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What does Sweden’s new migration law mean for residence permit-holders?

Sweden's new migration law came into effect on July 20th, and contains some important changes for people applying for permanent residency or who want to bring a family member over to Sweden.

What does Sweden's new migration law mean for residence permit-holders?
A Migration Agency office in Solna, north of Stockholm. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

The law was introduced to replace temporary legislation brought in in 2016, when Sweden struggled to process record numbers of refugees.

Some of the changes in the new law relate specifically to refugees, including that most refugee residence permits should be temporary rather than permanent (this is no change from the 2016 law, but before that the default was permanent) and a new category being introduced for people who are considered to need to stay in Sweden on humanitarian grounds, which addresses some cases that previously fell through the gaps.

Laws applying to people on other types of permits were also changed. For example, permits issued to people who move to Sweden to join a family member will also be temporary rather than permanent in all cases.

Time to permanent residence

Under the new law, to get a permanent residence requirement you need to meet several conditions.

You must have lived in Sweden on a temporary residence permit for at least three years, sometimes longer depending on your reason for being in Sweden.

In many cases, that will actually mean it takes four years in total, because most temporary permits are issued for two years at a time and you can only apply for permanent residence around the time your temporary permit is due to expire. For people in Sweden on a family or partner visa, that means waiting two years more for permanent residence than under the 2016 law.

Income requirement for permanent residence

In addition to the changed time limit, adults must be able to prove they can support themselves in order to receive permanent residence.

This is one of the big changes compared to the previous, temporary migration law. It is not enough for your partner to prove that they can support you, even though for some types of permits (see below) they must also meet a so-called ‘maintenance requirement’. The Migration Agency’s website says you can do this by proof of income for example, but does not state an income threshold — this should be updated when the rules come into force. It is also not yet clear if you will be able to meet this criteria through proof of savings. 

In most cases, to receive permanent residence you also need to prove that you still meet the conditions for your temporary residence permit, which will vary depending on what type of permit you have (for example, a work permit comes with conditions linked to your employment, and a family permit requires a close relationship with someone in Sweden).

Studying in Sweden

People who are in Sweden on a temporary family residence permit will be eligible for student finance (CSN), even if they do not fulfil the requirements for permanent residence. Under the temporary law in place since 2016, this was only the case in certain specific situations, with many non-EU residents unable to receive the funding.

Note that student finance is different from free tuition. International students who come to Sweden on a student permit generally have to pay international tuition fees; however these do not apply for Swedish or EU/EEA citizens, or non-EU/EEA citizens who are in Sweden on a different type of permit. Tuition fees are regulated under a different law, so is unaffected by the changes to the migration law.

What about language requirements?

The government has also proposed introducing a requirement for Swedish language skills and knowledge of civics in order to receive a permanent residence permit, but this hasn’t yet made it into law. The proposal states that these should be introduced, but they are not yet an official requirement, so it is unclear how these skills will be tested and measured, or when (and if) they will actually come into effect. 

Family maintenance requirements

Before the 2016 temporary law, a Swedish resident only needed to prove they could financially provide for themselves in order to sponsor a residency permit for a family member. Since 2016, the Swedish resident has also been required to prove they can support the family member moving to Sweden, and under the new law, most people will continue to need to meet a so-called maintenance requirement.

This means meeting an income threshold (for 2021, the standard amount is 8,287 kronor per month after tax for two adults living together) and proving they have a home that is big enough for them and their family member (living at home with your parents does not count as a suitable living arrangement, but legal sub-lets or owned properties do). The maintenance requirement applies even if the family member who wants to move to Sweden has their own savings or job prospects in Sweden. The income threshold is based on work-related income, including salary, sickness benefit, unemployment benefits, income-based pensions, or you can instead prove that you have enough money to support yourself and the family member for at least two years.

One big exemption is introduced in the new law, which was also the case pre-2016: the maintenance requirement is removed for citizens of Sweden, an EU/EEA country or Switzerland who are bringing their spouse or co-habiting partner to Sweden. This makes it easier for people in this category to bring their partners to Sweden. But it is only being removed if the couple can prove they have lived together in another country, or otherwise prove they have a “well-established” relationship. The law does not set out exact details of how you could prove a well-established relationship.

Family members of workers and doctorate students

Close family members of people on a work permit in Sweden, such as partners, are usually co-applicants on their temporary residence permits, meaning they apply at the same time as their partner and usually have a permit granted for the same amount of time.

But the new rules mean changes when it comes to applying for permanent residence. Family members of doctoral students must wait at least three years before they become eligible. The application of the student will be examined first, and if they are granted permanent residence, their family member’s application will be assessed on the basis of a family member of a permanent residence holder, which means the maintenance requirement must be met.

The income requirement for permanent residence applies here too. This means that in addition to the doctoral student meeting the maintenance requirement, the family member must also be able to prove they can support themselves. 

What if I don’t meet the requirements?

If you do not meet the requirements for a permanent residence permit, but you do meet the requirements for a temporary residence permit, in many cases you will be able to renew your temporary residence.

That should be the case, for example, if you are in Sweden on a family visa, and your partner can meet the maintenance requirement which is a condition of the temporary residence permit, but you are not able to meet the requirement for permanent residence of proving you can support yourself. There is no limit on how long you can live in Sweden on temporary residence permits in total, as long as you meet the requirements each time you renew.

There will also be some exceptions, so that certain people will be able to get a permanent residence permit without meeting the requirement to support themselves. This will primarily apply to retired people, children, or those with special circumstances. 

What if I’ve already applied for a residence permit?

You could still be affected by the new laws.

The new migration law comes into effect from July 20th, so if you have not received a decision on your application before then, it will be judged based on the new laws regardless of when you submitted it, according to the Migration Agency. 

We’ll be talking about the new migration law on The Local’s Sweden in Focus podcast on Saturday. Click HERE to listen.

Member comments

  1. Hi, I have a question, because it seems like when you talk about close family member it sounds specific for spouses or partners, but would that also be legible for a EU citizens’ parent, for exemple?

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One year on: How Sweden’s new permit rule for PhDs has upended lives

In July last year, Sweden's new migration law tightened residency rules for PhD students, sending the future plans of thousands into disarray. The SACO union spoke to three of them about how their lives had been changed.

One year on: How Sweden's new permit rule for PhDs has upended lives

Chen, 31, from China.

PhD on non-pesticide methods to reduce insect damage in newly-planted forests.

Chen, who came to Sweden from China in 2017 to study a the Swedish Agricultural University, says that she has felt trapped in Sweden since defending her thesis in November, as the Migration Agency does not normally allow those applying for a residency permit to travel 

“I feel like I’m under house arrest,” she complains. “I haven’t been able to take a vacation outside Sweden since my permanent residency application is pending, and I can’t go back to China to visit my family for the same reason — two years since the first Covid outbreak at the beginning of 2020.” 

Now the exemption from residency permit requirements for PhD students has been removed, PhD students generally need to get a job as soon as they graduate to show that they can support themselves, but Chen says she was so deeply engaged in her studies that it was near-impossible to send off job or research applications. 

“There are many days I woke up at 8am and left my office at midnight,” she remembers. “I ate for only one meal during the day in order to finish my thesis in time. I could barely spare any time to look for jobs or send job applications even though I knew I had to get a job offer for at least two years to get a positive decision on my permanent residency application. “

“After my defence, there was no time to celebrate my achievement but I instead started to search for jobs immediately.”

Before the change in the rules, Chen had planned to look for post doctoral studies in another European country, but the new rules makes that difficult. 

“My plan was to do a one or two year postdoc in another country to strengthen my competence and then come back to Sweden,” she said. It is rather common to do a postdoc in a new country and then come back to the PhD country for a more stable academic position,” she said. “By doing so we could broaden our vision, establish collaboration and bring back new insights.

“When we got permanent residency, returning to Sweden was easier, without having to go through all the energy-consuming stuff, like getting a job offer and applying for a work permit, getting a personal number, Swedish ID, bank account, Bank-ID and insurance.” 

She believes that the Swedish government should acknowledge that the impact of the new alien act on PhD students is a mistake and take steps to reverse the changes.

“Do not be afraid to admit that you made wrong decision, be open-minded and listen to different voices,” she tells the Swedish authorities. “There are ways to fix the mess and regain people’s trust.”

Now she’s considering whether to carry on seeking work and waiting for the Migration Agency to take its decision, or whether to take her expertise to another country, probably The Netherlands or Germany. 

“The way to regain my freedom is either to get a job that fulfils the new requirement or to leave Sweden to build my life and career somewhere else.” 


Melissa, from Australia. Photo: private

Melissa, 36, Australia

PhD on riparian ecosystem science

“It’s brought a big, dark shadow of insecurity into mine and my partners’ long term plans,” says Melissa, who decided to do her PhD in Sweden partly because her partner is Swedish, and partly because she knew she would be “a better researcher and scientist” if she spent time researching in another country. 

When she arrived, she wasn’t necessarily planning to continue her research in Sweden, but as she began to realise she perhaps wanted to, the change in the law came in, making it more difficult. 

“Turns out, I really like it here and I like the research environment! I do want to stay in Sweden to pursue a career here. I knew that an academic career was already very unpredictable but I had hoped that after finishing my PhD I could continue branching out from the research I’ve been doing in boreal forests in the form of postdoctoral positions with some of the Swedish researchers I really admire.”

That is now all looking more and more unlikely. 

“It’s almost like there’s this atmosphere of uncertainty that’s with me when I think about life after my PhD,” she says. “It’s already stressful to think about what I will do when I finish my doctoral studies, but adding in the stress of possibly not being able to stay in Sweden is massively draining, especially when the Aliens Act seems to ignore, or not care to consider, the realities of an academic career.”

She believes that the Swedish government should at least adapt the Aliens Act to reflect what she calls “the realities of academic careers”. 

“It is virtually unheard of for a young researcher to gain a position that fulfils the support requirements for 18 months and by not adjusting the Aliens Act to account for this you are discouraging really talented and passionate young researchers from coming.”

Although she wasn’t set on staying in Sweden for the long term when she started her PhD, she’s finding the new barrier to residency is putting her off, pushing her to consider positions in Australia or the US. 

“I’m more hesitant about pursuing an academic career in Sweden because the added feeling of ‘temporary-ness’ in everything I do,” she says. “It even just manifests itself in little things like abandoning our plans to get a dog, buy a house, or have a more long term career goal in Sweden because permanency isn’t so much of an option anymore.” 

Tuser Biswas, from Bangladesh, is researching textiles at Borås Högskola. Photo: private

Tuser Biswas, 34, Bangladesh 

PhD on sustainably printing biological materials onto textiles which can fight bacteria and viruses

Tuser Biswas has also  had his plans to work as a postdoc outside Sweden thrown into chaos by the new law, which came out four months after he’d applied for permanent residency. 

After I finish my PhD in Sweden, I would like to go work somewhere else as a postdoc. When I started my PhD, I knew that if I want to go somewhere else, I could always come back to Sweden (and I probably would) but know I am not sure what I would do,” he says. 

Also, like Chen, he has been stuck in Sweden as a result of the law. 

“I’ve had to cancel attending conferences and still can’t plan work related trips outside Sweden. My family is very stressed for not being able to travel to home country for a long time now.”

He says that the change in labour laws has changed his views on Sweden. 

“The total political environment is getting unfriendly for international mobility. I came to live in an open-minded society, but it seems like a mirage now.” 

He believes that the government should better tailor its migration laws to fit researchers. 

“Don’t make a ‘one size fits all’ type law. The working conditions for PhD researchers and other employees are not the same. How can you judge them all under the same law?”.