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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about the proposals to change Swedish migration law

A parliamentary committee set up to work out a new migration policy for Sweden has now handed over its proposal to the government. We take a look at the key proposals to be aware of, from changes to the maintenance requirement for family members to a new Swedish language requirement for permanent residents.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about the proposals to change Swedish migration law
An interview at the Stockholm office of the Swedish Migration Agency. Photo: Marcus Ericsson / TT

The suggested changes to Swedish migration law were outlined on Tuesday in a 600-page report from a Migration Committee which includes representatives from each party as well as independent experts. 

Even still, these proposals are not as extensive as first expected. The aim of the committee was to come up with ideas for a “humane, legally certain and effective” migration policy to replace the temporary laws introduced in 2016 in the wake of a mass influx of refugees. 

After cross-party talks broke down, the final report was made up of more than 20 proposals rather than a comprehensive policy, each one supported by several parties. The proposed changes fall into five categories, and would affect people who move to Sweden to join a family member, as refugees, or for special protection, as well as those applying for permanent residence.

But there are still several hurdles before any of them become law.

For that to happen, the Social Democrat-Green government would need to put together a bill, send it out for consultation, and it would then need to pass a parliamentary vote. But the Green party, the minority coalition partner, only backs a small number of the proposals, so it's not clear yet how the government will proceed.

Permanent residence requirements

Currently, non-EU citizens can apply for a long-term residence permit after five years living in Sweden with the ability to support yourself, while EU citizens can apply for a permanent residence permit after the same amount of time.

The committee suggests introducing additional requirements. Permanent residence would only be granted to those who “meet the requirements of Swedish language skills and civic knowledge, who can support themselves, and where there is no doubt, with regard to the alien's expected way of life, that a permanent residence permit should be granted”.

This is a big change; there is currently no requirement of language skills or civic knowledge for either permanent residence or even Swedish citizenship.

There would however be exemptions from the first three requirements (language, civic knowledge, maintenance) for pensioners who are eligible for a Swedish national or guarantee pension (meaning they had either worked in Sweden or retired there after living on a low income or no income) as well as for children. There would also be exemptions in other “exceptional” cases.

Moving to someone in Sweden

The proposals would make it easier for people living in Sweden on temporary residence permits to have family members move to join them.

If the person on a temporary permit (the 'sponsor') has “good prospects” of getting permanent residence, their family members would be eligible for a family residence permit. That includes spouses, cohabiting partners, unmarried children of either the sponsor or the sponsor's partner, and other close family members where a “special relationship of dependency” existed in the home country.

These permits would be valid for the same time as the permit of the family member they are moving to. If they extended their permit, they would be eligible for a temporary permit of up to two years, which could then be extended for up to another two years, as long as their permit was never valid for longer than that of their sponsor.

In certain situations, it would be possible for the relocating family member to apply for a permanent residence permit after at least three years in Sweden.

Photo: Anna Hållams/

Exemption from family maintenance requirements for Swedish and EEA citizens

This has been one of the most hotly-debated issues as political parties tried to come to agreement on the proposals.

One of the big changes in the 2016 temporary law was the introduction of so-called maintenance requirements for people bringing family members over to Sweden.

Unlike the changes outlined above, this applied to anyone bringing over a family member, including permanent residents and citizens. Anyone bringing a family member or spouse to Sweden must currently prove that their income and size of their home is sufficient to support the family member. Any job offer, savings or independent income of the family member is not taken into account.

The Migration Committee proposes retaining the maintenance requirement as a condition of family permits as a general rule, although it should not apply for applications for permit extensions.

There would be a significant exemption from the requirement however.

The maintenance requirement would no longer apply if the family member already in Sweden is a citizen of Sweden, an EEA country, Switzerland or the UK, and the permit applicant is their spouse or cohabiting partner. In these cases, the couple would still need to prove that their relationship was well-established, for example by showing they have lived together in another country. 

Other exemptions would apply in exceptional circumstances as well as for refugees if certain other criteria are met.

Temporary residence permits for refugees

One of the issues the committee was asked to decide on was whether people granted protection should be given temporary or permanent residence permits. Previously permanent residence permits were the norm, but since 2016 temporary permits have been the default.

That would remain the case under the new proposals, which include seven points related to the duration of residence permits.

People granted protection as refugees would be given three-year residence permits, and people receiving protection on other grounds would be given permits of 13 months. If these permits were extended, the committee proposes that these new permits also be temporary rather than permanent, with a validity of two years. Under certain criteria, it would be possible to apply for a permanent residence permit.

It would also be possible for people with these temporary permits to apply for a work permit.

Humanitarian grounds

Under current laws, people can be granted residence in Sweden for protection if they are classed as refugees or “others in need of protection”.

A new category would be introduced to cover people who are considered to need to stay in Sweden on humanitarian grounds. This would cover people who fall through the gaps under the existing rules, and the category “others in need of protection” would be removed.

The proposals state that this would apply for people who aren't eligible for other permits but are subject to “exceptionally distressing circumstances” based on an overall assessment of their situation.

This might cover their health, the ways they have adapted to Swedish life, and the situation in their country of origin. And the criteria would be applied especially generously for children, so that they might be granted residence permits even if the circumstances wouldn't be serious enough to grant a permit to an adult in that situation.

These permits would be temporary and valid for 13 months, and could be extended for two years at a time.

What do you think about the proposals? We want to know what our readers think so that we can fight your corner in Sweden. Comment below or email [email protected] to share your thoughts with our editorial team.

Member comments

  1. Do we have any updates on Riksdag for this? like how will the language be evaluated: by effort or by result driven? and what level shall the applicant to be expect to reach?

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One year on: How Sweden’s new permit rule for PhDs has upended lives

In July last year, Sweden's new migration law tightened residency rules for PhD students, sending the future plans of thousands into disarray. The SACO union spoke to three of them about how their lives had been changed.

One year on: How Sweden's new permit rule for PhDs has upended lives

Chen, 31, from China.

PhD on non-pesticide methods to reduce insect damage in newly-planted forests.

Chen, who came to Sweden from China in 2017 to study a the Swedish Agricultural University, says that she has felt trapped in Sweden since defending her thesis in November, as the Migration Agency does not normally allow those applying for a residency permit to travel 

“I feel like I’m under house arrest,” she complains. “I haven’t been able to take a vacation outside Sweden since my permanent residency application is pending, and I can’t go back to China to visit my family for the same reason — two years since the first Covid outbreak at the beginning of 2020.” 

Now the exemption from residency permit requirements for PhD students has been removed, PhD students generally need to get a job as soon as they graduate to show that they can support themselves, but Chen says she was so deeply engaged in her studies that it was near-impossible to send off job or research applications. 

“There are many days I woke up at 8am and left my office at midnight,” she remembers. “I ate for only one meal during the day in order to finish my thesis in time. I could barely spare any time to look for jobs or send job applications even though I knew I had to get a job offer for at least two years to get a positive decision on my permanent residency application. “

“After my defence, there was no time to celebrate my achievement but I instead started to search for jobs immediately.”

Before the change in the rules, Chen had planned to look for post doctoral studies in another European country, but the new rules makes that difficult. 

“My plan was to do a one or two year postdoc in another country to strengthen my competence and then come back to Sweden,” she said. It is rather common to do a postdoc in a new country and then come back to the PhD country for a more stable academic position,” she said. “By doing so we could broaden our vision, establish collaboration and bring back new insights.

“When we got permanent residency, returning to Sweden was easier, without having to go through all the energy-consuming stuff, like getting a job offer and applying for a work permit, getting a personal number, Swedish ID, bank account, Bank-ID and insurance.” 

She believes that the Swedish government should acknowledge that the impact of the new alien act on PhD students is a mistake and take steps to reverse the changes.

“Do not be afraid to admit that you made wrong decision, be open-minded and listen to different voices,” she tells the Swedish authorities. “There are ways to fix the mess and regain people’s trust.”

Now she’s considering whether to carry on seeking work and waiting for the Migration Agency to take its decision, or whether to take her expertise to another country, probably The Netherlands or Germany. 

“The way to regain my freedom is either to get a job that fulfils the new requirement or to leave Sweden to build my life and career somewhere else.” 


Melissa, from Australia. Photo: private

Melissa, 36, Australia

PhD on riparian ecosystem science

“It’s brought a big, dark shadow of insecurity into mine and my partners’ long term plans,” says Melissa, who decided to do her PhD in Sweden partly because her partner is Swedish, and partly because she knew she would be “a better researcher and scientist” if she spent time researching in another country. 

When she arrived, she wasn’t necessarily planning to continue her research in Sweden, but as she began to realise she perhaps wanted to, the change in the law came in, making it more difficult. 

“Turns out, I really like it here and I like the research environment! I do want to stay in Sweden to pursue a career here. I knew that an academic career was already very unpredictable but I had hoped that after finishing my PhD I could continue branching out from the research I’ve been doing in boreal forests in the form of postdoctoral positions with some of the Swedish researchers I really admire.”

That is now all looking more and more unlikely. 

“It’s almost like there’s this atmosphere of uncertainty that’s with me when I think about life after my PhD,” she says. “It’s already stressful to think about what I will do when I finish my doctoral studies, but adding in the stress of possibly not being able to stay in Sweden is massively draining, especially when the Aliens Act seems to ignore, or not care to consider, the realities of an academic career.”

She believes that the Swedish government should at least adapt the Aliens Act to reflect what she calls “the realities of academic careers”. 

“It is virtually unheard of for a young researcher to gain a position that fulfils the support requirements for 18 months and by not adjusting the Aliens Act to account for this you are discouraging really talented and passionate young researchers from coming.”

Although she wasn’t set on staying in Sweden for the long term when she started her PhD, she’s finding the new barrier to residency is putting her off, pushing her to consider positions in Australia or the US. 

“I’m more hesitant about pursuing an academic career in Sweden because the added feeling of ‘temporary-ness’ in everything I do,” she says. “It even just manifests itself in little things like abandoning our plans to get a dog, buy a house, or have a more long term career goal in Sweden because permanency isn’t so much of an option anymore.” 

Tuser Biswas, from Bangladesh, is researching textiles at Borås Högskola. Photo: private

Tuser Biswas, 34, Bangladesh 

PhD on sustainably printing biological materials onto textiles which can fight bacteria and viruses

Tuser Biswas has also  had his plans to work as a postdoc outside Sweden thrown into chaos by the new law, which came out four months after he’d applied for permanent residency. 

After I finish my PhD in Sweden, I would like to go work somewhere else as a postdoc. When I started my PhD, I knew that if I want to go somewhere else, I could always come back to Sweden (and I probably would) but know I am not sure what I would do,” he says. 

Also, like Chen, he has been stuck in Sweden as a result of the law. 

“I’ve had to cancel attending conferences and still can’t plan work related trips outside Sweden. My family is very stressed for not being able to travel to home country for a long time now.”

He says that the change in labour laws has changed his views on Sweden. 

“The total political environment is getting unfriendly for international mobility. I came to live in an open-minded society, but it seems like a mirage now.” 

He believes that the government should better tailor its migration laws to fit researchers. 

“Don’t make a ‘one size fits all’ type law. The working conditions for PhD researchers and other employees are not the same. How can you judge them all under the same law?”.