Swedish committee presents proposals for new migration laws

UPDATED: A parliamentary committee set up to review Swedish migration policy suggests a series of legislative changes in a new 600-page report, including making language skills a requirement for permanent residence permits.

Swedish committee presents proposals for new migration laws
Sweden received more than 160,000 asylum applications in 2015, but only 22,000 last year. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

It is not as comprehensive as originally intended, but the committee's final report, released on Tuesday, is still more than 600 pages and contains a series of proposals regarding amendments to Swedish migration law.

These include introducing language requirements for permanent residence permits, and that first-time residence permits should as a rule of thumb be temporary rather than permanent. Those who are granted refugee protection should be given three-year residence permits, and people receiving protection on other grounds should be given permits of 13 months. It would be possible to apply for an extension when the permits run out.

Sweden set up the Migration Committee with representatives from each party last year, with the aim of creating a comprehensive new law that could replace the current temporary law – which tightened rules for immigrants when it was introduced in 2016 – when it expires next summer.

But after talks broke down in July, the committee – which is also made up of experts and secretaries in addition to political representatives – had to shelve plans for a wide-reaching policy. Instead, it has presented a series of smaller proposals which are each supported by various political parties.

The committee's proposal is more or less to make the current temporary law permanent, as The Local has previously reported, which would mean sticking with the stricter post-2016 policy.

But some important differences include language and civics requirements for permanent residence permits, with the exception of children and people entitled to a Swedish national pension or guarantee pension. It should also be possible to exempt applicants if there are particularly good reasons for doing so, reads the committee report.

The committee also suggests that refugees and people who have been given protection on other humanitarian grounds should still have the right to family reunification, as is also granted by the temporary law. They will not have to show that they are able to support the family members in Sweden (maintenance requirement), as long as the application is handed in no later than three months after their own residence permit has been granted.

The maintenance requirement should not apply to cases where a citizen of Sweden, EEA, Switzerland or the UK wishes to bring their partner to Sweden, as long as the pair have previously lived together abroad or are able to show in other ways that they are in a long-term relationship, according to the report.

Here's The Local's in-depth explanation of the proposals.

What happens next?

The fact that the policies above have been proposed by the committee does not automatically mean they will make it into Swedish law, or even to the next step of the legislative process.

What would normally happen is that Sweden's government would prepare a bill on the back of the proposals, then send it out for a consultation round, and then put it to parliament for a vote.

However, Sweden is ruled by a Social Democrat-Green centre-left coalition government, who disagree on many of the proposals. The Social Democrats back them all, but the Greens only a few, arguing that the majority of them are too strict. Bridging that gap in order to put forward a legislative proposal will prove difficult.

The conservative opposition in parliament, meanwhile, thinks the proposals don't go far enough.

The largest opposition party, the Moderate Party, for example wants people given protection on other humanitarian grounds to be entitled to family reunification only after two years, and wants to tighten up the rules for supporting family members that an applicant wants to bring to Sweden, reports TT.

The party also says no to allowing “particularly distressing circumstances” as grounds for protection, and wants to step up measures to ensure that people whose asylum application has been rejected leave the country.

Sweden's current temporary law is set to expire on July 19th, 2021. Unless parliament manages to agree on a new law to replace it, Sweden will return to the more generous laws that were in place before 2016.

Last year Sweden received almost 22,000 asylum applications, and the Migration Agency approved 27 percent of almost 25,000 asylum applications from first-time applicants that it processed over the course of the year.

The Migration Committee's work mainly looks at migration laws in relation to asylum rules, although some of the proposals also affect other foreign residents in Sweden. A separate ongoing inquiry into labour migration and work permits is set to present its report next year.

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What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party