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EDUCATION

‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”

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At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.” 

Member comments

  1. Those with good marketable skills will indeed find jobs in Sweden after their Ph.D. studies, and receive residency and then citizenships. Those who studied less commercially useful subjects may need to go abroad to find work, perhaps as professors, college instructors in their subject of choice, or otherwise. Canada is particularly open to anyone with a credential and under the age of 35. Especially if they have children. Or, some of these academics can opt to do another degree in Canada and to use the time to search for a job. Which shouldn’t be too hard to find given the booming economy.

    Lots of options for Ph.D students. Happy to discuss more if anyone is interested.

    1. So @jack, your suggestion is that, all that can’t find a job right away have to go to Canada now?
      1) How does this solve their problem?
      2) Have you ever tried to get in to Swedish job market?
      3) Some have their families with the and after 4-5 years up rooting them isn’t as easy as “let’s pack our lives and go to Canada!”
      4) Why should they do that in the first place? They made a decision to come to Sweden, they haven’t accidentally ended up here!

      This last part isn’t about your comment Jack, but It baffles me why on earth PhD candidate should follow asylum applications laws?

  2. As a recent international PhD graduate who (thankfully) already had my permanent residence before this change, I think that an important part of the context that is missing is that academic postdoctoral researcher positions are often only for 1 year (sometimes with “possibility for extension”), and in any case are never permanent. This makes it very hard for PhD graduates who stay in academia to prove that they can support themselves for 18 months in the future. Furthermore, the last few months while finishing the PhD are a very difficult time to be conducting a job search, so many people will not already have a new job immediately when their student work permit runs out; they would then have to apply for a 1 year job-seeker residence permit. If they successfully get even a position with a 2-year contract after 2 months of search, then they will still have only 14 months remaining when they need to apply for a residence permit again.

    The fact that the modifications to the law apply even to students who decided to do a PhD in Sweden in part because of the possibility of getting permanent residence and eventually citizenship seems highly unfair. The old law was in place in order to help recruit students to Sweden with the promise of permanent residence. If the government thinks this isn’t an important priority anymore, that’s fair (although I personally disagree). But the change should not have been made to apply to students who already started doctoral studies in Sweden based on the promise of the old law. Sweden should keep its promises.

  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 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.

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IMMIGRATION

Sweden eases rules for international students during coronavirus pandemic

The Swedish Migration Agency has scrapped a rule that made it harder for international students to get a residence permit if their university moved classes online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sweden eases rules for international students during coronavirus pandemic
The Migration Agency has announced changes to its rules for student residence permits in Sweden. Photo: Adam Wrafter/SvD/TT

The Swedish Migration Agency has removed a previous requirement that student permit applicants physically be on campus for 50 percent of their course.

This means that unlike last year, in 2021 it will be easier for non-EU students to get a student permit despite many universities having switched to remote teaching due to corona. Normally, one of the requirements for a student permit is that the majority of teaching takes place on campus, which means distance teaching is usually not sufficient.

Swedish universities have generally been offering mostly distance teaching since mid-March last year, and many international students have told The Local that the many conflicting recommendations and requirements caused them a lot of stress, with time zones and travel restrictions causing problems for those who had to return to their home countries because they could not renew their permit. Meanwhile, many universities required students to be present on campus at the start of their course.

The Migration Agency said at the time that they were able to grant permits as long as most of the teaching was on-campus, and would try to interpret the rules generously.

But it will likely come as a relief to international students that the 50 percent in-person attendance requirement will now be removed for student residence permits in 2021.

The Migration Agency writes that “the starting point is still that you must stay in Sweden to complete your education” but that “the reason for the loosening of the rules is that attendance on campus cannot be decisive for the agency’s assessment of residence permits for full-time students, because higher education institutions have adapted their activities to national advice and recommendations based on the current situation”.

The exception will only apply to courses that would normally have been held in person, but have moved online due to the pandemic.

A previous exception that student permit holders no longer have to leave Sweden to apply for a new permit for the coming semester during the summer holidays when they are not studying will also be kept in place for 2021, said the Migration Agency.

Thirdly, it will be possible to receive a student permit for university education from August 1st, 2021, regardless of when the course starts. Normally, the permit is only valid from 14 days before the start of the semester.

“The purpose of the decision is to make it easier for higher education institutions to offer study preparation courses to their international students before the start of the semester,” writes the Migration Agency.

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