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

'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.

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“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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Member comments

  1. ” 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 worlduniversitynews.com

    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.

  2. The problem with getting permanent residency this way is also that savings DO NOT count. Why? If you have enough savings to support yourself for the period of 18 months based on other granted permits, why is this not enough for Migrationsverket to also grant you permanent residency? Why does it have to be a fixed work contract for that entire period?

  3. Mr. Jack.. problem is not finding job but the problem is getting a 18 months contract (most only renew every 12 months). Sure you never saw a phd job contract. Go Canada!

  4. Mr. (One eyed) Jack.. problem is not finding job but the problem is getting a 18 months contract (most only renew every 12 months). Sure you never saw a phd job contract. Go Canada!

  5. The financial support on its own is not a problem at all for PhD students, the 18-month fixed-term contract is the problem. many companies only sign trial short-term contracts with PhD students who want to start a job in their company, due to tax, and accounting limits, and their contracts will be extended every year. some other companies don’t hire PhD students when they don’t have PR, again because of the tax and accounting limits that bring extra work for companies to apply for work permits for their new employees. these are the main problems that make it harder for PhD students to have a stable life and put a lot of stress on them. it will cause unfair treatment to PhD students according to workers’ rights and equal rights. I think these concepts are not considered by Migrationsverket when they put this 18-month fixed-term contract requirement.

    PhD students don’t have any problem with the law from Parliament about enough financial support. the problem is the unreasonable interpretation of Migrationsverket from this law. people who read this article should distinct these two from each other.

  6. It is extremely reasonable I expect that Ph.D graduates should be able to secure employment if they are going to stay in the nation after their studies.

    I believe the US has a somewhat approach. When you graduate you can stay and work for one year. Then, you have to leave, unless you are sponsored AND you are able to secure one of their visas.

    Only Canada is easier…no where is easier than Canada. They are ramping up immigration. And have dozens of routes into the nation. All you need to get perm residence in Canada is a education certificate from a local university, and a job (even if bagging groceries…) while they process your perm residence.

    1. Of course, Jack wants all of us educated folks out of Sweden.

      He believes that “the “new Swedes” will vote for more immigration and family re-unification and other such policies that benefit their interests”. He was trying to convince me to move to Canada a while back. Here is a link to the article in which he was bashing the immigrants. His original racist comments are deleted now, but you can read bits and pieces of his stuff that I quoted when I was responding to him.


      1. What do you guys think about Canada? I hear it is a good option, this Canada. But maybe ask Jack about Canada? CaNADa

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