US lecturer in Malmö fined for negligence after university’s work permit error

An American academic at Malmö University has been hit with legal fees and fines worth more than a month's salary after a migration court found her guilty of negligence for relying on information from the university's human resources department about her work permit.

US lecturer in Malmö fined for negligence after university's work permit error
Erin Cory and her daughter Zia. Photo: Private

Erin Cory, a senior lecturer at Malmö University, was still living in Denmark when she started working at the university, and the university’s human resources department mistakenly believed that she did not require a work permit. 

The department managed her salary and tax payments according to the deal between Denmark and Sweden, but did not ask her to apply for a work permit.

According to court documents seen by The Local, university staff said they assumed that Erin was a Danish citizen because she lived in Denmark and was married to a Dane, although she had submitted her US passport during the recruitment process.

While Danes and other EU nationals do not need a work permit to work in Sweden, as a third country national Erin did need one, but when she asked her university if there was anything she needed to do, she says she was told that there wasn’t.

It was only when she gained a permanent position as a senior lecturer, decided to move to Sweden and applied for residency that she discovered that she had been working without the required permit.

Earlier this month, the Court of Migration ruled that she had been negligent in not checking that the university was correct, finding her guilty of a crime under Swedish immigration law. She was ordered to pay fines totalling 20,000 kronor as well as further legal fees.

“Erin Cory could easily have checked whether a work permit was required, by, for example, checking the website of the Swedish Migration Agency,” the judgement read.

“This means that Erin Cory has been negligent. This judgement is not affected by the fact that the university gave reassurances, and also not by the fact that it is the responsibility of an employer to cooperate on work permit applications.”

Cory told The Local that the fines and legal fees would “take me well up over a month’s pay”.

“What’s mystifying to me is that the university is a state institution, so basically, the state is saying, ‘you trusted the state, you shouldn’t have trusted the state, and so now the state is going to punish you’. It’s confusing logic,” she added.

Cory’s friends organised a crowdfunding campaign to cover the fees, which on Wednesday raised 51,918 kronor, well ahead of the 40,000 kronor target, meaning she will at least not be out of pocket. She plans to donate any remainder to a Malmö cultural centre and an organisation supporting foreigners who face work permit issues.

Several of the HR staff and management at Malmö University have already been found negligent, and Cory said that the university had been helpful, even though they have not offered her help with legal fees. 

“To be honest with you, my communication with the Dean and the Vice-Chancellor has been fantastic, they’ve been as supportive as they can be, within the parameters of what they are legally able to do,” she said. 

But she said she now feared that she might face problems when extending her work permit this autumn, because the issue will show up on her file.

“Highly skilled labourers in Sweden get deported all the time for mistakes on the part of their employers,” she said. “I am concerned about what this will mean for my work life and personal life in the long run.”

Cory was living in Denmark and teaching part-time at a Danish university when she was offered a post-doc position in Malmö in Refugee Migration and Media Studies in 2017. When she later received a permanent position and decided to move to Sweden, the problem of her missing permit was discovered. She then had to take leave from her lecturing at Malmö while she tried to get residency in Sweden, which she eventually did in early 2019. 

In 2018 she was called to the police station in Malmö for an interview. The following year, unbeknownst to her, the university was fined for negligence. It was only in November last year when she received a court summons, that she realised that she herself might also risk punishment. 

She is now worried about the consequences if she loses her Swedish residency and is forced to return to the US.

“I would hate to lose my job because I am passionate about my field, and feel I have ended up in exactly the kind of department I would like to work in for the rest of my career,” she told The Local.

“If the verdict affects my ability to work and live in Sweden, I also risk being separated from my daughter, who is almost six. The idea of being forced to live apart from her is absolutely unbearable.”

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EXPLAINED: What do we know so far about Sweden’s new ‘talent visa’?

In the new work permit law which comes into force on June 1st, Sweden is launching a new nine-month 'talent visa', which will allow “some highly qualified individuals” to get temporary residency while they look for jobs or plan to launch a business. What do we know so far?

EXPLAINED: What do we know so far about Sweden's new 'talent visa'?

When was the law passed and when does it come into force? 

The parliament passed the new law on April 21st, and the final text of the change in the law was published on May 5th. It will come into force on June 1st. 

What does the new law say about the ‘talent visa’? 

It says that “in certain cases”, a temporary residency permit can be granted to a foreigner who wants to “spend time in the country to look for work or to look into the possibility of starting a business”. 

To qualify the applicant must: 

  • have completed studies equivalent to an advanced level degree 
  • have sufficient means to support themselves during their stay and to cover the cost of their return trip 
  • have fully comprehensive health insurance which is valid in Sweden 

How long can people initially stay in Sweden under the talent visa? 

The residency permit will be valid for a maximum of nine months.

Which agency will assess applications for the talent visa? 

The government has decided that applications should be assessed by the Migration Agency. The Migration Agency will publish more details on the requirements, such as what qualifies as an advanced degree, what documents need to be submitted, and how much capital applicants will need to show they can support themselves, in the coming weeks. 

The Migration Agency is also likely to develop a form for those wishing to apply for the talent visa. 

What level of education is necessary? 

What is meant by an “advanced degree” has not been set ou in the law, but according to Karl Rahm, who has helped draw up the law within the Ministry of Justice, a master’s degree (MA or MSc), should be sufficient. 

How much capital will applicants need to show that they have? 

According to Rahm, the amount of money applicants will need to show that they have is likely to be set at the same level as the minimum salary for those applying for a work permit, which is currently 13,000 kronor a month. If he is right, this means that someone applying for a nine-month visa would have to show that they have 117,000 kronor (€11,259) in saved capital, plus extra for their trip back to their home country.

READ ALSO: How will the new work permit law just passed in Sweden affect foreigners?

Can applicants bring children and spouses? 

“You will not be able to bring your family with this kind of visa, since the idea is that it’s for a relatively limited amount of time,  just to see if there is employment for you, or if there is a chance of starting a business,” says Elin Jansson, deputy director at the Ministry of Justice, who helped work on the new visa. “And if you do decide to stay in Sweden, then you apply for a regular work permit for starting up a business, and then you can bring your family.” 

Where will detailed information on the requirements for a talent visa be published? 

The Migration Agency will publish detailed requirements on the talent visa on its Working in Sweden page when the law starts to apply on June 1st. 

What is the reason for the talent visa? 

Those searching for a job or researching starting a new business in Sweden can already stay for up to 90 days with a normal Schengen visa. The idea behind the talent visa is to give highly educated foreigners a little longer to decide if they want to find a job or set up a business in the country before they need to go the whole way and launch a company. 

How many people are expected to apply? 

In the government inquiry on the new work permit law, experts estimated that about 500 people would apply for the new talent visa each year, but it could end up being either much more, or less. 

“It’s really hard to tell. There could be a really big demand. I don’t think it’s anyone can really say before this comes into effect,” Jansson said.