SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

MOVING TO SWEDEN

Reader question: Why are EU citizens getting rejected from SFI classes?

State-funded Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) classes are often cited as key to integrating immigrants into Swedish society and the Swedish job market. So why are some of our readers from the EU being barred from attending?

A Swedish for Immigrants class in Täby outside Stockholm back in 2017.
A Swedish for Immigrants class in Täby outside Stockholm back in 2017. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

What rights do EU citizens have?

According to the Swedish Education Act (Skollagen), an individual has the right to study SFI from July in the year they turn 16 if they live in Sweden and lack the basic knowledge of the Swedish language which the course is designed to teach.

Usually, “living in Sweden” means that an applicant needs to be registered in the Tax Agency’s population register, meaning that they have a personal number (personnummer), the 10- or 12-digit number which grants access to a wide range of important aspects of Swedish society.

However, under EU law, EU citizens (as well as EES and Swiss citizens), have the right to study SFI in Sweden even if they don’t have this number.  

Despite this, multiple Swedish municipalities wrongly require EU citizens applying to study SFI to provide a personnummer or, in some cases, a coordination number (samordningsnummer). A coordination number is a temporary number which can be provided to those who don’t qualify for a personnummer, but who still need an identification number in order, for example, to pay tax. 

What has happened?

EU citizens who should be eligible for SFI studies are having their applications rejected.

One dual Irish/UK citizen in Gothenburg, who got in touch with The Local about this issue, tried to apply for SFI in Gothenburg. He is currently working in a part-time job which does not qualify him for a personnummer under the Tax Agency’s rules, and he believed that speaking Swedish would increase his chances of finding a permanent job.

“We’re planning on staying here and believed it would increase his chances of finding a more suitable permanent job here,” his partner, also a dual Irish/UK citizen, told The Local.

The city of Gothenburg states on its website that EU citizens require a personnummer to study SFI in Gothenburg, and that a samordningsnummer will not be accepted.

“He attempted to register quoting the relevant section of the law and was refused,” the man’s partner told The Local. “We received an email from the city of Gothenburg (ironically in Swedish) indicating that their ‘lawyer has interpreted those sections of the Education act differently’ and that they will not register anyone without a personnummer“.

In the email, seen by The Local, a representative from the city of Gothenburg’s SFI programme wrote that “Skolverket [The Swedish National Agency for Education] have interpreted EU law in one way. Here at the Department for the Labour Market and Adult Education, our lawyer has interpreted EU law in a different way. Currently, you cannot apply to SFI in Gothenburg if you don’t have a personnummer.”

Gothenburg isn’t the only municipality in Sweden who demand that EU citizens fulfil requirements which are not set out in the Education Act.

Södertälje municipality, south of Stockholm, states on its website that EU citizens “must have the right to work or study in Sweden as well as be able to provide a job contract or proof of studies” in order to register for SFI.

Botkyrka municipality, also near Stockholm, requires a samordningsnummer.

The city of Malmö requires that you provide proof that you are either working, seeking employment, a student, can support youself financially with comprehensive health insurance, or are staying with a family member who fulfils one of these requirements in order to apply for SFI.

Is this legal?

It’s hard to say. 

A spokesperson for The Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) told The Local that “the right to education is not specifically linked to having a personnummer or a samordningsnummer“.

Skolverket can provide information on legislation, but we cannot take a position on or discuss individual cases,” the agency wrote in an email.

“Generally, however, the rule is that a municipality does not have the right to set their own requirements for admission which are not found in the legislation. The question of whether a certain municipality is acting correctly or incorrectly must be decided in each specific case. Which Skolverket can’t do.”

The agency’s spokesperson said that only supervisory authorities or courts were able to make the call as to whether a municipality is acting illegally, and that, in this case, those affected could contact the Swedish Board of Appeal for Education (Skolväsandets överklagandenämnd) to appeal a municipality’s decision.

The Local has contacted the Swedish Board of Appeal for Education for information on whether they have handled any appeals on this topic, and is awaiting a response.

Why are municipalities not following the Education Act?

The Local contacted the city of Gothenburg directly in February 2022 to ask for more information on why they require EU citizens to have a personnummer in order to be accepted on to SFI courses, and were told by a lawyer at the Department for the Labour Market and Adult Education that a personnummer was not a necessary requirement for EU citizens applying for SFI courses in Gothenburg.

“The information which is available on our website will be assessed going forward and corrected, as it has not been updated,” he wrote. “There is no requirement from the Department for the Labour Market and Adult Education that an individual must have a Swedish personnummer to study SFI, but the individual must be considered to be resident in Sweden according to the Education Act in order to study SFI”.

He also stated that the applications of EU citizens who are not registered in the population register who apply for SFI courses are assessed on an individual basis, “regardless of what is stated on the website.”

The Local also contacted Södertälje municipality and Botkyrka municipality for their comments, and are awaiting a response.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

SWEDISH LANGUAGE

What irritates Swedes the most about the Swedish language?

A new study shows that more than one in five Swedes is irritated by the pronoun "hen", and the same number can't stand it when compound words are split up. Here's a rundown of the main offenders.

What irritates Swedes the most about the Swedish language?

One in five Swedes dislike the gender-neutral pronoun hen

In the study, carried out by Novus on behalf of language magazine Språktidningen, 22 percent of Swedes said that the pronoun hen was the most irritating aspect of the Swedish language. 

The first reported use of the gender-neutral pronoun, to be used instead of han (he) or hon (she), was in the 1950s, when it was used by language professor Karl-Hampus Dahlstedt, but it didn’t appear in writing until linguist Rolf Dunås wrote a newspaper article in 1966 proposing the introduction of the new pronoun.

After that, use of the pronoun was mostly limited to those within the LGBT community until 2012, when a children’s book sparked debate and media attention thanks to the exclusive use of hen to refer to its characters.

In 2015, hen entered the Swedish dictionary, a move which made it more difficult for critics to argue that it wasn’t an established or accepted alternative to han or hon.

As Språktidningen’s editor-in-chief Anders Svensson points out in this article, the pronoun hen has had an ideological and political dimension since debate took off in 2012, and this is still clearly visible today.

Although 22 percent of the survey’s respondents listed hen as the most irritating aspect of the Swedish language, this number rose to a whopping 50 percent amongst respondents who identified with the Sweden Democrats.

On the other side of the political spectrum, those sympathising with the Left Party, the Greens, the Liberals or the Centre Party were least likely to find hen irritating, with a mere 5 to 7 percent of these groups putting it in first place.

Torbjörn Sjöström, CEO of polling company Novus, told Språktidningen that these results didn’t surprise him.

“The fact that hen is irritating for Sweden Democrat sympathisers more than others is not surprising. People join that party because they want things to be like they were in the past. A new word which is gender-neutral symbolises a lot of the developments these people are against,” he explained.

One in five against särskrivning

The same amount, 22 percent, stated that särskrivningar – writing compound words incorrectly as two separate words – annoyed them the most.

This may sound like a minor error, but särskrivningar (literally: “separate writing”) can lead to major misunderstandings. Just look at these amusing examples of särskrivning gone wrong:

En rödhårig kvinna: “a red-haired woman”

En röd hårig kvinna: a red, hairy woman

Kassapersonalen: “checkout workers”

Kassa personalen: “useless employees”

Barnunderkläder: “children’s underwear”

Barn under kläder: “child under clothes”

In contrast to debates over the use of the word hen, debates over särskrivning have raged since the 1800s, where they were often considered to be major mistakes if featured in a text. One reason for this, Svensson notes, is that order in itself was seen as beautiful at this time.

Maria Bylin, language advisor at the Swedish Language Council (Språkrådet), told Språktidningen that she recognises this argument in modern debate on särskrivningar.

“You associate developments in the language with the country and with society,” she explained. “So whatever changes you can see in the language, you think it will happen in society, too.”

One popular scapegoat for this increase in särskrivning is the influence of English on the Swedish language. In English, we have fewer compound words than in Swedish, although they do still exist: a few examples are postbox, doorknob and blackberry. It is, however, harder to form compounds than in Swedish.

To return to the examples above, it would look strange to write “redhairedgirl”, “checkoutworker” or “childrensunderwear” as compounds in English.

So, is the rise of English to blame for mistakes in Swedish? Not according to linguist Katharina Hallencreutz, who noted when studying high school students’ English essays that they had no issues writing English compound loan words such as makeup or popcorn. 

This also wouldn’t explain the large amount of särskrivningar seen in historical texts in Sweden: they feature heavily in laws dating back to the 1200s, as well as Gustav Vasa’s Swedish bible translation, which was published in 1541.

One surprising result of the survey was the fact that young people were more likely than older people to find särskrivningar irritating:

“That surprised me a bit,” Svensson told public broadcaster SVT. “Often you hear the argument that older people think young people write carelessly and särskriver too much.”

Svensson wasn’t sure why this was, but did have a theory: “I suppose those who have recently finished school – most of them have learnt when words should be written as one word, and when they should be separate,” he told SVT.

English loanwords

The influence of English on the Swedish language was a major bugbear for a number of respondents, though. As many as 15 percent of those in Novus’ survey answered that “unnecessary English loanwords” were the most irritating thing about modern Swedish.

English loanwords were most irritating amongst Swedes over 65, where 29 percent stated they were the number one source of irritation, a number which was much lower in other age groups.

Lena Lind Palicki, a Swedish lecturer at Stockholm University, said that this could be to do with comprehensibility. She noted that irritation over English loanwords was especially high amongst older respondents who had left school at 16.

“We can assume that these people have a lower level of English, and then it’s a democratic problem, if English loanwords are used which can be difficult for many people to understand,” she told Språktidningen.

Palicki can’t imagine that English will remain as large a source of annoyance in the future as it is now, though.

“The irritation over English loanwords may have gone out of date in twenty years. Today’s youth will not start to be irritated by the same things as today’s elderly, but they’ll probably start making a symbolic issue of things they struggle with in school today,” she told the magazine.

SHOW COMMENTS