British student turned back at Swedish border over Brexit permit mix-up

British student turned back at Swedish border over Brexit permit mix-up
A photo the student took of border police on the platform. Photo: Michael Hawgood
A British student set to begin a PhD at a prestigious Stockholm university was turned back at the border and had his move delayed after being given misleading information by Swedish authorities about the visa rules that applied to him.

Michael Hawgood will study cancer genetics at the Karolinska Institute, and since his acceptance onto the programme in December he has been preparing for the move, contacting multiple Swedish authorities to ensure he had the paperwork.  

But when he tried to move to Stockholm from Copenhagen, where he has lived since 2017, he was turned back despite having multiple documents proving he was moving to Sweden to work and reside there.

Email correspondence seen by The Local shows how the Migration Agency gave him information about the wrong kind of permit.

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After his acceptance onto the programme Michael applied for a residence permit, now a requirement for Britons moving to Sweden for work or study. He says he found “a lot of contradictory information” about what he needed, and contacted the Migration Agency several times to confirm he had the correct documentation to make the move.

“Normally we are shielded from this as EU citizens, but now Britons are non-EU we have to jump through all the hoops,” he told The Local. Apparent confusion over what now applies to Britons meant Michael was given misleading information when he contacted Swedish authorities.

After the student asked what permit applied to him as a Brit moving to Sweden for a PhD in 2021 agency staff members wrongly advised him about a work permit which he was not eligible for.

“If one is a British citizen and have lived in Sweden before Brexit one can stay even though no longer a EU citizen” one staff member at the agency said, directing Michael to the application for residence permits for Brits already resident in Sweden before the end of the transition period on December 31st.

When he asked about his permit for doctoral studies he was also told: “You apply online, from within Sweden and can stay in Sweden waiting for a decision.” However this information only applies to the post-Brexit permit, and not for Brits in Michael’s situation, moving for the first time after December 31st, 2020.

A Migration Agency spokesperson confirmed this to The Local, saying: “British citizens who want to study in Sweden now have to apply for a residence permit, which must be issued and granted before they arrive.”

Based on the information he had received, Michael set off to his new apartment in Sweden on March 13th, unaware that he needed an approved residence permit in order to enter, having been told that he could wait for it to be approved after arriving in the country. As well as proof of his permit application, he had his Swedish work contract, housing contract, and negative Covid-19 test result.

When he reached the border on March 13th, he says a border police officer told him his paperwork looked good but needed to be double-checked before he was allowed into Sweden.

“He said I could take the next train in 20 minutes. Instead I was waiting on the platform for three hours and then sent back to Denmark, where I no longer live,” said Michael. 

When he contacted the Migration Agency to explain what had happened and to ask what could be done to get the documentation needed to travel, he was again told by email “British citizens do not require a visa and only need a passport or national ID card upon entry to Sweden”.

Under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement this is correct and Brits can stay in Sweden for up to 90 days as visitors with no permit. However, at the time Michael was travelling, stricter rules on entry from both the UK and Denmark had been in place for several months, relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This meant that it was not possible to enter Sweden unless the traveller fell into certain exempt categories, such as residents in Sweden. But to be considered under this category, Michael needed an approved residence permit and not just an in-progress application. The agency also directed him to border police, who are responsible for making decisions on individual cases and interpreting current border laws.

“But you can’t contact border police,” Michael told The Local. “I tried several times, I called the police in Malmö who said they couldn’t answer questions about the border controls, and when I asked to be connected to the border police I was told this was not possible. It seems like the only way to speak to them is when you’re stood in front of them at the border.”

“It has been extremely stressful and tiring. I have been on the phone all week with Migrationsverket and the police trying to get answers and figure out what I need to do. It is next to impossible to get through to them on the phone and all the contradicting info makes it very difficult to navigate,” he says.

“I was meant to collect the key to my apartment that Saturday evening. But I was not allowed in Sweden, I was in a mess. I had to arrange for my supervisor to collect the key on my behalf. I also had all my belongings picked up by a removal company the day before I left and they were delivered this week. I was extremely worried about what would happen to my stuff if I was not there to receive it. Thankfully my supervisor took care of that in Stockholm.”

He had also moved out of his Copenhagen apartment, and told border police that his apartment and belongings were in Stockholm. 

As of March 22nd, Michael has been informed his permit application has been accepted — although he says he only found this out because he was calling the Migration Agency every day, and has not received any email or post to confirm this.

“I wanted proof that it had been accepted, so that I can take this with me across the border to show the police. Migrationsverket will not send me anything digitally, even though the year is 2021. Instead they posted the documentation to the Swedish Embassy in London,” said Michael, still currently resident in Copenhagen. 

He contacted the London Embassy, who said he could collect a copy of the document from the Swedish Embassy in Copenhagen, although when he visited the embassy, he was told this was not possible, and was unable to get through to the London embassy on the phone.

At the time of publication, Michael had been told his permit application has been approved, but that he would need to travel to Stockholm to get a photograph and fingerprints taken for the permit to be issued.

Michael Hawgood. Photo: Private


Member comments

  1. I thank The Local and Catherine Edwards for this attention and coverage because Migrationsverket really really need your help and attention in order to recover from its chronic severe diseases. Thank you!

  2. Sounds very typical of Sweden and Migrationsverket. Zero understanding, zero flexibility and poor processes. It’s always interesting to see how hard many work to market Sweden as a paradise when that effort could be spent actually making these things better. Migrationsverket needs to be held accountable for everything this chap went through. He should be compensated. I commend his PhD supervisor and I hope he can come here and do notable work.

    1. I agree with you, Kori. Migrationsverket has become a rude, disgusting and deplorable organization because the media have neglected most of its hateful mistakes and they think they are allowed to play with people’s lives in any way they enjoy without real accountability. It must change and we all must change them, i.e., all migration agencies of the world because the damages to some people they have hurt have unfortunately been huge and irretrievable.

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