In numbers: How many people got a work permit in Sweden last year?

Far fewer people than forecast moved to Sweden for work during 2020, but thousands relocated despite a pandemic.

In numbers: How many people got a work permit in Sweden last year?
How many were granted a work permit in 2020, and where did they come from? Photo: Christine Olsson and The Local

In total, 15,231 people had their work permit applications approved, according to statistics from the Swedish Migration Agency. That was down from 21,950 in 2019 and 20,841 the year before that.

The figure includes only people whose permits were approved outright, not those whose applications were approved at the appeals stage, whose permits were extended, or family members of people moving to Sweden for work (who are usually included on the same permit).

It also omits a few other categories of work which fall under different permit rules. In addition to these 15,231, Sweden issued permits to a further 114 sole traders, 905 guest researchers, and 2,534 people who fell into the category of interns, people on international exchange, or athletes.

In the months January to March, more than 1,500 people were granted a work permit to come to Sweden each month, but that dropped sharply to to 923 in April as the impact of the coronavirus slowed down work migration. The months with fewest permits granted were June (699) and August (644) though July saw a peak of 3,523 permits granted in one month.

The most common category was “technicians and associate professionals”, which made up 5,409 of all approved permits and primarily included berry-pickers and fast food workers. This was followed by the 4,037 work permit grantees defined as “specialists”, referring to jobs requiring education beyond tertiary, including architects, healthcare specialists, some teachers, legal professionals, HR specialists, doctors and others.

By some margin, most of Sweden's new workers moved to Stockholm, where 7,424 of the permit grantees were registered. This was unsurprisingly followed by the other two major city regions, with 1,942 people moving to Västra Götaland for work and 1,805 to Skåne. Gotland was the region with fewest new workers: just 27.

Sweden's new workers came from six continents, with most foreign professionals (3,426) coming from Thailand. This was followed by India (2,660), Ukraine (1,604), China (537), Iraq (520), Turkey (463), Iran (411), the USA (411), Serbia (347) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (298).

These figures only include non-EU workers, since EU citizens do not need to apply for a permit in order to live and work in Sweden. In 2020, British citizens were also exempt from that requirement, although are now subject to third country rules.

If you're one of Sweden's new foreign workers, congratulations and welcome! You can find out more about working life in your new adopted country at our Working in Sweden section here, and if there's a particular topic that's puzzling you or which you think we should look into, please get in touch and let us know. Considering taking the leap here? Make sure you've looked through our questions to ask before you move to Sweden.

Member comments

  1. “Sweden’s new workers came from six continents, with most foreign professionals (3,426) coming from Thailand. This was followed by India (2,660), Ukraine (1,604), China (537), Iraq (520), Turkey (463), Iran (411), the USA (411), Serbia (347) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (298).”
    Why Brazil with 383 is not in the list above?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


INTERVIEW: Does Sweden have a distinct management style?

The Local's Paul O'Mahony interviewed Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg, lecturer at Stockholm School of Economics and researcher at the Center for Responsible Leadership about the Swedish style of leadership.

INTERVIEW: Does Sweden have a distinct management style?

Does Sweden have a distinctive management style?

The Swedish style of leadership is often said to be characterised by so-called flat hierarchies, where everyone is able to – and expected to – contribute their ideas and input to tasks, regardless of whether they are in a leadership role or not.

Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg told The Local that there are a number of different aspects which can influence management style, although Sweden does have a distinct style.

“I think that there’s definitely an idea that there is a specific Swedish or Scandinavian management style,” she said. “But I think from a research perspective, it’s much more complex, because we tend to generalise or stereotype.”

“It’s got a lot to do with the company culture and the culture of the country,” Karlberg said, “There’s definitely an idea of Scandinavian leadership, I think we have a common idea of what that is, but then, is it actually practiced everywhere in Scandinavia or in Sweden? That’s another issue.”

“In many of our organisations we talk about Scandinavian leadership where the leadership is very international, it’s a mix of different people from different cultures.”

Sweden is a very individualist society, which is also reflected in Swedish business.

“I think the core of what we talk about when we talk about Swedish leadership is the fact that leaders and managers also call on co-workers to take ownership on the task and individualism comes into business,” Karlberg said.

“It’s even expected, and co-workers take that ownership, and they engage and they take responsibility for the outcome and the result. So it’s the total opposite of micro-management in that sense.”

This culture of ownership and engagement also applies to managers, Karlberg explained.

“To generalise, in a Swedish setting, if there’s a meeting with the boss, the co-workers will expect to be listened to, and to be involved in a conversation and give their opinion on things. And that’s also a way to motivate people, in a Swedish sense.”


Can lead to cultural clashes

This expectation in Swedish workplaces can lead to clashes if employees from other countries are used to a different system, Karlberg said.

“In another culture, say Finland, for example – I’m just generalising – you go to a meeting with your boss and you expect the boss to motivate you and to tell you what to do. So if you had a Finnish manager in a Swedish context, Swedish co-workers would probably feel neglected or frustrated for not being involved. ‘No-one asked my opinion, I want to share my opinion, my opinion matters'”.

This can also happen in situations where a Swedish manager is managing a group of employees from a different culture or country.

“A Finnish crowd with a Swedish manager might be very frustrated if the manager just asks questions and doesn’t seem to have a direction of their own. There’s just different expectations”.

However, there is also a collective aspect to Swedish workplaces, which foreigners working in the country often pick up on.

“When I work with international crowds, they tend to notice that Swedish co-workers and managers are very collective, they want to have consensus, they have to discuss everything, and it takes forever and it can be very frustrating.”

Swedish co-workers aren’t afraid to speak up though, if they feel that the decision their manager is making is wrong.

“But there are a lot of behaviours where Swedish co-workers will not accept a decision. For example, if they feel that the idea that their manager is bringing is wrong, it will actually be their duty to speak up, not in a confrontational way, but to say ‘Hmm, you know, this idea about doing it this way, it’s probably not a good idea.'”

“And non-Swedish managers might not always appreciate that kind of reaction. And if it continues, and the manager says that this is the way we’re gonna do it, the typical Swedish coworker will insist that this is the best way, and then there is a clash – again, they expect to be listened to and taken into consideration.”

How do you know when a decision has been taken in a Swedish workplace?

This need to feel informed and included in decision-making can in some cases make it difficult to understand at exactly what point a decision has been taken in a Swedish workplace.

“It’s a different process,” Karlberg said. “It often involves a calculated plan for taking the time to introduce the decision, discuss it, and make people feel that they have been informed.”

This aspect of the Swedish workplace culture caused issues during the pandemic, when many employees began to work from home.

“Decisions are taken in a much more informal way, and it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when something was decided. And we also saw that during the pandemic, that the typical Swedish organisation – which is very non-hierarchical – suffered a lot, because a lot of leadership is practiced in an informal work environment.”

“So when people were taken away from that environment – because suddenly they were working from home – it was sort of, you know, ‘how do we practice leadership now?’, whereas in an organisation with a much clearer hierarchy, it was never an issue where decisions were made or how leadership was practiced, because it was done in a different way.”

“And in the more informal, flatter organisations, we had to find a different way to do that, to translate into the virtual room.”

Despite this, Karlberg does believe that Sweden’s leadership style is effective.

“I would say that it is, yes. We stand out pretty well as a nation when it comes to different types of national measurements of competitiveness. We score quite high on that. Of course, there’s also a drawback, if people don’t want to take that responsibility and ownership, because then it’s not typical that the manager would step up and change the leadership style. So it depends on whether you actually share the same expectation.”

Where does the Swedish leadership style come from?

Sweden’s collaborative leadership style is perhaps a product of Sweden’s history, Karlberg said.

“We have always been a small country, very dependent on export. And that means that we had to adapt to the rest of the world and to other markets, but also having to collaborate – we’re too small to quarrel or fight.”

“This has been a way to bring people together in the same direction – it’s a little bit like how we work with the unions with much more of a collaborative focus instead of being confrontative, because it’s simply not rational for a small country like us.”

There’s also a strong tradition of independence in Sweden, Karlberg explained.

“There’s a genuine tradition of independence in the sense of mutual respect. And of course, a lot happened during the 20th century with the development of equality and the whole idea of individualist thinking. Where we’re individualistic with regard to family, with regard to gender, with regard to our roles in society.”

“I think that plays a part as well, with equality and also that everyone matters in that sense.”

You can hear Paul O’Mahony’s interview with Karlberg in our Sweden in Focus podcast where we discuss all aspects of life in Sweden and shed light on the latest Swedish news. Listen and subscribe.