Games producer told to leave Sweden over former employer’s error

One of Sweden's largest game developers is calling on the government to freeze deportations of work permit holders as one of its key staff members faces the threat of having to leave the country over a former employer's error.

Games producer told to leave Sweden over former employer's error
Vachon Pugh is a games producer for Swedish tech giant Paradox Interactive. Photo: Private

For Vachon Pugh, moving to Sweden had always been a dream. And while Sweden's growing tech scene has been working hard to attract international talent, it was first and foremost the love for the country itself that brought the experienced games producer here – first to southern city Malmö, then to Stockholm and Paradox Interactive, where she landed her dream job overseeing the production of the Hearts of Iron IV game.

But her life and career were thrown into turmoil last month when a letter from the Migration Agency arrived, informing her that her work permit extension had been rejected and she had four weeks to leave Sweden.

“I was very surprised and panicked. I contacted my manager and I was completely freaking out,” Pugh tells The Local. “I knew it was a risk that it could happen, because when we applied for renewal they asked for additional information, but I thought we had taken care of it and done everything we needed to do.”

Pugh, 38, has been employed by three companies, including Paradox, since moving to Sweden from Florida almost three years ago. The Migration Agency found no fault with either her first or current employment – but her second employer failed to pay out a number of workplace and pension insurances during her trial period.

In 2015, Swedish laws were tightened to stop the exploitation of foreign workers. But as The Local has previously reported, it also led to the deportation of hundreds of work permit holders working for serious employers over often minor administrative errors. The situation has shown signs of improvement, but the phenomenon is so ubiquitous it has given rise to a new word, kompetensutvisning or 'talent deportation'.

The tough rules mean that the requirements for non-EU employees are in reality often higher than for EU citizens, and they face harsher punishments when they are not met. Pugh was the first international worker her previous company had employed, and it had been set to start paying out the workplace insurances as soon as the trial period ended. It has since changed its routines so that they take effect immediately. 

“I don't believe that my previous employer had ill intentions, it was an oversight. I understand that the rules are there to stop people from being exploited, but I wasn't exploited, it was an accident,” says Pugh.

Legislation passed in 2017 means that work permit extensions should not be rejected if action was taken to correct a mistake before it was pointed out by the Migration Agency. And judgments from the Migration Court of Appeal have set a precedent that decisions should be based on an overall assessment of factors (or helhetsbedömning), meaning that one minor mistake should not derail an otherwise good application.

But Pugh's situation still does not meet the requirements, according to the Migration Agency.

The rejection letter, seen by The Local, states that the mistakes were not rectified until the agency pointed them out, and that “a period of approximately five and a half months of lost insurances, during a period of two years of permits, is long enough to find that the conditions for your previous work permit were not met”.

A spokesperson for the Migration Agency told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, which first wrote about Pugh's case, that rulings by the Migration Court of Appeal including on the practice of 'overall assessment' did not “give (them) the possibility to ignore all the mistakes committed by the employer”.

Pugh is now appealing the decision to the Migration Court with the help of a lawyer paid for by Paradox.

“It's really good to know that your employer is fighting for you, but I'm stressed, to say the least,” she says.

“It's scary and I don't know what's going to happen. I keep staring at my stuff, wondering if I'm going to have to pack it? I have two cats that I adopted from a shelter in Malmö, and I'm worried about what's going to happen to them. Also, it's in the middle of a pandemic.”

Paradox Interactive CEO Ebba Ljungerud. Photo: Paradox Interactive

Paradox is one of Sweden's largest games producers, with more than 400 employees. For CEO Ebba Ljungerud, choosing to back Pugh was not a hard decision.

“It's a personal tragedy, and it's a big loss for us. Vachon develops one of our most popular games. It's a difficult game to develop, and it's a very hard role to find senior people for. We as an employer are also a victim of this. Even if we're not at fault, and Vachon is not at fault, it still affects us,” she tells The Local.

Sweden relies on foreign workers to plug skills shortages in the country, including the fast-growing tech sector, and a government inquiry is currently looking into addressing the problems of deportations. But the inquiry is not set to present its proposals until next year, and Ljungerud is calling on Sweden to act now.

“I wish they would freeze these deportations until they have been properly reevaluated. This problem has been talked about for years, everyone seems to agree that it is not the intent of the law,” she says.

“Sweden as a country is trying to build our tech industry and that means we are trying to attract people from abroad. This reduces their willingness to move to Sweden for obvious reasons,” Ljungerud adds.

“It's incredibly unfair and outrageous.”

Member comments

  1. “ In 2015, Swedish laws were tightened to stop the exploitation of foreign workers. But as The Local has previously reported, it also led to the deportation of hundreds of work permit holders working for serious employers over often minor administrative errors.” It doesn’t sound like the laws are doing what they were intended to do here. The worker has not been protected and neither is her current (law abiding) employer. Why are they being punished for someone else’s mistake?

  2. Swedish Government must follow the law. I’m sorry for this woman but rules is rules, for goodness sakes.

  3. “I understand that the rules are there to stop people from being exploited, but I wasn’t exploited, it was an accident,” says Pugh.

    Even if she were being exploited, why should the person being exploited be punished, rather than the person/company doing the exploiting?

  4. @claptonfan: “Swedish Government must follow the law. I’m sorry for this woman but rules is rules, for goodness sakes.”

    It’s not someone else’s rules that the government “must follow”. The Swedish government MAKES the rules. And BAD rules should be changed!

    I ask you, claptonfan, if the government suddenly made a rule requiring that YOU be deported to another country, would you just passively say, “OK. I go… because ‘rules is rules’.”? I seriously doubt it.

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EXPLAINED: What do we know so far about Sweden’s new ‘talent visa’?

In the new work permit law which comes into force on June 1st, Sweden is launching a new nine-month 'talent visa', which will allow “some highly qualified individuals” to get temporary residency while they look for jobs or plan to launch a business. What do we know so far?

EXPLAINED: What do we know so far about Sweden's new 'talent visa'?

When was the law passed and when does it come into force? 

The parliament passed the new law on April 21st, and the final text of the change in the law was published on May 5th. It will come into force on June 1st. 

What does the new law say about the ‘talent visa’? 

It says that “in certain cases”, a temporary residency permit can be granted to a foreigner who wants to “spend time in the country to look for work or to look into the possibility of starting a business”. 

To qualify the applicant must: 

  • have completed studies equivalent to an advanced level degree 
  • have sufficient means to support themselves during their stay and to cover the cost of their return trip 
  • have fully comprehensive health insurance which is valid in Sweden 

How long can people initially stay in Sweden under the talent visa? 

The residency permit will be valid for a maximum of nine months.

Which agency will assess applications for the talent visa? 

The government has decided that applications should be assessed by the Migration Agency. The Migration Agency will publish more details on the requirements, such as what qualifies as an advanced degree, what documents need to be submitted, and how much capital applicants will need to show they can support themselves, in the coming weeks. 

The Migration Agency is also likely to develop a form for those wishing to apply for the talent visa. 

What level of education is necessary? 

What is meant by an “advanced degree” has not been set ou in the law, but according to Karl Rahm, who has helped draw up the law within the Ministry of Justice, a master’s degree (MA or MSc), should be sufficient. 

How much capital will applicants need to show that they have? 

According to Rahm, the amount of money applicants will need to show that they have is likely to be set at the same level as the minimum salary for those applying for a work permit, which is currently 13,000 kronor a month. If he is right, this means that someone applying for a nine-month visa would have to show that they have 117,000 kronor (€11,259) in saved capital, plus extra for their trip back to their home country.

READ ALSO: How will the new work permit law just passed in Sweden affect foreigners?

Can applicants bring children and spouses? 

“You will not be able to bring your family with this kind of visa, since the idea is that it’s for a relatively limited amount of time,  just to see if there is employment for you, or if there is a chance of starting a business,” says Elin Jansson, deputy director at the Ministry of Justice, who helped work on the new visa. “And if you do decide to stay in Sweden, then you apply for a regular work permit for starting up a business, and then you can bring your family.” 

Where will detailed information on the requirements for a talent visa be published? 

The Migration Agency will publish detailed requirements on the talent visa on its Working in Sweden page when the law starts to apply on June 1st. 

What is the reason for the talent visa? 

Those searching for a job or researching starting a new business in Sweden can already stay for up to 90 days with a normal Schengen visa. The idea behind the talent visa is to give highly educated foreigners a little longer to decide if they want to find a job or set up a business in the country before they need to go the whole way and launch a company. 

How many people are expected to apply? 

In the government inquiry on the new work permit law, experts estimated that about 500 people would apply for the new talent visa each year, but it could end up being either much more, or less. 

“It’s really hard to tell. There could be a really big demand. I don’t think it’s anyone can really say before this comes into effect,” Jansson said.