Sweden’s government passes controversial new migration law – but how long will it last?

Sweden's government passes controversial new migration law – but how long will it last?
The Swedish government (left) and parliament (right) buildings. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
Sweden's government on Tuesday passed a new migration law, but the five-hour debate that preceded the vote showed this will remain a hotly debated issue, as well as one that directly affects the country's international residents.

Minister of Justice and Migration Morgan Johansson called the vote “a great success”, but Sweden’s conservative opposition vowed to keep fighting for stricter rules in immigration.

The Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and Liberal Party had put together their own alternative and more restrictive migration policy — the first ever joint proposal from the four parties — but this was voted down by a narrow majority and the government’s plan approved.

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“We will continue to work for reduced immigration. The proposals that went through today do not take into account at all the extensive integration problems we have,” the migration policy spokesperson for the Moderate Party, Maria Malmer Stenergard, told the TT newswire.

“As soon as we get the opportunity, we will present another proposal for reduced immigration,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Left Party criticised the law as too strict. Their migration policy spokesperson, Christina Höj Larsen, told TT: “Faced with two evils, the government’s proposal and that of the blue-brown opposition, the Left Party takes responsibility for taking the lesser of two evils.” 

Amnesty International also said it was “worried” about the law, describing its approval as “a dark day for Swedish refugee policies.”

The bill was supposed to have been put to parliament in early April, but was delayed by a few weeks.

The background to Tuesday’s vote is that a new set of laws was needed to replace temporary legislation which was introduced in 2016 to bring down the unprecedented number of asylum requests at the time.

One part of the bill, for example, makes residence permits for refugees time-limited as a rule of thumb rather than permanent. Since the temporary law was introduced temporary permits have been the norm in Sweden, but before that permanent permits were the default since 1984.

But initially, the plan was to pass a law that had a broader political consensus behind it.

A Migration Committee was set up with representatives from each party and a mandate to come up with ideas for a “humane, legally certain and effective” migration policy to replace the temporary laws introduced in 2016. 

But the talks were fraught, with immigration a core issue for most of the parties and widely disparate views on the best way forward. So the proposals brought forward by the committee were less extensive than expected; after cross-party talks broke down, the final report was made up of more than 20 proposals rather than a comprehensive policy, each one supported by a different combination of parties. 

The junior government coalition partner, the Green Party, was not happy with many of the proposals, in particular a proposed cap on the number of asylum seekers who can enter Sweden each year.

So the government put forward a new bill, based on the committee’s suggestions but with some notable differences, including no cap on asylum seeker numbers. The Green Party also pushed through rules that mean that people who are not eligible for asylum may in some cases be allowed to stay in Sweden on compassionate grounds.

The law will now apply from July 20th, 2021 onwards.

As for if the right-wing parties will get their chance to replace the law, and when, that depends on what happens within the next week. The centre-left government lost a no-confidence vote on Monday which leaves Prime Minister Stefan Löfven with a week to decide whether to call an election or start the process of forming a new government. 

If there is an election, it would take place this September. Recent opinion polls suggest a Moderate-Christian Democrat-Sweden Democrat-Liberal Party bloc currently have a small majority of the voter share, but whether that translates to actual votes in three months remains to be seen.

Whether or not there is a snap election this September, the election scheduled for September 2022 will still take place, and as with the 2018 vote, migration is likely to be one of the most discussed issues.

Member comments

  1. It’s difficult to form opinions regarding new immigration laws if they are not described in detail. Here they are not clear.

  2. How does this changes affect work permit holders as well as who is on work permit and wants to apply for permanent residency?

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