Off-piste: Brits in remote Swedish areas wary of Brexit path ahead

Off-piste: Brits in remote Swedish areas wary of Brexit path ahead
Fritsla, Mark municipality. Photo: Mike Jefferson.
From Jokkmokk in the Arctic Circle to isolated forests on the edges of villages, plenty of Brits have opted for the quiet life in Sweden, settling in isolated areas away from the country's largest cities. While Brexit is a worry for some of these British citizens, it has also been an opportunity to exploit for some of the country's most remote regions.

There are 86 British citizens living in the municipality of Mark, southeast of Gothenburg, according to data provided to The Local by Statistics Sweden. Two live in the village of Fritsla. Mike Jefferson is one of them.

Jefferson, 32, his Swedish wife Boel and their daughter settled in Fritsla, a village of just over 2,000 people near the Swedish textile hub of Borås, in 2016. They were lured by the calm, tranquility and quality of life.

“If you're not in the heart of the city you're surrounded by forests and lakes in Sweden,” Jefferson told The Local. “It has been absolutely lovely since day one.”

The home Mike Jefferson and his family bought in Fritsla. Photo: Mike Jefferson. 

That is until the headache of a no-deal Brexit began to loom on Jefferson's horizon.

READ ALSO: How the Swedish Migration Agency is preparing for a no-deal Brexit

“I have to rely on Sweden and the EU to offer me any security. I've felt like a bargaining chip or completely ignored by my own government,” says Jefferson, who works as a business change management consultant helping large companies, like Volvo, implement technological overhauls.

Mike Jefferson with his wife and 4-year-old daughter near their home in Fritsla. Photo: Mike Jefferson. 

“I'm not as worried now since the Swedish government have taken action to guarantee I can stay for the next year,” says Jefferson, who plans to apply for Swedish citizenship when he is eligible from September 2019.

Should the UK exit the EU without a deal on March 29th, British citizens resident in Sweden will have to apply for permits in order to continue living and working in the country. The government has said it will offer a one-year period during which Brits can remain in Sweden and apply for the permits without any change to their rights.

However, it is still not clear whether those permits would be regulated by new legislation or existing work permit rules, with Swedish business leaders warning that the latter would mean many Brits risk having their applications rejected.

Jefferson says low house prices and the fact that three or four lakes are within cycling distance of his home were key factors in moving to the Swedish countryside – reversing the predominant migration trend of young Swedes moving from rural areas to larger cities in search of work.

That trend has even led to remote Swedish municipalities proactively enticing Brits to take up residence in their territory.

The northeastern Swedish municipality of Skellefteå urgently needed to recruit teachers for new schools that are being built to cater to 7,000 people who are expected to move to the area in the next three to five years.

NorthVolt is building Europe's largest electric battery factory in Skellefteå. Large-scale production is scheduled to begin in 2020 on that project, according to the Skellefteå local government. 

“We were the first kommun (municipality) to look outside Scandinavia for teachers,” Paul Connolly, a consultant to the local government in Skellefteå, and a regular contributor to The Local Sweden, said.

“We used the Brexit hook quite explicitly,” says Connolly. “We placed an ad in the Guardian. We said in the copy: 'If you want to still work in the EU…'”

Seven British teachers took up the invitation to move to Skellefteå on a one-year contract, he says, and three or four more are expected to follow in their footsteps soon.

READ ALSO: Northern Sweden needs immigrants and tourists

Even further north, in the Arctic Circle, the municipality of Jokkmokk had already reached out to Brits before Brexit to try to tackle increasing depopulation as local residents head south looking for work and broader life opportunities.

David Carpenter launched the project Emigrate2Jokkmokk in 2011, with the support of the local government, with a view to luring international citizens to the area.

“Northern Swedes often do not see the beauty around them as people from other countries do. I think this is why they are not so active in promoting it as a destination to move to. We didn't have that problem. We could see the attraction of living here,” Carpenter told The Local Sweden in 2015. “So we decided to do something about it.”

Ten British citizens now live in Jokkmokk – total population just over 3,000 – according to Tomas Johansson of Statistics Sweden.

Funding for the Emigrate2Jokkmokk project was discontinued in 2016, Carpenter told The Local. A spokesman for the Jokkmokk municipality was not available for comment.

Many Brits however seem to concur with Carpenter about the attraction of living in Swedish rural areas.

“My time is taken up cutting grass in summer and cutting paths through snow in winter,” Frank Mitchell, 66 – who took early retirement to settle in a house in the forests outside Järlåsa, 45 minutes by car from Uppsala, with his Swedish wife – told The Local.

The view from Frank Mitchell's home outside Järlåsa. Photo: Frank Mitchell. 

When Mitchell isn't immersed in the nature around his home, he gives private guitar and karate lessons in the nearby city of Uppsala.

But Mitchell is not in tune with Brexiters. “I think it is the biggest mistake that the UK has ever made,” Mitchell told The Local. “I worry about what will happen if there is a no-deal and more devaluation of the pound,” he adds, citing fears that his British pension could be further devalued in the future.

Mitchell secured permanent residency in 2018, however, and isn't planning on going anywhere. “I told my kids: the only way I'll be going back is in a box,” quips Mitchell.

This article is part of a broader series on Brits living in remote, rural areas in Europe. Read the debut in the series on The Local Italy below.

READ MORE: How Brexit has unsettled Brits in the remote Sicilian town they helped to revive

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