My Swedish Career: How an ultimate frisbee league is creating community in Sweden

After moving to Sweden from the UK hoping to find a better work-life balance, Erin Brownbill initially struggled to meet people and strike up friendships in her new country. However, she found a community through a sport she loved – ultimate frisbee.

My Swedish Career: How an ultimate frisbee league is creating community in Sweden
Erin Brownbill during a game of ultimate frisbee. Photo: Illia Shypunov Ultimate Photography

Many who move to Sweden experience an initial reservedness or difficulty to make friends, with the country often named in surveys as one of the worst places to make new friends. For Erin, her ultimate frisbee league was a way to connect with other people after her move.

“I think it’s difficult moving countries anyway, but it does feel sometimes in Sweden that you have to really put yourself out there and make the first move, so joining this club meant that we met tens of people and quickly got invited to a drink after a training session,” she tells The Local.

Erin moved to Sweden with her partner two years ago looking for a change from their busy London lifestyle, being attracted by the Swedish work-life balance.

“It feels very quiet compared to London which has loads and loads of people all the time so there is a sense of peace which is good. That being said, there are less things to do potentially than the busy London life,” she says.

Having played ultimate frisbee throughout university, even representing Great Britain at a junior level, Erin looked up an ultimate frisbee league in Stockholm when she arrived. 

“Coming here I always had it in the back of my mind, I hope there is a frisbee team! And there was,” she says about how she originally found her club, the Stockholm Ultimate Frisbee Club, where she plays for the women’s team Valkyria.

The team organises several training sessions per week in their youth, women’s, opens and mixed divisions.

“It’s a sport that you wouldn’t necessarily know about but once you’re in it it is a massive world of clubs and teams.”

Photo: Illia Shypunov Ultimate Photography

What is ultimate frisbee?

Ultimate frisbee is a non-contact sport that Erin describes as a mixture of American football and basketball. 

Something that sets it apart from some other sports is its strong culture, which is what initially drew her to trying it out.

“It has a really good ethos to it where it is self refereed. It is quite unique actually,” Erin explained.

According to Ultimate Frisbee HQ, what is known as The Spirit of the Game is a code of conduct which runs deep in every player – treat others how you would want to be treated. There is therefore no referee needed on the pitch.

Although there are youth and women-only teams in the club, there are also mixed teams, something that is quite unusual for many sports leagues.

“I think the mixed thing is really good. Now I have my partner here as well: we can go to those practices together and train together,” Erin said.

Photo: Illia Shypunov Ultimate Photography

Getting through Covid

The Covid pandemic meant that most team activities needed to be put on hold during 2020. This was also the case for Erin’s Stockholm ultimate frisbee club who stopped indoor training.

“Official training sessions stopped, but the community was still there so a few of us went on socially distanced walks, we met up in smaller groups,” she says.

During the summer with better weather, some training was able to be taken up again outside, and the Beach National Championships still went ahead. However, a large portion of the team was made up of international students, most of whom had returned home, which has affected the team numbers greatly.

“From a woman’s perspective I think it’s really sad as well,” Erin says, noting how her team Valkyria is short on members.

With vaccinations under way in Sweden, Erin is hopeful membership numbers will begin to rise again.

“It appeals to someone who wants to be fit and healthy but also wants to play a team sport and team sports offer a lot, it’s fun to play together, you really get to know your teammates, we help each other.”

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How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website

How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 

How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 

Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 

What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years.