'Reasonable balance': Swedish government defends new rules for foreign PhD students

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
'Reasonable balance': Swedish government defends new rules for foreign PhD students
Doctoral students have to prove they can support themselves for 18 months to get a Swedish permanent residence permit. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

A spokesperson for Sweden’s justice ministry has told The Local that new requirements for doctoral students who wish to stay in the country permanently after their studies strike a “reasonable balance”.


As The Local reported last week, as of July 20th doctoral students who want to apply for permanent residency in Sweden will have to show that they can support themselves for 18 months – a rule change that effectively reverses a 2014 decision which made them eligible for permanent residency more or less automatically after four years of living in Sweden with a permit for doctoral studies.

“It is important that Sweden is attractive and competitive as a nation of knowledge and a destination country for foreign researchers, students and other highly qualified people,” a press spokesperson for the Swedish justice ministry told The Local by email.

“This summer, the new migration legislation came into force and it involves among other things that a permanent residence permit can only be granted if certain special requirements are met. One of these is the requirement to be able to support yourself.


“If you meet the requirements you will be granted a permanent residence permit. It is a reasonable balance which contributes to Sweden having sustainable legislation in the long term which does not differ significantly from other EU countries.”

Representatives of a Swedish trade union for academics argued in an opinion piece for The Local last week that the new rule “hampers Sweden’s research and development attractiveness and impedes the scientific excellence brought by international talents to the country”.

Several doctoral students told The Local that they believed the requirement to support yourself for 18 months from the time the application is reviewed by the Migration Agency would put their future in Sweden at risk. Many highlighted the difficulties of finding a job while finishing PhD research, and pointed out that in academia, many contracts are fixed-term and only awarded and renewed on an annual basis.

A spokesperson for the Migration Agency told The Local that the new legislation called for employment of a “certain duration”, although the law itself doesn't specify the exact time period. They said the agency had arrived at 18 months by weighing up the rules for other categories of immigrants to Sweden, including the maintenance requirements for partner migration and for high school students.


The income needs to come from legal employment in Sweden, so income such as savings or returns on capital, unemployment insurance or stipends aren’t taken into account. Temporary sick leave or parental leave benefits may in some cases count. The employment needs to be permanent (tillsvidareanställning) or fixed-term (for at least 18 months). Many permanent jobs in Sweden start with a six-month trial contract before they become permanent, and the guidelines on the Migration Agency's website state this can "in some cases" be counted.

Asked to clarify, the Migration Agency spokesperson confirmed that the requirement primarily refers to permanent employment. They added that an assessment would be made on a case-by-case basis whether a trial contract would be considered to meet the requirement.

“The burden of proof is on the applicant,” they said. “Circumstances such as the extent to which trial employment is used by the employer in question, and the extent to which trial employment leads to permanent employment with the employer may be important.”

If you are a doctoral student who know you will not be able to meet the requirements for permanent residency, but you would still like to stay in Sweden after your studies, you may want to investigate the possibilities of applying for long-term residence status instead. Another, albeit temporary, option is to apply for a one-year permit to stay in Sweden and look for a job after finishing your doctoral studies.

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