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Explained: What you need to know about the Swedish government’s work permit proposals

A Swedish government inquiry is looking into changing work permit regulations. So what's up for discussion, and why?

Explained: What you need to know about the Swedish government's work permit proposals
Justice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT

Article first published on February 7th, and updated on June 29th.

Why are we talking about this now?

In early February, the right-of-centre Moderate Party forced the issue of work permit regulations when it put forward its own set of proposals to change the system. 

Just days later, the centre-left Social Democrat-Green government announced its own plans to launch an inquiry to review the labour immigration systems.

This inquiry was jointly agreed with the Centre and Liberal parties, whose support is needed in parliament. All four parties signed a policy agreement in January, the January Deal, which included a pledge to “solve the problem of deportation of skilled workers”, but it's only now that it has been formally put forward.

The government decided on launching the inquiry on February 6th, and some parts of the report will be presented by February next year, with others scheduled for November 2021.

What are the issues addressed in the proposals?

Both the government and Moderate Party proposals address the problems of deportations of skilled talent from Sweden, and abuse and fraud linked to the work permit system.

Sweden relies on foreign workers to plug skills shortages in the country, including the fast-growing tech sector.

But legislation which was intended to crack down on exploitation of foreign workers, especially in industries such as berry-picking, had the unintended consequence that many workers with legitimate employers had their permit renewals rejected. This resulted in hundreds of skilled workers being ordered to leave the country due to minor errors in their paperwork, often relating to small discrepancies over holiday pay or insurance policies.

So this is one of the problems that the major Swedish parties have pledged to solve.

As of June, the inquiry is also tasked with proposing law changes designed to put an end to so-called 'talent deportation'.

At the same time there are also concerns that current legislation leaves loopholes than can still be exploited by unscrupulous employers. 

In an opinion article signed by the migration spokespeople of the four 'January Deal' parties, they stated that there was “broad consensus in parliament to address the problems of cheating, fraud and abuse” in the Swedish labour market.

But the way the parties intend to resolve these issues is different.

What is included in the government proposals?

The government's proposals included a so-called 'talent visa' that would allow individuals with skills the Swedish labour market needs to move more easily. In addition, the government proposed simplification of the labour migration process in general, and in particular making it easier for foreign workers to travel during processing time.

They also included a commitment to stop the deportations of skilled workers over minor mistakes, something that has caused problems for hundreds of workers since legislation was tightened a few years ago.

And a maintenance requirement for work permit holders who wish to bring family members to Sweden would also be on the cards.  

What did the opposition say?

One of the big differences between the Moderate Party's and the government's stance relates to the so-called spårbyte or “track change”, the system which allows rejected asylum seekers to apply for a work permit to stay in Sweden in certain circumstances. The Moderates would ban this completely, while the government proposed making this easier. 

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson and migration policy spokesperson Maria Malmer Stenergard. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Another difference is that the Moderates would increase the salary requirement for receiving a work permit, by requiring applicants to be earning a full-time salary, while the government proposals included analysis of problems linked to part-time salaries.

The Moderates have criticized the government proposals as “half-measures”, while Justice Minister Morgan Johansson has argued that the government plans address the same issues as those put forward by the opposition.

Has anything already been done to stop deportations of skilled workers?

Yes, but campaigners say progress has been much slower than hoped. 

One of the biggest milestones was a landmark court ruling in December 2017. The Swedish Migration Court of Appeal ruling in the case of a pizza baker in Jokkmokk 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.

The number of rejected permit extensions has declined since then, but there have not been changes to actual legislation, despite a pledge to “solve the problem of deportation of skilled labour” in the January Agreement.

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For members


What do we know about labour market tests for Swedish work permits?

Sweden's government has called for a reintroduction of labour market tests for work permits, a system where labour migration from non-EU countries is limited to jobs where there a a recognised shortage of labour. Here's what we know about the proposal so far.

What do we know about labour market tests for Swedish work permits?

What is a labour market test?

A labour market test is, essentially, a test to make sure that companies wishing to hire non-EU citizens in Sweden can only do so if there is a lack of domestic labour to fill the position.

Neighbouring Denmark has had a similar system, dubbed the Positive List, for a number of years, which is updated twice a year and comprises two lists: one for people with a higher education and one for other skilled workers.

What kind of jobs will be covered?

Jobs where there is a labour shortage will be covered. This will most likely include a range of jobs, such as healthcare roles like doctors, nurses, and midwives, as well as IT positions like system developers and computer programmers, alongside positions which don’t require university studies such as CNC operators, mechanics and roles in the construction industry.

This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it confirmed that these jobs will definitely be eligible for work permits under the new system, but more an idea of illustrating the range of positions which could be covered under this new system.

Who will be affected?

This will affect non-EU, non-Nordic migrants wanting to move to Sweden on a work permit. EU migrants and Nordic migrants are subject to different work permit laws, which will be unaffected.

It will also not affect non-EU, non-Nordic migrants who move to Sweden for other reasons, such as those who have residency in Sweden as family members of an EU, Nordic or Swedish citizen. Again, these migrants are subject to different work permit laws.

When will this come into effect?

It’s hard to say.

It is likely that it will take at least a year, perhaps longer, for the new work permit proposal to come into force.

This is due to the length of the process a proposal must go through before it is formally introduced.

The proposal is currently in the first stage, where the government launches an inquiry, or utredning, into how to introduce a labour shortage test for work permits in Sweden and what that possible system could look like. The deadline for this stage is July 31st 2023.

After the results of this inquiry are announced, the government will send the proposal out for consultation from the relevant authorities. A bill, taking these responses into account, will then be submitted to parliament. This could take months or even years, meaning that the proposal would not become law until at least a year from now, at the earliest.

Who decides which jobs will be available under the system?

Again, it’s not clear, as the proposal hasn’t been written yet. The utredning will shed more light on this, but politicians have suggested in the past that the system could be dependent on unions, employers, and other authorities confirming that they lack staff in the profession in question.

This means that it’s unlikely individual employers will be able to hire whoever they want, unless unions and other authorities also agree that there’s a shortage of labour for the position in question.