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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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WORK PERMITS

INTERVIEW: Are Sweden’s liberals ready to fight for work permits?

Sweden's liberal work permit system is under assault from the Social Democrats, but Tove Hovemyr from the liberal Fores think tank is worried liberal right-wing parties have lost the appetite to fight back.

INTERVIEW: Are Sweden's liberals ready to fight for work permits?

For Tove Hovemyr, public policy expert at the liberal think tank Fores, the employer-led immigration law Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Alliance government brought in back in 2008 marks the high watershed of Sweden’s formerly enlightened approach to migration. 

“Sweden became the most liberal labour migration system in all of the OECD countries,” she tells The Local’s Paul O’Mahony in this week’s Sweden in Focus podcast.  “And this has been very successful and great, most of all for Sweden’s growth and labour market situation, but also for our competitiveness in the globalised world that we live in.” 

The 2008 law scrapped Sweden’s old system of arbetsmarknadsprövning, Sweden’s version of the so-called “labour market test”  where the unions and the government would assess which were the roles, professions and industries where Sweden had a shortage of skilled workers.

“It basically says that if someone has offered you a job in Sweden with a wage that is adequate, and that also follows Swedish labour market regulations and so forth, then you were welcome to come from a third country to Sweden and work,” she explains of the 2008 law. “It was not dependent on whether there was a shortage of workers in a sector or industry. And this is still the law that exists in Sweden.” 

However, this liberal law, which has enabled so many people to come and build their lives in Sweden, is now under threat from both left and right. 

Changes to work permit laws which come into force on June 1st already make work permits harder to secure, requiring applicants already to have a signed contract before applying for a work permit, and also to prove that they can support any family they bring. 

But at the end of April, the Social Democrats announced plans to reverse the Reinfeldt reforms and bring back the labour test, while the Moderate Party wants to limit work permits to those on salaries of 27,000 kronor a year. 

“What we can see now is that both the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party now want to restrict Sweden’s liberal labour migration regulations in different ways,” Hovemyr says. 

The Social Democrats’ proposal would return Sweden to the pre-Reinfeldt past, while the Moderates’ proposed threshold, she argues, would mean drastic reductions in labour migration. 

“A lot of the labour migration that we have today, and which we also need, like berry pickers, people at restaurants and hotel workers, would not measure up to this level,” she says of the Moderates’ threshold. 

She sees the push to tighten up labour migration laws as part of the broader anti-migration backlash that began in Sweden in the 1990s but which really took off with the refugee crisis of 2015. 

“The refugee crisis of 2015 shook most policymakers to the core,” Hovemyr says. “Even the most liberal politicians were suddenly in favour of a more restrictive policy, some due to new personal convictions, and some due to the public attitudes towards migration. From a more pragmatic point of view, it is now very hard to be pro-immigration in Sweden.” 

Partly, she concedes, this reflects a toughening of attitudes across the world.

“We’ve seen a fast increase in right-wing populism and nationalism all over the liberal democracies. This is not a development isolated to Sweden, quite the opposite. Sweden is actually not the worst in class.” she argues. “This is a part of a wave of  populism going all over the western countries, and the immigration debate in Sweden is just a part of it.” 

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Hovemyr believes the next battle will be over labour migration. 

“Besides the question of asylum policy, one of the biggest fights we will see, I think, in the years after this election, will be labour migration policy,” she says. “Just as the general attitude in the public policy debate is that it’s hard to be pro-migration, it is also hard to be pro labour migration.” 

Her fear is that there seem to be few politicians ready to fight for the liberal labour migration that she believes has brought Sweden so many benefits. 

“What concerns me is that when these proposals came from the Social Democrats in late April, I didn’t see the defensive reaction from politicians who support liberal labour migration policy that I would have expected,” she says. 

“This is concerning, because I think that many still sees being pro-migration as something dangerous, and it might mean that the fight to keep liberal labour migration laws won’t be as great as I would hope.”

Tove Hovemyr was interviewed by Paul O’Mahony for this week’s Sweden in Focus podcast. 

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