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IMMIGRATION

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

Swedish agencies and associations, including trade unions and the Migration Agency, have weighed in on government proposals to overhaul the work permit system.

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

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.

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

  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.

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For members

WORKING IN SWEDEN

EXPLAINED: How do you apply for Sweden’s new ‘talent visa’?

From June 1st, non-EU citizens can apply to come to Sweden on the new talent visa or "resi­dence permit for highly quali­fied persons". These are the latest details on how to apply.

EXPLAINED: How do you apply for Sweden's new 'talent visa'?

Sweden’s “resi­dence permit for highly quali­fied persons to look for work or start a busi­ness” was voted through parliament in April as part of a set of changes to the country’s new work laws in April.

The visa was brought in as part of the January Agreement between the economically liberal Centre and Liberal Parties and the Social Democrat government. 

The basic form for the new talent visa was published when parliament voted it through: The visa allows non-EU citizens with a higher-level degree to apply for a visa of between three to nine months, which they can then use to stay in Sweden while they look for work or research setting up a new business.  

But the Migration Agency on June 1st published the details of what exact educational requirements are required to be eligible for the new visa, how much money applicants need to show they have to support themselves, and how and where to apply. They also published the form that needs to be filled in

What counts as an advanced-level degree and how do I prove it? 

The bar is set pretty low. To be eligible for the talent visa, applicants need to have a degree corresponding to at least a 60-credit Master’s degree, a 120-credit Master’s degree, a professional degree worth 60-330 credits, or a postgraduate/PhD-level degree.

You need to send copies of any examination certificates along with your application, as well as copies of the official transcript of your academic record, that shows the courses included in your education. 

If these documents are in a language other than English, French, Spanish, German, or a Nordic language, they have to be translated into Swedish or one of the above languages by an authorized translator.

You also need to print out, sign, scan, and send a letter of consent to the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), allowing them to contact the educational institutions where you studied for your higher-level degree.

What financial assets do I need to show and how do I prove them? 

You must need to show that you have enough money (or a source of regular income) to support yourself during the time that you will be in Sweden, as well as enough to pay for your journey home. The Migration Agency judges that you need 13,000 kronor per month, so you need a lump sum of 117,000 kronor (€12,000). 

Source: Migration Agency

To prove that you can support yourself, you must either submit copies of your bank statements (plus a translated version if necessary). If you have another source of regular funding, you can explain in the ‘other’ box on what you intend, and enclose documents to support this.

What insurance do you need? 

You need to confirm that you have signed a comprehensive health insurance on the form, and also name the insurance company and the dates between which the insurance policy is valid. 

The insurance needs to cover the costs of emergency and other medical care, hospitalisation, dental care, and also the cost of repatriation for medical reasons. You need to enclose a copy of a document setting out the terms of your insurance policy. 

Source: Migration Agency

What do you need to write about your plans for Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, the visa is for people living outside the EU who “plan to seek employment or explore the possibilities for starting [their] own business”, but the form gives few guidelines as to what will count. 

In the form, there is a space for a few sentences in which you can say what sort of business you plan to start, or which sort of job you intend to look for, as well as whether you intend to leave Sweden, or apply for residency in another way if you fail to secure a job. 

Carl Bexelius, the Migration Agency’s Head of Legal Affairs, said that there was no requirement in the legislation that those with the new talent visa seek jobs that require them to be highly qualified. 

“The crucial part is that you have you are talented in a legal sense, that you have the appropriate education to qualify. If they find work, they can then apply for for a work permit, but that work does not need to require high qualifications.”

Other requirements? 

The other requirement is to have a passport that is valid for the full period in which you will be in Sweden. In the application you need to send copies of all the pages that show your personal data, photo, signature, passport number, issuing country, period of validity, entry stamps, and also if you have permission to live in countries other than your country of origin. 

How to apply? 

You need to send the application form, with the attached documents to the Swedish embassy or consulate-general in your country of residence, or, if that is not possible, at the embassy or consulate-general in the closest country. 

You should contact the embassy for information before applying, and to learn how large an application fee you will need to pay. 

What sort of permit will I get? 

If you get a permit valid for more than three months, you will get a residence permit card which features your fingerprints and a photo.

If you need an entry visa to come to Sweden, you will need to be photographed and have your fingerprints scanned at the Swedish embassy or consulate-general in your country of residence before leaving to come to Sweden.

If you do not need an entry visa, you can apply for a residency card, and have your photo taken and your fingerprints scanned, after your arrival in Sweden. 

What happens if I get a job or start a business while in Sweden? 

If you get a job while in Sweden, you can apply for a work permit from within the country. You cannot start work until the work permit is granted, though (which may not happen until after your talent visa has already expired). 

If you start a business in Sweden, you can apply for a residence permit as a self-employed person. You can start setting up and running your business even before the Migration Agency has made its decision. 

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