‘Brain drain’: Survey warns stricter migration law could see international academics leaving Sweden 

Stricter requirements for permanent residency could make a significant proportion of researchers from outside the EU less likely to stay in Sweden, according to a report by three Swedish associations of academics.

'Brain drain': Survey warns stricter migration law could see international academics leaving Sweden 
Many academic researchers believe that tighter legislation would decrease the likelihood that they continue their careers in Sweden. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/Image Bank Sweden

The survey – initiated by the Doctoral Students Committee of the Swedish National Union of Students, the Swedish Network of Postdoc Associations and the National Junior Faculty of Sweden – asked 1,500 researchers in different stages of their careers about how the new restrictions might affect their ability to stay in Sweden.

Depending on the specific requirements, a large majority of non-EU/EEA researchers on temporary residence permits could potentially become ineligible for permanent residency and would be less likely to continue their careers in the country, it found.

“This may lead to a brain drain, introducing challenges for Sweden to maintain its status as an international knowledge nation,” reads the report.

Over 4,000 new students in Sweden came from outside the EU last year, according to the most recent data.

“Even though we find it a good place to do science, the fact that we would need to fulfil extra requirements that collide with our current working conditions is troubling,” Laura Palma Medina, a post-doctoral researcher and chair of the Karolinska Institute Postdoc Association, told The Local. 

Researchers responding to the survey overwhelmingly wanted to continue their careers in Sweden, regardless of their country of origin. But when asked, 66 percent of currently eligible non-EU/EEA researchers who have been in Sweden for at least four years on temporary permits believe that tighter legislation would decrease the likelihood that they continue their careers in Sweden.

The survey results confirm what the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers predicted in February this year; that stricter migration legislation could damage Sweden’s reputation as an attractive place for international academics. 

The new migration law introduces additional requirements to prove financial support in order to receive a permanent residence permit. It also states that a requirement for some level of Swedish language proficiency and civics knowledge should be introduced in future, although this has not been legislated, so it is unclear if and when it would happen, and in what form if it is introduced.

“Researchers who have contracts finishing soon may be in a very precarious situation,” Medina said. 

Respondents were especially concerned that scholarship-funded positions might not be enough proof of financial support under the new law’s requirements. Scholarship holders are not employed by their institutions, so it might not count toward the requirements necessary to apply for permanent residency, warns the report. 

If the new migration policy disqualifies individuals who currently hold scholarships, 16 percent of currently eligible non-EU/EAA researchers would be disqualified from permanent residency, according to the report. 

The possibility of language requirements was another concern. If the minimum requirement becomes B2 level Swedish under the European Language Framework (this is the fourth level out of six, described as being a “confident” speaker), up to 86 percent of currently eligible respondents on temporary permits could become ineligible. If a requirement for A2 Swedish is introduced, which is a more basic understanding of the language (the second level of six in the framework), half of international researchers could still be impacted, the report found. 

One survey respondent said: “If this law had taken effect and applied to me, I would have struggled to have the same research output and teaching/academic representative responsibilities while attaining a high enough Swedish-speaking level to stay here.” 

Many responses cited a lack of time and available resources to be able to develop their Swedish language skills. 

The report concluded that a significant portion of highly skilled people with upper level academic degrees may choose to leave Sweden as a result of tighter migration laws.

Medina says that, “with new requirements, researchers that previously wished to continue their career in Sweden might consider leaving. Likewise, it might increase the difficulty of recruiting new talent from abroad.”

She said: “The new law will not only affect the near future of Swedish academia but it could also have repercussions in the long term.” 

Under the new law, which comes into force on July 20th, non-EU/EEA citizens applying for permanent residence permits need to have lived in Sweden for at least three years (the exact number depends on the type of permit they have held previously; for work permit holders and doctoral students, they must have had a residence permit for at least four of the past seven years), and prove that they can support themselves financially. The Migration Agency has said it will share more detail on the exact requirements for financial support when the law comes into effect.

If the permit applicant has a family member as a co-applicant, they must also meet a “maintenance requirement” by proving they can support the family member financially and have a home big enough for them to live in.

Member comments

  1. I’m a non-EU/EEA resident here on a student residence permit to attend university. To be eligible to receive the permit, I had to prove (via a screen grab of my bank account) that I had at least 8,514 SEK per month for 12 months – so a total of 102,168 SEK. I could not receive the permit without this proof. At the end of my academic program I’ll be eligible to apply for another student related one-year permit that allows me to look for work or start a business. For that I must also prove that I’ll have 100k SEK in my bank account. I wonder if this is what the financial support requirement might look like for dependents of permit holders or new residence permit holders?

  2. The brain drain is sadly an very posible outcome. A PhD degree in Sweden takes often 4 years.The permanent residence permit for PhD students in Migrationsverket swedish website now has a new requirement: The applicant must be able to sustain itself by means of an salary/employment or by their own company/business. Given how specific a doctoral degree is, finding an employment immediately after graduation is very unlikely for many. And running a successful private company along doctoral studies is even more difficult. Consequently, foreign swedish doctoral students are politely being shown the exit door.

    It’s a pity that highly skilled labour, educated and financed by swedish universities is affected by the new law. It would be a loss for the individual and the country.

  3. ” today in Sweden, around 40% of all doctoral candidates and around 75% of all staff with career-development positions (a position people have within a certain time after completing their doctoral degree) have a foreign background.” please read this article “New migration law will ‘harm Swedish research’ – Unions” at

    It is worth noting that just in December 2020, the Swedish government wrote that it wanted the proportion of international doctoral students who stay in Sweden to increase and that it was important to be able to both recruit them and retain the skills and competencies they possess within this country (Research, freedom, future-knowledge, and innovation for Sweden, Bill 2020/21: 60, p. 123). Despite this, only a few months later the proposals for changes in the Aliens Act were presented which will quite obviously lead to the opposite result.

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