Award-winning Australian coffee entrepreneur told to leave Sweden

Australian coffee entrepreneur Steve Moloney has three times been named Sweden's best barista and has set up a successful business in his six years in the country. But now he has been told he may have to leave Sweden by the Migration Agency.

Award-winning Australian coffee entrepreneur told to leave Sweden
Steve Moloney speaks to The Local about his work permit rejection. Photo: Love Coffee Roasters

Moloney was initially given less than two weeks to arrange to leave the country after the Migration Agency rejected his application for a residence permit as a sole trader (egen företagare), although this has now been extended for an extra week in order to file an appeal.  

The rejection came more than a year after the entrepreneur made the application, and the reason is that his visa application is being treated as a new application rather than an extension of his existing permit, and therefore he should apply from outside the country. But for the Australian, that means huge disruption to his personal life and his business.

He first came to the country on a one-year working holiday, later returning on a partner (sambo) visa to join his girlfriend. During their relationship, Moloney established himself as a sole trader with his company The Barista League, and after his relationship ended, his visa as an employee took over two and a half years to be approved by the Migration Agency, due to the huge increase in processing times.

READ ALSO: 'We are all extremely lucky to be working in coffee here in Sweden'

Photo: Fabian Schmid

“In the meantime, I was headhunted to a company in Gothenburg and applied for a visa based on the new employer and was finally granted residence in July 2017,” Moloney tells The Local. Later the same year, he decided to leave that job due to issues with the company management, and because his company The Barista League had grown so significantly, he applied for a visa as a sole trader. 

“I've invested so much in the company and my life here – I've got accommodation, friends, a girlfriend. My life is more here than back in Australia and it feels ridiculous that a bureaucratic technicality could get me thrown out after six or seven years,” Moloney explains.

READ ALSO: What to do if your work permit renewal gets rejected

“The business is growing super fast and really well, but I need to arrange work for the future and I can't do that when there's this uncertainty. The business is Sweden- and European-centric so moving back to Australia would mean losing the network and systems I'm working with now. And a lot of companies are relying on me to deliver on contracts i have with them.”

The entrepreneur has already received several references from business contacts, who have outlined the potential disruption and negative financial impact on their own companies if Moloney were to leave the country.

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

“It's a strange discrimination against people who want to do something for themselves. I obviously feel very stressed, and there's a lot of disappointment.”

“It feels as if on a shallow level Sweden is all about startups, attracting talent and getting capital pumped into Stockholm for all these new ventures, but the bureaucracy doesn't work for international business owners that are in Sweden,” he explains. “My experience is that it is really difficult to be a small business owner, especially if you are trying to do something different, rather than a standard product within the existing system.”

Moloney also criticized the agency's lack of clarity, saying applicants are “basically walking in blind” with staff refusing to answer questions. He had been under the impression his new permit would be treated as an extension, rather than a new application, until he reached the decision in February.

Sweden's strict legislation around work permits and long processing times have caused difficulties for hundreds of internationals working in Sweden, including employees and entrepreneurs. In October, The Local spoke to American entrepreneur Peter Lincoln who was told to leave the country despite having launched a successful brewery.

In Lincoln's case, he had fallen foul of rules requiring foreign workers to earn a minimum salary, because he and his Swedish business partner had chosen to live off savings and invest their profits back into their business for faster growth. Earlier that year, another foreign entrepreneur was threatened with deportation for giving himself a pay cut, a decision he made in order to allow his company to grow. 

Sweden's strict rules in the area are designed to stop workers being exploited, but have led to thousands of foreign workers being forced to leave the country. In addition to entrepreneurs, the legislation has hit the tech sector particularly hard, with numerous cases of foreign workers deported over minor errors in their paperwork.


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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.