweden’s liberal labour migration regulations in different ways,” Hovemyr says. 

The Social Democrats’ proposal would return Sweden to the pre-Reinfeldt past, while the Moderates’ proposed threshold, she argues, would mean drastic reductions in labour migration. 

“A lot of the labour migration that we have today, and which we also need, like berry pickers, people at restaurants and hotel workers, would not measure up to this level,” she says of the Moderates’ threshold. 

She sees the push to tighten up labour migration laws as part of the broader anti-migration backlash that began in Sweden in the 1990s but which really took off with the refugee crisis of 2015. 

“The refugee crisis of 2015 shook most policymakers to the core,” Hovemyr says. “Even the most liberal politicians were suddenly in favour of a more restrictive policy, some due to new personal convictions, and some due to the public attitudes towards migration. From a more pragmatic point of view, it is now very hard to be pro-immigration in Sweden.” 

Partly, she concedes, this reflects a toughening of attitudes across the world.

“We’ve seen a fast increase in right-wing populism and nationalism all over the liberal democracies. This is not a development isolated to Sweden, quite the opposite. Sweden is actually not the worst in class.” she argues. “This is a part of a wave of  populism going all over the western countries, and the immigration debate in Sweden is just a part of it.” 

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Hovemyr believes the next battle will be over labour migration. 

“Besides the question of asylum policy, one of the biggest fights we will see, I think, in the years after this election, will be labour migration policy,” she says. “Just as the general attitude in the public policy debate is that it’s hard to be pro-migration, it is also hard to be pro labour migration.” 

Her fear is that there seem to be few politicians ready to fight for the liberal labour migration that she believes has brought Sweden so many benefits. 

“What concerns me is that when these proposals came from the Social Democrats in late April, I didn’t see the defensive reaction from politicians who support liberal labour migration policy that I would have expected,” she says. 

“This is concerning, because I think that many still sees being pro-migration as something dangerous, and it might mean that the fight to keep liberal labour migration laws won’t be as great as I would hope.”

Tove Hovemyr was interviewed by Paul O’Mahony for this week’s Sweden in Focus podcast. 

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