Want permanent residence? Learn Swedish first, new report proposes

Permanent residence permits should only be granted to foreigners who can show they are able to meet certain requirements regarding Swedish skills and civics knowledge, a new report suggests.

Want permanent residence? Learn Swedish first, new report proposes
The proposal is part of a major new report on Swedish migration laws. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The proposal is part of a major report by a parliamentary Migration Committee, which was set up last year to suggest new migration laws that would replace a temporary law which is due to expire next summer.

It is important to note that the fact that it has been proposed does not mean that it will automatically make it into Swedish law, or even to the next step of the legislative process. There are several hurdles along the way, not least the fact that Sweden's centre-left coalition government is split on many of the report's proposals.

But as Sweden is one of the few countries that does not even require language tests for citizenship applicants, it would be a major change to the lives of many foreign residents in Sweden, so we'll explain what it means.

The Migration Committee's full report, which is more than 600 pages and contains a series of other proposals, including temporary permits for asylum seekers and new family maintenance exceptions, which you can read about here. It explains the new proposals for permanent residence permits as follows:

“The Committee proposes that permanent residence permits should only be granted to aliens 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.

“A permanent residence permit should also be conditional on the alien having held a temporary Swedish residence permit for at least three years.”

Would there be exceptions?

Yes. Children and people who are entitled to receive a national pension or guarantee pension should be exempted from the requirements regarding language skills, civic knowledge and maintenance, according to the committee's report.

It should also be possible to exempt others if there are “exceptional grounds” for doing so.

The committee also proposes that it should be possible for the applicant to appeal a decision not to grant a permanent residence permit.

How would language skills be tested?

The report does not go into depth into how a foreigner's language skills would be assessed, but suggests that organising tests may be too demanding on resources and that an alternative option could be to link it to the applicant passing a Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) level C course.

But the matter is deliberately left open-ended.

A separate ongoing government inquiry into introducing language and civic tests for citizenship applicants is set to present its report later this year and next year, so the Migration Committee suggests awaiting that, and that the government or an expert authority should then come up with detailed requirements for how language skills could be assessed.

What happens next?

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 most of the proposals. The Social Democrats back them all, but the Greens only a few, arguing that the majority of them are too strict, including the language requirement. Bridging that gap in order to put forward a legislative proposal will prove difficult for the government.

But they are pressed for time. 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, which the Social Democrats have said they do not want.

The Migration Committee's report is split into several proposals, so one potential scenario could be that the government only moves forward with some of the proposals for now. Since language requirements would be a completely new measure, it is less time-sensitive than some of the other proposals, and the government will likely choose to await the outcome of the separate inquiry into language and civic tests for would-be citizens.

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

Should Swedish skills be a requirement for permanent residence?

Member comments

  1. I’m curious to know if the authors of this proposed legislation have made public statement about what specific problems they wish to solve by enacting a language requirement. I’m concerned by some of the phrasing quoted in the article. For example, about the ability of migrants to “support themselves.” I read an interesting article about a student at Uppsala University who was about to graduate and, thus, sent out many resumes for jobs his skills and experience qualified him for. He heard nothing back. He then changed the surname on his resume to something “Swedish” sounding and sent out many more resume’s ~ some of them to the same employers he’d already applied to. He received calls back. So, I’m wondering, how the ability to support oneself should be measured: if a person is qualified and applying for work but not being called to interview because of racism/xenophobia/jingoism, how will that be evaluated? I do hope the legislators clarify what “the alien’s expected way of life” is supposed to mean as the meaning is inscrutable as written. So, my concerns aren’t about whether there is a language test or not; I worry that the primary motivation around the proposed requirements is mostly just racism. I’m worried that something potentially legitimate, like a language test, is just being used as a bludgeon to harm an already vulnerable demographic, forcing them deeper into a role of kicking post/scape goat for Swedens lower common denominators.

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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?”.