Talent deportation: Sweden sees sharp drop in rejected work permit extensions

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Talent deportation: Sweden sees sharp drop in rejected work permit extensions
Although work permit extension rejections have declined, progress on a promised talent visa has been slow. Photo: Maskot/Folio/

Figures from the Swedish Migration Agency show a sharp drop in rejected work permit extensions since a landmark ruling in 2017. But government progress to smooth the way for international workers has been slower than some campaigners have hoped.


In 2019, 586 people had their requests to extend their Swedish work permits rejected. That's the lowest figure over at least the past seven years, according to figures shared with The Local by the Swedish Migration Agency.

The same figures showed a small drop from the previous year, when the figure was 664, and a marked decline from 2017, when 1,878 work permit extensions were rejected.

A range of reasons were behind the rejections – which can often mean that the worker in question is forced to leave Sweden.

In order to receive a work permit in Sweden, certain criteria must be met, one of the most crucial being that the employer must offer the worker a salary, vacation and benefits, and insurance in line with either collective bargaining agreements or the industry standard. These permits must be renewed after three years as well as in some other situations, such as if the worker changes their job or industry.


In 59 of the permit extension rejections last year, the reason given was a lower salary offered than standard for the industry. That was down from 287 such cases the previous year and 868 in 2017.

The figures don't include people who appealed the Migration Agency's decision.

Photo: Maskot/Folio/

In 46 cases the agency said there was no employer mentioned on the application, a figure roughly in line with previous years.

And far fewer people were rejected due to problems with workplace insurance. The number of rejections on these grounds was 169 in 2017, 51 in 2018 and just 21 in 2019.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline in rejections could be a landmark court ruling from December 2017. The Swedish Migration Court of Appeal ruling in the case of a pizza baker in Jokkmokk, which The Local reported at the time, set a precedent for a principle of so-called helhetsbedömning or 'overall assessment', which meant that a small error should no longer be enough to derail an otherwise good application.

Before that, minor discrepancies in insurance policies had been behind the deportation of dozens and potentially hundreds of workers whose applications were otherwise in line with the rules.

When The Local approached the Migration Agency to ask what was behind the decline in rejections, a press spokesperson pointed to the 2017 court ruling.

"The main cause is that practice has changed after judgments in 2017 in work permit cases. The practice is that we now do overall assessments in cases, compared with earlier," the press officer said.

But campaigners are critical of the fact that since this judgment, work appears to have slowed down on changing the laws that govern work permits and work migration.

"We have also noticed through our survey and network that the deportations, specifically at the Migrationsverket-level have decreased, which is an outstanding achievement which we have been working so hard for. Unfortunately, for those previously denied and caught in the appeal process, these people are ultimately still left behind," said Matt Kriteman, COO of the Diversify Foundation, which has campaigned on the issue of worker deportations.

When asked where work still needed to be done, Kriteman said: "There are still several key areas, but specifically permanent residency, which has been touched on by some Supreme Court Rulings, but remains a large unknown for kompetensutvisning survivors, serious employers who want to keep their talent, and I would be willing to bet also for Migrationsverket."

"The best thing Sweden can do to make the process smoother for not only foreign talent, but serious employers and even public servants is clearly define what it means to 'do it right' when it comes to being a foreign worker or serious employer. Diversity and inclusion are part of Swedish values, and some leadership on its positive effects are very much needed," added Kriteman, who is behind an award set to be handed out in April to celebrate success stories of Swedish employers, nominated by foreign talent facing deportation.

The January Agreement, a four-party government deal agreed at the start of last year, included the goal "the problem of deportation of skilled labour must be solved", and suggested the introduction of a new 'talent visa', which was set to be launched in 2021.

But since then, little progress has been reported.

In answer to a parliamentary question on worker deportations in October, Minister Morgan Johansson said that Migration Agency statistics showed that trends were "going in the right direction", with the proportion of permit extensions granted over 95 percent among professions where higher education was required.

"The government intends to appoint an inquiry with the task of reviewing the regulations on labour immigration, including working on solving the problem of so-called talent deportations. The directives for the investigation are currently being discussed with the parties in the January detail. I will give an update with more details when the discussions are done," he said at the time


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