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Explained: What’s going on with Sweden’s migration policy?

Sweden is currently working to replace its temporary migration laws with a long-term policy, but the question of how this should look has divided the parties, not least the two government coalition partners. Here's everything you need to know.

Explained: What's going on with Sweden's migration policy?
The proposals would affect refugees, economic migrants, and family members of people in Sweden. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

What's happened?

Sweden's government on Wednesday announced that the two coalition partners have agreed on what the next steps for a new Swedish migration policy will look like.

The proposals were outlined in September by Sweden's Migration Committee, which included representatives from each parliamentary party as well as independent experts. But the parties could not reach an agreement, so the final report was made up of 26 proposals rather than a comprehensive policy, each one supported by several parties.

The Social Democrats supported all 26 of the proposals, but their junior coalition partner the Green Party agreed with only three, leaving the future of the policy uncertain. 

Now, both coalition partners have decided to prepare a bill based on the 26 proposals, as well as some supplementary proposals backed by the Green Party. That's the next step towards a new migration policy for Sweden.

What were the 26 proposals?

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. These were the main changes:

  1. Language and civics requirements for permanent residents: 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”. There would be exemptions from the first three requirements for pensioners, children, or other exceptional cases.
  2. Making it easier to move to someone in Sweden: Family members of people living in Sweden on temporary residence permits 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.
  3. Exemption from family maintenance requirements for Swedish, EEA and UK 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. Under the new proposals, this 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.
  4. Temporary residence permits for refugees: Permanent residence permits used to be the norm in Sweden for refugees, but since 2016 temporary permits have been the default. That would remain the case under the new proposals.
  5. 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”. Under the new proposals, a new category would be introduced to cover people who are considered to need to stay in Sweden on humanitarian grounds, to cover people who fall through the gaps under the existing rules.

An interview at the Stockholm office of the Swedish Migration Agency. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

What are the newly added proposals?

All of the 26 proposals above, put forward by the Migration Committee, will now be sent out for consultation.

But the Social Democrat-Green government will also put forward an additional set of proposals. The main reason for this is getting the support of the Green Party.

One such addition is a proposed change to the so-called 'high school law' (gymnasielagen) which currently means that young asylum seekers whose claims are unsuccessful may remain in Sweden to complete upper secondary school, but must leave the country if they do not find a job within six months of graduation. The proposed change would increase this time limit to a year, something Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin said was suggested “in light of the very tough job market due to the corona pandemic”.

Another proposal is increased leniency for people who have been granted temporary residence permits on the grounds of need for protection. If that need no longer applies, they should still be allowed to stay in the country if they have lived in Sweden long-term, Migration Minister Morgan Johansson said.

“We've thought about what kind of unreasonable effects this could have, what we need to bear in mind,” he said, giving the example of someone who has had temporary residence in Sweden for five to ten years, has established themselves in the country potentially with a family and a job. “It might be unreasonable in this situation to kick out the whole family […] in these situations we should be prepared to grant continued temporary residence in individual cases.”

And the third main proposal was introducing the possibility for so-called quota refugees' family members to apply for family residence permits on the same basis as other refugees.


What happens next?

The 26 proposals from the committee, and the additional proposals mentioned above, will now be put forward by the government as a bill for consultation.

This means they will send it to relevant expert authorities for feedback, for example on how difficult the proposals would be to implement, what work or funding would be required, and any potential issues with the bill. 

Based on this feedback, the government may adapt the bill before putting it to parliament. 

It will only become law if it passes a parliamentary vote – and even then, it usually takes time from a bill passing in parliament to its implementation. Some of the proposals, such as changes to what kind of permit people should be granted in different situations, should in theory be quicker to implement, but others, such as the introduction of language tests for prospective permanent residents, would likely require time to put together a concrete proposal of how this would work.

Sweden's temporary migration law expires in July next year, so the aim will be to have at least some of the changes in place before then.

“We need to have a new migration policy in place before the current one runs out […] and therefore we need a new policy in place which should be sustainable and long-term, and this is an important step towards that,” said Johansson. 

If this doesn't happen in time, Sweden would revert to its former policy, which Johansson said “we do not want”.

The timeline set out by the ministers was sending the bill to the Council of Legislation and preparing it during spring 2021, in order to come into effect in July.

Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Amir Nabizadeh/TT

What has the reaction been?

The parties to the right of centre have been critical of the inclusion of the Green Party's additional proposals. 

The right-of-centre Moderate Party's migration policy spokesperson said on Twitter that the news hailed the “total collapse” of the Social Democrats.

The leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats went a step further and said that putting forward the Green Party's additional proposals was a “betrayal”. “This means war,” wrote Jimmie Åkesson on Twitter.

The 26 proposals all have the support of some parties in parliament, because the aim of the Migration Committee was to come up with proposals that would be passed. The difficulty in putting together a new policy however has shown that migration is still one of the main issues dividing Sweden's politicians.

And although the two coalition partners have agreed on putting forward the bill, the divisions within the government have not been fully resolved either.

Asked on Wednesday how many of the proposals the Green Party now supported, Lövin did not answer directly, but simply said that the additional proposals “blocked some of the risks” of the Migration Committee's 26 suggestions. As for the Social Democrats, they face the risk that voters will see their concessions to the Green Party as a high price to pay.

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For members


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