FOR MEMBERS

What’s the reaction to Swedish government’s work permit proposals?

What's the reaction to Swedish government's work permit proposals?
Organisations representing workers, employers and government agencies have responded to Sweden's work permit proposals. File photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/imagebank.sweden.se
Swedish agencies and associations, including trade unions and the Migration Agency, have weighed in on government proposals to overhaul the work permit system.

Sweden’s rules about labour migration are currently under review, and the government hopes to update legislation at the start of next year. 

In February, the government presented its own proposals on how it wants to tighten the rules, which several relevant agencies and organisations have now responded to as part of the “consultation” phase bills must go through before they can become law.

The government’s report proposed making it compulsory for work permit holders who want to bring their family to Sweden to prove that they can financially support them – what is usually referred to as the “maintenance requirement”.

It also suggests introducing a talent visa, which would allow foreigners with a postgraduate degree to get a nine-month visa to come to Sweden and look for work – rather than finding a job and applying from abroad.

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:

And it addressed ways to crack down on dishonest employers who don’t live up to what the work permit holder was promised when they agreed to come to Sweden. To do this, the government proposed that Sweden’s Migration Agency should carry out checks of the terms of employment for employers of work permit holders.

Employers would be obligated to report any deterioration in these terms, and would be subject to a fine or even imprisonment if they failed to report these changes. As an alternative, the report suggested that the system could instead require an employment contract in order to have a work permit application granted.

File photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

The latter option, requiring a contract, was preferred by the police and trade union LO.

“A system where the employment contract is already attached to the application […] could strengthen the employee’s position by making it easier for them to assess the terms of employment,” the police wrote in their response, referring to a separate government report on organised crime which found that foreign workers are often forced to work for lower salaries and poorer conditions than those first advertised.

“From a crime prevention and law enforcement perspective, it is important that such incidents are prevented and made more difficult,” said the response, which also noted that the proposed increased maintenance requirement for bringing over family members could help prevent these family members from being exploited. 

The Work Environment Authority noted that there was a potential conflict of interest in requiring employers to proactively notify the Migration Agency if employment conditions deteriorated compared to the original offer. Its statement said: “This is unlikely to happen even if there is an obligation to notify [the agency of worsened conditions] combined with a fine” and recommended that the government review the Migration Agency’s duties, and consider if further resources were needed to carry out effective checks.

But the Migration Agency itself advised against requiring an employment contract, saying that this would be complicated to enforce, and also pointed out that there is already a system allowing for follow-ups. The agency requested “an analysis of whether the current system could achieve the same purposes if used to a greater extent”.

The agency also said it would need more clarification on how to make assessments in order to ensure that, as the government proposes, permits are not revoked in cases that are “minor or for other reasons unreasonable”.

Also critical of the requirements for a binding employment contract were the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries (Teknikföretagen) and the Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF).

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise said in its response that the employment contract should not be binding. Instead, it agreed with the idea that fraud could be counteracted by requiring employers to report on work permit holders’ employment conditions – but said a prison sentence was too harsh a sentence for a missed or delayed report.

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise said that the talent visa should differentiate between people moving to Sweden to job-hunt or start a business, saying that educational requirements should be lower for the latter. It also called for “a more appropriate regulatory framework” for people moving to start up businesses.

Labour union TCO said that the government should carry out further analysis in order to reduce the unnecessary deportations of foreign workers. It warned against using a 2017 judgment from the Migration Court of Appeal as the basis for legislation, arguing that this does not give enough clarity.

It also pointed out that requiring a high level of education as the main basis for getting a job-seeker’s visa could have undesirable effects including highly-skilled foreign workers forced to take jobs that don’t match their qualifications.

And it argued that at the moment, foreign workers’ job conditions often change after being granted their permits, and it said that the government should introduce more checks to make sure employers comply with a requirement to report any changes.

Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Some of the agencies consulted said they did not have any comments, including the Tax Agency, Discrimination Ombudsman and Labour Court for example, while others such as the Swedish Agency for Government Employers commented only to say that they approved of the proposals.

The government’s proposals may now be edited based on the responses during the consultation period, and the next stage is to put them to a parliamentary vote. 

Justice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson has previously said the aim is for the changes to come into effect as soon as possible and that the proposed date for that to happen is January 1st, 2022.

Why does Sweden need new labour laws?

Back in the early 2000s, Sweden had a lot of restrictions around labour migration, with strict quotas for different professions based on government assessments of where the labour shortages were. These were relaxed significantly in 2008 under the centre-right government at the time which worked with the Green Party on a new labour migration law.

After that, the rule was that anyone from outside the EU could move to Sweden for work if they could find an employer there, meaning in theory that foreign workers could move for the jobs where they were needed, rather than having to follow the quota system.

In practice, the system led to increased exploitation. Checks were rarely carried out on employers to make sure they were offering workers decent conditions, so in 2014 the system was tightened up. The Migration Agency gained the power to check that foreign workers’ pay and conditions were in line with Swedish industry norms and the initial contract, and it was able to revoke permits where that wasn’t the case. 

This change had its own unintended consequences.

As well as catching cases in which workers were being exploited, the rigidity of the law meant that even workers who were being treated well could be ordered to leave the country if their employer had made a small mistake in their paperwork. Not only were individuals put in a difficult position, being uprooted from Sweden after building a life there, but employers complained the system made it hard to attract and retain skilled workers.

A landmark appeals court ruling in late 2017 meant that decisions should be based on an overall assessment, which has led to a reduction in the number of rejected work permits, but some foreign workers still fall through the gaps.


Member comments

The Local is not responsible for content posted by users.

  1. Does the new legislation address policies of punishing/deporting workers who are not responsible for the actions of their employers? I’ve read of foreigners holding work permits who end up being deported when – after 2 years of living & working in Sweden – they discover that they’re not eligible for a 2nd permit because *their employer* – UNBEKNOWNST TO THEM – failed to remove a retirement fund deduction, or something like that from their paycheck. Whether it’s an honest mistake or not, it makes no sense to me that it is not the employer who shoulders the responsibility for this. The consequences should be theirs, not the migrants. If this point isn’t addressed in the new legislation, it’s incomplete and inviting cruel and unjust results.

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.