Lebanese entrepreneur wins fight to stay in Sweden

A Lebanese pharma entrepreneur who faced deportation for lowering his own salary has won the right to stay in Sweden, following a long court battle.

Lebanese entrepreneur wins fight to stay in Sweden
Hussein Ismail on the premises of Birka Biostorage in Lund. Photo: Anna Gisselsson.
Hussein Ismail came to Sweden from Lebanon in 2014 to take up the post of chief executive at Birka Biostorage, which he co-founded remotely in 2011 with his brother Ali Ismail. 
But at the start of 2018 the 33-year-old father-of-two was given four weeks to leave the country after Sweden's Migration Agency refused to renew his work permit.
The agency said it had rejected the renewal because Ismail had in 2015 paid him himself below the accepted union rate for two months, and below the minimum allowed for a work permit holder for one.  
“This is the best thing that we hoped for,” Ismail told The Local on Sunday. “Before the end of this one-year renewal, we will apply for permanent residency, and hopefully we will get that successfully and stay here for a longer time.” 
Ismail learnt on Tuesday that the Administration Court in Stockholm had ordered that he be given a one-year work permit, overturning the decisions of both the Migration Agency and the Migration Court of Appeal. 
His lawyer had argued that while he had had underpaid himself for three months in 2015, over the year as a whole his average monthly salary had remained above the accepted union rate. 
The Local reported on Ismail's situation soon after the permit was rejected in 2018.
Ismail said he believed that Swedish courts and government agencies were not easily influenced by reports in the media, as they generally followed procedure and regulations. But he said he believed media campaigns such as the current one against the expulsion of skilled workers and entrepreneurs could nevertheless “indirectly affect decision-makers”. 
He said the appeals process had been stressful, and had left him unable to travel abroad for fear of not being able to return to Sweden. 
“It was really hard for us personally to have to wait for this long,” he said. “My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, and a few months later he passed away. We never got the chance to meet him to say goodbye, and he couldn't see his grandchildren.” 
Ismail said Birka Biostorage was about to expand five-fold, and would shortly apply for its new facilities at Science Village in Lund to be inspected by Sweden's Medical Products Agency.
“Of course there will be more recruitment in terms of creating new jobs and hopefully we will be recognized globally within our industry.” 

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What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Many foreigners living in Sweden need to have a residence permit to live in the country legally. Permits are issued for two years at a time and can be renewed 30 days before expiry, at the earliest. But with waiting times exceeding 8 months for many applicants, just what are your rights while you wait to hear back?

What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Can I keep working in Sweden?

It depends. If you have a residence permit which allows you to work in Sweden, have held that residence permit for at least six months and apply for an extension before your old permit expires, you still have the right to work in Sweden while you wait for the Migration Agency to make a decision on your permit application.

You can apply for a new residence permit 30 days before your old permit expires, at the earliest, and you can’t get a new residence permit before your old one has run out.

Can I leave Sweden?

Technically you can, but it might not be a good idea. This is due to the fact that if you leave Sweden after your residence permit has expired, it can be difficult to enter Sweden again before your new permit is granted, even if you can prove that you’ve applied for a new one.

In the worst-case scenario, you could be denied entry to Sweden at the border and forced to wait in another country until your new residence permit is granted. 

If you find yourself in this situation, you can, in some cases, apply for a national visa allowing you to re-enter Sweden. These are only granted under exceptional circumstances, and must be applied for at a Swedish embassy or general consulate in the country you are staying in. If you are not granted a national visa to re-enter Sweden, you can’t appeal the decision, meaning you’ll have to wait until your residence permit is approved before you can re-enter Sweden.

The Migration Agency writes on its website that you should only leave Sweden while your application is being processed “in exceptional cases, and if you really have to”.

It lists some examples of exceptional cases as “sudden illness, death in the family or important work-related assignments”, adding that you may need to provide proof of your reason for travelling to the embassy when you apply for a national visa to re-enter Sweden.

What if I come from a visa-free country?

If you come from a visa-free country, you are able to re-enter Sweden without needing a visa, but you may run into issues anyway, as visa-free non-EU citizens entering Schengen are only allowed to stay in the bloc for 90 days in every 180 before a visa is required.

If you are a member of this group and you stay in Schengen for longer than 90 days without a visa, you could be labelled an “overstayer”, which can cause issues entering other countries, as well as applying for a visa or residence permit in the future.

The Migration Agency told The Local that “a visa-free person waiting for a decision in their extension application can leave Sweden and return, as long as they have visa-free days left to use”.

“However, an extension application usually requires the individual to be located in Sweden,” the Agency wrote. “Travelling abroad can, in some cases, have an effect on the decision whether to extend a residence permit or not, in a way which is negative for the applicant, but this decision is made on an individual case basis (it’s not possible to say a general rule).”

“The right to travel into the Schengen area for short visits is not affected, as long as the person still has visa-free days left.”

The Local has contacted the Migration Agency to clarify whether days spent in Sweden count towards the 90-day limit, and will update this article accordingly once we receive a response.

Does this apply to me if I have a permanent residence permit?

No. This only applies to people in Sweden holding temporary residence permits. If you have a permanent residence permit and your residence permit card (uppehållstillståndskort or UT-kort) expires, you just need to book an appointment at the Migration Agency to have your picture and fingerprints taken for a new card.

How long is the processing time for residence permit renewals?

It varies. For people renewing a residence permit to live with someone in Sweden, for example, the Migration Agency states that 75 percent of recent cases received an answer within eight months.

For work permit extensions, it varies. In some branches, 75 percent of applicants received a response after 17 months, others only had to wait five.

This means that some people waiting to extend their residence permits could be discouraged from leaving Sweden for almost a year and a half, unless they are facing “exceptional circumstances”.

You can see how long it is likely to take in your case here.