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WORK PERMITS

In numbers: How many people got a work permit in Sweden last year?

More people applied for work permits in Sweden in 2019 than the year before, a continuation of an upward trend. But who were they, and what kind of jobs did they end up in? The Local takes a look at the data.

In numbers: How many people got a work permit in Sweden last year?
More than 20,000 foreign professionals were granted work permits to move to Sweden last year. Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Throughout the year, 59,307 applications for Swedish work permits were submitted, according to new figures by the Swedish Migration Agency. Decisions were reached on 52,547 cases, though the latter number includes decisions made on applications that were submitted in previous years too. 

As the new year began, 16,330 people were waiting for a decision on their work permit. 

The majority of applications where a decision was reached were approved, with a huge 42,095 work permits granted.

Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Of these, 9,226 went to people working for so-called 'certified employers'. These are companies that have already proved to the Migration Agency that they meet certain criteria (including a recurring need for non-EU hires and fulfillment of legal requirements in previous work permit cases) and for whom processing takes a maximum of 20 days.

The figure of 52,547 doesn't just include international workers, but also any partners or relatives who were included on the same permit (this is typically the case if both partners will move to Sweden and the partner with a job offer will work for at least six months) as well as people on temporary permits, which includes au pairs, visiting researchers, and athletes, and self-employed people.

Of the 52,547, a total of 21,950 people received permits to work for a Swedish company. 

Most months saw around 1,200-1,500 permits granted, but there was a peak in early summer, with 2,872 permits approved in April, 3,050 in May, and 4,146 in June. December was the slowest month for work permit applications with only 917 approved.

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The most common category was “technicians and associate professionals”, which made up 8,414 of all approved permits and primarily included berry-pickers and fast food workers. This was followed by the 6,547 work permit grantees defined as “specialists”, referring to jobs requiring education beyond tertiary, including architects, healthcare specialists, some teachers, legal professionals, HR specialists, doctors and others.

A total of 1,745 permits went to employees defined as “professionals” (a category of jobs requiring at least tertiary education and including some engineers and technicians as well as chefs, for example). A further 1,696 permits were granted to those working in “service, care and sales” and 1,579 to people in the “construction and manufacturing” industry.

The vast majority were made by people who applied from overseas, although 896 were made by former asylum seekers and 845 from people currently studying in Sweden. A further 21 applications came from people already in Sweden on a visa.

As for where Sweden's new professionals come from, the top five countries of nationality for work permit grantees were Thailand (6,489), India (4,975), Ukraine (1,119), Turkey (878) and China (875). That was the same top five as in 2018, and in 2019 Iraq (639), the USA (487), Iran (413), Brazil (383) and Pakistan (338) completed the top ten.

In 2019 foreign workers moved to each of Sweden's regions, but unsurprisingly Stockholm was the most common region, where 11,669 of them ended up, 8,687 of whom moved to Stockholm municipality itself. Gotland was the least popular region for work permit grantees, with just 38 new arrivals last year.

After Stockholm, it was Västra Götaland which welcomed the most foreign workers (3,728), followed by Skåne where 2,156 international professionals moved.

If you're one of Sweden's new foreign workers, congratulations and welcome! You can find out more about working life in your new adopted country at our Working in Sweden section here, and if there's a particular topic that's puzzling you or which you think we should look into, please get in touch and let us know. Considering taking the leap here? Make sure you've looked through our questions to ask before you move to Sweden.

Graphs by Tim Marringa

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WORK PERMITS

EXPLAINED: Why is it taking so long to get work permits in Sweden?

The Migration Agency is currently taking much longer than its target to process work applications for foreigners employed by so-called "certified operators". What's going on and when will the situation return to normal?

EXPLAINED: Why is it taking so long to get work permits in Sweden?

How long are work permits taking at the moment? 

The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in the first half of September the average work permit decision for those who have been hired by so-called certified operators — basically a fast-track for big and trustworthy companies — had taken an average of 105 days, while under its agreement with these companies, it is supposed to take only ten. 

The agency told The Local that this number, though correct, was misleading as the number and timing of applications varies so much from month to month, which is why it prefers to take an average over a longer period. 

According to tables provided to The Local by the agency, it has so far this year taken an average of 46 days to handle a first-time application for a work permit by an employee who has been hired by a company that is part of the certified operator scheme. This is nearly three times as along as the average of 19 days it took in 2021. 

Work permit extensions for employees at certified companies have taken 108 days so far this year, up from 43 days in 2021. 

First time work permit applications outside the certified employer scheme have taken 121 days so far this year, which is actually less than the 139 days it took in 2021. Extensions outside the scheme have so far this year taken an average of 327 days, up from 277 in 2021. 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications for people in industries that are not considered high risk are currently completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

For first-time work permit applicants who have been given jobs by or through a certified company, the agency also estimates that 75 percent of applications are processed “within three months”. 

What’s the problem? 

According to Fredrik Bengtsson, the agency’s director for Southern Sweden, who is also responsible for processing work permits, the agency has received far more applications in 2022 than it had predicted at the start of the year. 

“So far this year we have already received 10,000 more applications than our prognosis,” he told The Local. 

New rules which came into force on June 1st have also significantly increased the workload, particularly a new requirement that those applying for work permits already have a signed contract with their future employer. 

“That meant that tens of thousands of ongoing cases needed to be completed,” Bengtsson said.  

The new law also meant that instead of simply having to simply meet a minimum income requirement to bring over spouses and children, work permit applicants also needed to prove that they could support them and supply adequate housing. 

“With the new law, we need to do a much more fundamental analysis of the employee [‘s financial situation], if they want to bring their family,” he added. 

Although the agency has reduced the number of its employees from around 9,000 immediately after the 2015 refugee crisis to about 5,000 today, Bengtsson said this was something decided on by Sweden’s government in the annual budget, and was not directly linked to the current staff shortages, or to the pandemic as some have reported. 

Wrong-footed by war in Ukraine 

While the agency had been aware of these changes in advance, warned about them in its responses to a government white paper, and recruited more staff in anticipation, Bengtsson said that that the war in Ukraine had diverted resources, meaning that at the time the new law came into effect in June, the work permit division lacked sufficient staff to handle the additional workload. 

What is the agency planning to do? 

The agency is still recruiting and moving more staff to the division processing work permits.

It is also increasing the use of digitalisation, or automated systems, to process work permit applications, although there are limits under the law meaning that parts of a work permit decision still need to be made by case officers. 

The new requirement to assess applicants’ ability to support their families has made digitalisation more complicated, Bengtsson said: “As soon as we need to make judgements, we can’t digitalise”. 

He stressed that the agency was still managing to process work permits within the four-month time limit given to it under law. The ten-day goal was just “a service we offer companies”, he added, and was not something the agency was mandated to achieve. 

“We are working full out to bring down the processing time again, but it is possible that we won’t be able to return to the processing times that we had before,” he said. “We may have to say, we can only do it in a month, but we will have to see how it is with the new laws for a few more months, and then we’ll take a decision.” 

In the longer term, Bengtsson predicted that if the labour market test or a much higher minimum salary for work permit applicants is brought in, as seems likely in the coming years, this would speed up processing times. 

“There will be fewer applicants, and it will be easier for those big companies hiring people with a higher education level to get work permit,” he said. 

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