New Swedish government’s plans to tighten work permit rules

magdalena andersson holding a speech in front of a red curtain
Magdalena Andersson at the Swedish Trade Union Confederation’s congress on Wednesday. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
Newly-elected Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson spoke about plans to introduce stricter labour migration rules in a speech held at the Swedish Trade Union Confederation’s congress.

Andersson wants to introduce a requirement for employees to have a binding job contract before a work permit can be issued – although it is not yet clear exactly what will feature in the final proposal.

The new proposal would affect non-EU migrants – labour migrants from within the EU do not need to apply for a work or residence permit to work and live in Sweden.

Under the current system, those applying for a work permit in Sweden only require a job offer, which is not legally binding, and means that their conditions for employment can be altered by employers once they arrive in Sweden.

“We need to put an end to employers who tempt foreign employees here only to make them work under slave-like conditions,” Andersson said. “It’s shameful, and it obviously shouldn’t be legal.”

According to Anders Ygeman, newly-appointed Minister for Integration, Migration and Sport, current rules often lead to other groups being out-competed, and left unable to find work.

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“We have a large amount of labour migration for unqualified jobs, where we have a huge queue of people who have come to Sweden for asylum reasons who are then out-competed by labour migrants,” Ygeman explained, adding that labour migrants filling these positions makes integration more difficult.

Andersson is aiming to present a bill to parliament before the end of the year, and believes she can convince a majority to vote for the proposal. If not, she said that it would become an election pledge.

In a press conference after her speech, Andersson described the plans as a “step towards” ending the practice, adding that it was “no secret” that the Social Democrats wanted to re-introduce arbetsmarknadsprövning – a system scrapped in 2008 where foreigners wanting to work in Sweden would only have their work permits approved if they could fill a position where there was a national shortage.

If this were to be reintroduced, work permits would be dependent on unions, employers, and authorities confirming that they lack workers in the profession in question.

In an interview with Swedish news agency TT in early November, then-Social Democrat Migration Minister Morgan Johansson described reintroducing arbetsmarknadsprövning as the “only way” to clean up the system.

“It is unreasonable that we have immigration into positions where we don’t have a shortage, like restaurant workers and cleaners,” Johansson told TT at the time.

Current rules for getting a work permit in Sweden include having a valid passport, a salary offer which is “at least on par with that set by Swedish collective agreements or which is customary within the occupation or industry” and a salary which enables the employee to support themselves – currently classed as at least 13,000 kronor a month, before tax.

In addition, employers must show that they will take out health insurance, life insurance, work injury insurance and pension insurance on behalf of the employee.

Sweden’s work permit rules are relatively generous in comparison to several of its neighbours, with Denmark stipulating that applicants must have a full-time job with a monthly salary equivalent to 50,000 Swedish kronor, or a job in a profession suffering from lack of workers, and Norway requiring that workers are highly educated, in full-time positions with a salary equivalent to at least 33,000 Swedish kronor per month.

Both Denmark and Norway require that work permit holders can financially support any accompanying family members.

However, the Swedish system has also been criticised for bureaucratic rigidity, with words such as kompetensutvisning (competence/talent/skills deportation) being coined in 2017 as a result of a confusing, complicated system difficult for foreign workers to navigate.

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