What do Sweden’s new university guidelines mean for foreign students?

News today that Swedish universities will be able to reopen to students in autumn may be a light on the horizon for thousands of foreign students whose residence permits depend on the decision, but several hurdles remain.

What do Sweden's new university guidelines mean for foreign students?
Several students contacted The Local to express their concerns. Photo: Susanne Lindholm/TT

Swedish universities have been offering only distance teaching since mid-March, based on coronavirus recommendations from the health authorities. But on Friday the government and Public Health Agency announced that from June 15th universities would again be allowed to open their doors to students.

The announcement came just hours after the Swedish Migration Agency warned that the coronavirus pandemic could affect students' residence permit extensions. That's because one of the permit conditions is that the majority of teaching must take place on campus, which means distance teaching is not sufficient.

“If your higher education institution decides that most or all of the teaching in the autumn semester will be conducted remotely, then according to the applicable legislation the Swedish Migration Agency will not be able to grant you a residence permit,” said as statement which sparked concern among many students.

Friday's decision to allow universities to return to on-campus teaching may mean that many students will find it easier to get their permit extension approved. But much remained unclear at the time of publication.

Several Swedish universities have previously announced that they will keep teaching remotely next semester. It will now be up to each university to decide how to proceed, with the government warning that some form of distance teaching may still be needed for institutions that are not able to observe other coronavirus restrictions and recommendations, such as social distancing or no public events of more than 50 people.

Malmö University, one of the universities that had previously said it would continue digital teaching until November, said on its website: “The Swedish government announced on Friday, May 29th, that universities can prepare for a gradual return to on-campus teaching. More information about the new government decision's implications on teaching and other activities at the university will be published here shortly.”

The Swedish government also stressed that the decision to allow on-campus teaching did not mean that the coronavirus outbreak was over, and said that the decision may change again if the situation deteriorates.

One master's student in Sweden, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Local that the situation was “very stressful”. “For me for example, if I have to return to my country, I don't have a place to live right now. My parents live in the countryside without connection with the internet, and they are risk group with diabetes and heart illness. Furthermore, the time zone will make it almost impossible to follow the lectures accordingly.”

“I think what most of us international students are feeling is a frustration regarding the conflicting information we've been given,” Patricia da Matta from Brazil, a master's student at Gothenburg University.

“Of course we understand that these are difficult times and the institutions are trying their best to sort it out, but decisions such as this from the Migration Agency seem very much strict especially considering the special circumstances we're all facing.”

The Migration Agency currently advises foreign students to “wait as long as possible to submit your application for an extension” if you are not yet sure what your university will do. “However, you must do so before your previous permit expires. This allows time to wait for the higher education institution to announce a decision about what form of teaching they will implement before your case is examined,” it continues.

Daniel Grynfarb, a legal expert at the Migration Agency, said that they were in contact with universities and would be able to grant permit extensions as long as most of the teaching would be done on campus.

“Based on current circumstances and regulations we will try to make as generous assessment as possible,” he promised in a statement.

There are other hurdles to overcome for new student permit holders moving to Sweden for the first time. An entry ban to the EU via Sweden currently in place means that people from outside the EU are generally not allowed to enter Sweden from a country outside the EU or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and the UK unless they already live here (there are a few exceptions which you can read about here).

The entry ban is currently in place until June 15th, but may be extended.

“Even if the Swedish Migration Agency grants you a residence permit for studies, you cannot enter Sweden if the temporary entry ban is still in place,” warned the Migration Agency in an update on its website.

So far this year, 1,800 foreign students have applied for first-time residence permits to study in Sweden, compared to almost 4,700 in the same period last year, according to Swedish news agency TT.

More information about student permits and the coronavirus can be found here and here

Member comments

  1. I believe all these tensions can be removed if the migration agency takes a more liberal stand. Yes rules are to be followed; but this is a unique situation where unique decisions need to be made. Exceptions are always made for the right reasons. That’s what is the sign of wisdom and flexibility as well. Thanks

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”