Immigration For Members

KEY POINTS: How Sweden's new migration bill affects you

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
KEY POINTS: How Sweden's new migration bill affects you
The Swedish government has put forward a proposal to change Sweden's migration law. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

The Local takes a look at the key proposals in the government's planned overhaul of Swedish migration law and what they mean for you – from a new Swedish language requirement for permanent residents, to changes to the maintenance requirement for family members.


Why is the law being changed?

In 2016 Sweden introduced new and temporary legislation to bring down the unprecedented number of people who sought asylum in the country the year before. These laws are set to expire this summer, unless they are replaced with new laws.

A parliamentary Migration Committee was set up to work out a new migration policy for Sweden, and it presented an over 600-page report last year. The Social Democrat-Green government then together a draft bill based on the proposal.

The draft bill, which was first announced at a press conference on April 8th, went through the Council of Legislation (which is the body that checks bills before they can be submitted to parliament) on April 20th. On April 29th, the government sent the bill to parliament, which will now process it and put it to a vote. If parliament approves the proposals, they are meant to come into force on July 20th, 2021.

The Local read the draft bill, and here are the key details we found.


What are the overall changes?

In the bill’s own words (The Local’s translation), the changes mean that:

  • Residence permits granted in accordance with the Aliens Act for, among others, people in need of protection, should as a general rule be time-limited.
  • Permanent residence permits must be granted at the earliest after the foreigner has had a time-limited residence permit for at least three years, and only if certain special requirements are met.
  • The protection category “other persons in need of protection” is removed from the Aliens Act.
  • It shall be possible to grant a residence permit (to someone who has a) connection to a foreigner who has a temporary residence permit in certain cases.
  • The maintenance requirement that applies as a general rule in the case of family immigration shall include a requirement that the sponsor can also support the family member.
  • An adult who has resided in Sweden with a residence permit and during that time developed a special connection to Sweden shall be able to be granted a residence permit if the circumstances call for particularly compassionate grounds.

We’ll go into these in more depth below.


Temporary residence permits

Since the temporary migration law was introduced in 2016 temporary permits have been the norm in Sweden, but before that permanent permits were the default since 1984.

The bill proposes that refugees should be given three-year residence permits and people in need of subsidiary protection should be given 13-month residence permits. Each new temporary permit granted after that should last for two years, but the person could also receive a permanent residence permit after three years if they meet the requirements (see the next section for more on these requirements).

Permanent residence permits

Permanent residence permits should, according to the proposal, be granted only to foreigners 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”.

This would be a big change; there is currently no requirement of language skills or civic knowledge for either permanent residency or even Swedish citizenship.

It would apply not only to asylum seekers, but also to other foreign residents who want to upgrade their status to permanent residency, including study and work permit holders. The details are vague, but it would in its current form likely mean that for example doctoral students, who are currently able to get permanent residency after four years of doctoral studies, would have to make sure they learn Swedish alongside their studies.

It should be noted that the language and civics requirement proposal is not fully worked out yet, and will not come into force at the same time as some of the other proposals in the bill. There are also plans in the pipeline to introduce similar requirements for Swedish citizenship, and these plans will be developed in tandem at a later stage. So it is not yet clear how it would work in practice, or when or if it would be implemented.

It is possible that at least the language requirement won’t be a formal test, but rather a requirement to pass a certain level of Swedish for Immigrants (SFI), as the inquiry into the rules for citizenship suggested earlier this year. It is also likely that there will be exemptions, for example for elderly people, children and certain exceptional cases.


Moving to someone in Sweden

The proposals would make it easier for people living in Sweden on temporary residence permits to have family members move to join them.

If a refugee on a temporary permit (the “sponsor”) has “good prospects” of getting permanent residency, their family members would be eligible for a family residence permit. That includes spouses, co-habiting partners (or people who intend to move to Sweden to marry or live with their partner, as long as they can show their relationship is serious and was established in their home country) 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. These permits would be valid for the same time as the permit of the family member they are moving to.

A Migration Agency office in Sweden. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

Exemption from family maintenance requirements for EU/EEA citizens

One of the big changes in the 2016 temporary law was the introduction of so-called maintenance requirements for people bringing family members to Sweden. This applied to anyone bringing over a family member, including permanent residents and citizens.

Anyone bringing a family member or spouse to Sweden must under this rule 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.

The maintenance requirement should be retained as a general rule, writes the government in the bill, but there will be exemptions for citizens of Sweden, an EU/EEA country or Switzerland, in cases where the applicant is their spouse or co-habiting partner.

When the Migration Committee presented its original proposal last year, it suggested including exemptions for UK citizens. However, the government writes in the bill that the trade agreement that came into force between the EU and UK on January 1st, 2021, makes it “clear that the relationship between the EU and UK is of a different nature than the relationship between the EEA states and the relationship between the EU and Switzerland”. It therefore proposes that UK citizens should not be exempt from the maintenance requirement in the same way as Swedish, EEA and Swiss citizens.

Humanitarian grounds

Before the temporary law was introduced, people could be granted residence in Sweden for protection if they were classed as refugees or “other persons in need of protection” (övriga skyddsbehövande). The government states that the latter applied only to a small number of people, with 229 such permits granted in 2015, and that it to a large extent overlaps with another category, “in need of subsidiary protection” (alternativt skyddsbehövande). Therefore, the “other persons in need of protection” category would be removed.

A new category would however be introduced to cover people who are considered to need to stay in Sweden on humanitarian grounds. This would cover some people who fall through the gaps under the existing rules, for example if they have had temporary residence permits, but aren't eligible for renewal or permanent residency. In these cases, they could be allowed to stay anyway, if they have formed an attachment to Sweden and are subject to “exceptionally distressing circumstances” based on an overall assessment.

The criteria would be applied especially generously for children. These permits would be temporary and valid for 13 months, and could be extended for two years at a time.

Thanks for reading, we hope this was useful. You can read the full bill in Swedish HERE. If you have any questions, you are always welcome to email our editorial team at [email protected] – we are a small team and may not be able to reply to all queries, but we do read all emails and they help guide our coverage.


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steveh-77 2021/05/04 17:11
The Swedes seem to be very proficient in technology, engineering and business. Even 40 or 50 years ago, Sweden was able to develop a wealthy society with dozens of world-leading technology and industrial companies. Think of the dozens of famous Swedish companies. Ericsson, IKEA, H&M, and SKF, Scania trucks, and Volvo Trucks are just a few that come to mind. It's impressive.
art_606543f10fbbb 2021/04/20 22:23
I'm not sure that this new law addresses the most simplistic problem where an EU child is living in Sweden with one parent on temporary residency, but the other parent is not part of the EU. Under current law, the non-EU parent is not able to get residency so that the child is only able to see their non-EU parent at most 90 days out of a 180 day window which due to logistics is even less than 90 days. How does one contact the lawmakers to ensure such issues are addressed?
zselma_82 2021/04/19 09:52
I don´t see an issue here. In many countries in the world, knowledge of domestic language is required to get the citizenship. And some knowledge about country´s history, etc. SFI is not hard to achieve to level D, even with a full working. Little bit of effort to give back what Sweden have to offer to the person. And language is not super difficult, comparing to finish, or hungarian for example.
Thelocal 2021/04/11 23:40
What does it mean for students and people seeking to work here from say the US or China?
  • lan17481 2021/04/12 09:38
    The same exclusionary regulation will apply. The British and American do find learning Swedish difficult. In Europe, apart from the Scandinavian, perhaps only the German and the Dutch might have slightly advantage in learning Swedish. Apart from that, to accomplish the Swedish linguistic requirement, one needs to devote fulltime to study it at least for one year (if one is already talented). Otherwise, two or more years of dedication will apply. The problem is not that foreign workers/foreign PhD employees don't want to learn Swedish - quite the opposite. The problem is that they are working fulltime and cannot acquire the Swedish language at the same time. Evening classes and extra hours might help some people but not all. Think about women with child rearing: it is difficult to take extra online evening classes after working hours. Think about people who are already exhausted after fulltime working and won't have the evening to rest - but instead keep on working with the language. This new norm is obviously unjust because it won't work equally for all who want to accomplish the language. And also, why, after several years of debates, Sweden all of sudden wants to bring up the issue of language requirement? The Liberal and Moderate on the Right have always wanted it - but earlier, since the Social Democratic Party and the Left alliance were stronger, that requirement couldn't be actualized. But now, since the Left is so weak and so corrupt, there is a triumph of the Right all over. For educated people like me, it is not difficult to look for another greener grass. I can move out of Sweden for a better place. But think about other people who won't and can't make it. Think about people who - for so many reasons - cannot acquire the linguistic fluency, although they are - in one way or another - working, paying taxes for Sweden, and are even more talented than many mediocre Swedes here.
hooshmand 2021/04/10 00:51
What will be the case of Stateless people?
lan17481 2021/04/09 23:01
For the need of high-skilled labor, Canada and Australia are currently introducing permanent residence for foreign PhD students. With this current immigration restriction, Sweden in the long term will no longer be an attractive place for international intellectual labor. Why should one bother going to Sweden where Canada and Australia offer more incentive for PhD laborers? Of course, many nationalist Swedish would prefer keeping their country intellectually mediocre but "pure" for only "ethnic" Swedes rather than leveling up the country. What a pity!
  • Thelocal 2021/04/11 23:43
    Yeah, I'm worried about how these new ideas will have an effect on companies like Dice, EA, Spotify, Ericsson that depend on foreign talents. And how KTH and KI will stay competitive.
  • olliethefirst 2021/04/11 19:18
    don't let it bother you ... we won't !
lan17481 2021/04/09 22:26
Language requirement and civic test for foreign doctoral students in order to apply for a permanent residence in Sweden?! Do they know how stressful it is for one to complete a PhD degree within the time limited? A PhD thesis is not a homework, it's a whole intellectual project, which demands time, thought, and four years of hard work from day one. Clearly, this country is run by the nationalist, xenophobic right-wing! The Swedish Social Democratic Party is now a puppet for the Right.
  • olliethefirst 2021/04/11 19:21
    what rot ... only tiresome if it's a PhD in tin opening or some such ... get real ... nothing wrong in being patriotic or right wing ! no worse than left wing , which is controlled by bigots ! !

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