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Australian to be deported from Sweden over ‘world’s most boring admin error’

An Australian marketing professional will be deported from Sweden at the start of next month, over what she describes as "the world's most boring administrative error", showing the Migration Agency is still deporting talented foreigners for minor administrative slip-ups.

Australian to be deported from Sweden over 'world's most boring admin error'
Sheona Urquhart Smångs at Gotland Créperie. Photo: Private

Sheona Urquhart Smångs, who has lived in Sweden for nearly six years, is leaving to return to Australia in two weeks’ time, after a court in Malmö confirmed a Migration Agency decision to reject her request for a work permit extension. 

Last year, she married her Swedish husband, Victor, an elite runner with a dedicated online following.

Until the court’s decision last week, she was working as Marketing and Communications Manager for the driving school app, My Driving Academy, but she has had to resign since losing her work permit. 

“My intention is to apply for a family visa, but as you know, these visas take a year and a half to get, and Victor has to keep his job because he has to show he can support me and be my sponsor, so we have a creative year ahead of us.” 

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After Sweden announced proposals for changes to work permit regulations, there was cautious optimism that the new rules could help improve foreign workers’ stability in Sweden, but criticism that a proposed ‘talent visa’ was not innovative enough.

The Local’s team discussed ‘talent deportations’ and Urquhart Smångs’ case in our latest edition of the Sweden in Focus podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

In its decision, the Migration Agency said that the insurance Smångs’ employer had bought for her was only for an ordinary “worker” or arbetare, when it should have been tjänsteman or “executive” level. 

“This was all approved by the Migration Agency in 2018,” she says. 

But after she applied to extend the visa in August 2020, a new handler ruled that the insurances that had been ruled adequate in 2017, in fact, were not. 

“They sent a letter saying they intended to reject me because, according to them, these insurances – livsförsäkring and sjukförsäkring — were not at the right level for my role, and should be tjänsteman not arbetare. My role had not changed. It was just that the person extending my work visa said that the insurance was not sufficient, even though they had approved these insurances back in 2017.” 

Her boss immediately reinsured her at the slightly more expensive tjänsteman level but this was not enough for the Migration Agency, which refused to extend her work permit and ordered her to be deported. 

“The crazy thing is that although this particular insurance company differentiates between arbetare and tjänsterman, not all of them do,” she continued. “There’s barely any price difference between these insurances. The fact that my boss had insured me clearly shows his intentions were to do the right thing by Migrationsverket”.

Sheona Urquhart Smångs married her husband Victor in Nacka, Stockholm, last year. Photo: Per Henning

She and Victor now plan to spend the next year partly in Australia — where he can stay for 90 days — and partly living nomadically, so they can spend as much of the year together as possible. 

Urquhart Smångs’ case shows that despite repeated attempts by Sweden’s government to push the Migration Agency to stop so-called kompetensutvisningar, or “talent deportations”, the deportation of skilled workers for minor mistakes made by their employers, they continue to happen. 

On April 20th, Sweden’s parliament is due to vote through a new law on Tightened and Improved Work Permit Rules which specifically calls on the Migration Agency to forgive minor mistakes. 

“A time-limited work permit does not need to be revoked in the event of minor deviations or if a revocation does not appear to be reasonable in view of the circumstances,” the bill reads, as it stands. 

But it remains to be seen if that language will be enough to solve the problem, seeing as the Migration Agency criticised the uncertainty of the language in its response to the consultation, and warned that employees were at risk even if they lacked the correct insurance for a short, limited period, as they might have an accident while they had inadequate cover. 

Sheona Urquhart Smångs has been working as a digital marketing executive. Photo: Private

Urquhart Smångs disagreed that the Migration Agency’s strict interpretation of the laws was in the interests of foreigners living in Sweden on work permits. 

“My lawyer says that all these rules were designed to help migrants, to stop them being abused by Swedish employers, but they’re being completely used against us,” she said. 

She says that she feels very integrated in Sweden. 

 “I’m so embedded here, I’ve got a band here which has performed all around the country. I’ve performed with Swedish artists, including singing in Swedish.  I’ve launched two podcasts (here and here) about how great life is here in Sweden – I feel I’ve definitely thrown myself into the community.”

 “Victor’s family are so shocked. It’s crazy that they’re willing to separate the marriages of their own citizens.”

“They even said in my initial rejection letter, that they “acknowledge that she’s engaged to a Swedish citizen, but they think that that’s not enough to show that she’s established a life in Sweden.”

Urquhart Smångs is flying back to Australia on Saturday.  

Member comments

  1. They should also be looking into the court in Malmö that confirmed a Migration Agency decision, as that was the place the decision should have been overturned.

  2. Absolute madness. I guarantee if you denied that Migra­tions­verket case handler ANYTHING, no mater how trivial and small, in their life (even on a temporary basis) over an extraordinarily minor technicality they would squeal so loud they could be heard across the Baltic in Tallinn.

    This is a continuance of of a long line of ‘let’s make Sweden a laughingstock of the EU’ level buffoonery.

  3. Mr. Orange and the Local write the the “Migration Agency is still deporting talented foreigners”

    But what makes her so “talented” and in need of special coverage in this newspaper?
    She has a very ordinary, some might even say sub-ordinary, job. She works for a very mediocre business doing surprisingly pedestrian work.

    She’s not writing specialised AI software. She’s not developing new algorithms. And she isn’t on the leading edge of biochemical research changing the world with new pharmaceuticals.
    Where’s the talent? I ask this sincerely as it seems that the Local and Mr. Orange believe that everyone who has a job, no matter how ordinary that job might be, should be recoginised as a special talent and granted exceptions to the rules.

    I think Sweden needs to be clear about what it means by “talent” and who should be admitted.
    Marketing managers like this are a dime-a-dozen.

    And there is a legitimate administrative error in her paperwork. And, frankly, she seems like the type who just might make such an error. Is she a nice person and someone who would be great to socialise with? almost certainly. But wothly of the title “talented” and an article dedicated to her sitaution? Doubtful.

  4. Mr. Orange and the Local write:
    “Migration Agency is still deporting talented foreigners”

    But what makes her so “talented” and in need of special coverage in this newspaper?
    She has a very ordinary, some might even say sub-ordinary, job. She works for a very mediocre business doing surprisingly pedestrian work.

    She’s not writing specialised AI software. She’s not developing new algorithms. And she isn’t on the leading edge of biochemical research changing the world with new pharmaceuticals.
    Where’s the talent? I ask this sincerely as it seems that the Local and Mr. Orange believe that everyone who has a job, no matter how ordinary that job might be, should be recoginised as a special talent and granted exceptions to the rules.

    I think Sweden needs to be clear about what it means by “talent” and who should be admitted.
    Marketing managers like this are a dime-a-dozen.

    And there is a legitimate administrative error in her paperwork. And, frankly, she seems like the type who just might make such an error. Is she a nice person and someone who would be great to socialise with? almost certainly. But wothly of the title “talented” and an article dedicated to her sitaution? Doubtful.

  5. This is sad indeed , not sure what is the rationale behind this. It seems counter intuitive by all means. I do not understand why something aimed at protecting employees turns out to be so disadvantageous for the them.

  6. It seems to me that in this case it was not the employer who made the mistake, but the Migration Agency, which misinformed the employer. If anyone should be penalized, it should be the Agency employee who gave the wrong information in 2017, NOT the company or the employee, who both properly followed the instructions given by the Agency.

  7. With all my experience as an employee with work permit struggles I’d say she probably chose a bad lawyer for her case. I think it could be possible to win this case

  8. Interesting comment Kio. You sound very bitter and upset.
    Have you considered Canada? The door is wide open for educated immigrants such as yourself. You might want to tone down the attitude a little though. Not every rejection is based on racism. But regardless, your best bet in life as a person of colour is Canada. It’s an advanced nation, with the most lax immigration policies on Earth and a leftish PM who is pouring favours on people of colour such as yourself. You should give it a shot. It is a great country.

    Oh – and please ignore any comments from “An academic in Sweden” and “Another Academic in Sweden” on this. They are a both rather bigoted and are unable to deal with helpful advice that I offer on the topic of immigration and nationality. Completely unwilling to take positive advice and suggestions, and attempting to shut down constructive dialogue. I sincerely believe Canada would be a better place for you. Especially Toronto, which has a relatively large financial sector and is well integrated with New York and Chicago. It’s also highly diverse.

  9. @kio
    What do you mean by “amount of indians is too much to handle”? If you take the immigration statistics they are by far well educated, hardworking, silent, almost 0% crime and “mind their own business” community when you compare with other immigrants.

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WORK PERMITS

EXPLAINED: Why is it taking so long to get work permits in Sweden?

The Migration Agency has in September been taking nine times longer than its target to process work applications for foreigners employed by so-called "certified operators". What's going on and when will the situation return to normal?

EXPLAINED: Why is it taking so long to get work permits in Sweden?

How long are work permits taking at the moment? 

The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that at the start of September the average work permit decision for those who have been hired by so-called certified operators, on the fast track, had taken an average of 105 days, while under its agreement with certified companies, it is supposed to take only ten. 

According to tables provided to The Local by the agency, it has so far this year taken an average of 46 days to handle a first-time application for a work permit by an employee who has been hired by a company that is part of the certified operator scheme. This is nearly three times as along as the average of 19 days it took in 2021. 

Work permit extensions for employees at certified companies have taken 108 days so far this year, up from 43 days in 2021. 

First time work permit applications outside the certified employer scheme have taken 121 days so far this year, which is actually less than the 139 days it took in 2021. Extensions outside the scheme have so far this year taken an average of 327 days, up from 277 in 2021. 

Bengtson would not confirm or deny the more recent figures obtained by DN, but he conceded that the waits were now longer.  

“It’s increased a lot since the summer, but I don’t have the exact number,” he said. 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications for people in industries that are not considered high risk are currently completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

For first-time work permit applicants who have been given jobs by or through a certified company, the agency also estimates that 75 percent of applications are processed “within three months”. 

What’s the problem? 

According to Bengtsson, the agency has received far more applications in 2022 than it had predicted at the start of the year. 

“So far this year we have already received 10,000 more applications than our prognosis,” he told The Local. 

He said that new rules which came into force on June 1st had also significantly increased the workload. 

One of the new rules was a change meaning that those applying for work permits had to have a signed contract. “That meant that tens of thousands of ongoing cases needed to be completed,” he added.  

The new law also meant that instead of simply having to meet the minimum income requirements to bring their spouses and children to Sweden, work permit applicants also needed to prove that they could support them and supply adequate housing. 

“With the new law, we need to do a much more fundamental analysis of the employee [financial situation], if they want to bring their family,” he added. 

Although the agency has reduced the number of its employees from around 9,000 immediately after the 2015 refugee crisis to about 5,000 today, Bengtsson said this was something decided on by Sweden’s government in the annual budget, and was not directly linked to the current staff shortages. 

Wrong-footed by war in Ukraine 

While the agency had been aware of these changes in advance, warned about them in its responses to a government white paper on the changes, and recruited more staff in anticipation, Bengtsson said that that the war in Ukraine had diverted resources, meaning that when the new law came into effect in June, the work permit division had been understaffed. 

What is the agency planning to do? 

The agency is still recruiting and moving more staff to its division processing work permits. It is also increasing the use of digitalisation, or automated systems, to process work permit applications, although there are limits under the law meaning that that judgements still need to be made in each case by human case officers. 

The new assessment of applicants’ ability to support their families had made digitalisation more complicated, Bengtsson said. 

“As soon as we need to make judgements, we can’t digitalise,” he said. 

Bengtsson stressed that the agency was still processing work permits within the four month time limit given to it under law, and that the ten-day goal was just “a service we offer companies”.

“We are working full out to bring down the processing time again, but it is possible that we won’t be able to return to the processing times that we had before,” he said. “We may have to say, we can only do it in a month, but we will have to see how it is with the new laws for a few more months, and then we’ll take a decision.” 

In the longer term, Bengtsson predicted that if the labour market test or a much higher minimum salary for work permit applicants is brought in, as seems likely in the next few years, this could help speed up processing times. 

“There will be fewer applicants, and it will be easier for those big companies hiring people with a higher education level to get work permit.” 

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