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WORKING IN SWEDEN

How will the new work permit law just passed in Sweden affect foreigners?

The government's work permit overhaul, designed among other things, to reduce the number of talented foreign workers being deported due to minor paperwork issues, passed in Sweden's parliament on Wednesday, meaning it will come into force on June 1st.

How will the new work permit law just passed in Sweden affect foreigners?
Sweden's new work permit law is designed to reduce talent deportations. Photo: AP Photo/Michael Sohn/TT

The overhaul, which Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced in December shortly after she was elected, is designed to crack down on so-called kompetensutvisningar or “talent deportations” and provide a new visa for highly-educated job seekers wanting to apply for work in Sweden.

The bill will also require those seeking permits to have a signed contract from an employer, and to be able to show they are able to support any family members they bring to Sweden with them.  

What is in the proposal?

The proposal includes a new work permit for “some highly qualified individuals” to come to Sweden in order to seek work or start a business, as well as a proposal targeting talent deportations, stating that work permits do not need to be recalled in cases with “minor cases of deviation” from work permit laws, or “if revoking the work permit does not seem reasonable in light of the circumstances”.

In addition to this, work permits will only be issued to applicants who already have a job contract, employers will be liable to report to authorities if the terms of employment are changed and become less favourable, and employers will be subject to fines if they do not provide written information to the Migration Agency about the applicant’s terms of employment.

Furthermore, work permit holders wishing to bring family with them will need to prove that they can provide for their family members, and human trafficking laws will be altered to make it easier to prosecute people who have given false information in order to receive a work permit.

Who will be affected by the new law?

The new law will only affect non-EU citizens wishing to work in Sweden, as EU citizens in Sweden for work are issued permits under EU law, rather than Swedish law.

The law will not affect existing work permits, but could apply when existing permits expire and applicants reply for a renewal or extension.

Why were the opposition parties against the proposal?

Although the proposal is likely to be approved, this does not mean that the opposition parties were in total agreement. Over 50 motions were raised by opposition parties in response to the proposal, all of which have been rejected.

These included suggestions from the Moderates, the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats advocating for a minimum salary requirement, meaning that applicants would need to earn above a certain amount in order to qualify for a work permit.

Under current rules, applicants only need to earn a minimum of 13,000 kronor per month in order to fulfil legal criteria for having enough money to support themselves. The Moderates believe this amount should be around 27,500 kronor per month, or around 85 percent of the average Swedish salary (32,000 kronor per month).

The Christian Democrats believe this lower limit should be 35,000 kronor – previously, they had stated 30,000 kronor was sufficient – with exceptions for lower-paid professions – such as nurses and other healthcare personnel – requiring foreign labour.

What will happen now?

The law is proposed to go into effect on June 1st, 2022. Before this date, work permits will continue to be issued under the current rules.

Depending on what happens in September’s election, a new government could decide to implement further reforms, which, if approved, would be unlikely to come into effect before 2023.

Will this actually help prevent talent deportations?

According to Amelie Berg, senior legal adviser at the Confederation for Swedish Enterprise, specialising in the labour market and work environment law, it will.

“We’ve noted that ‘talent deportations’ already began to diminish a few years ago, primarily due to several new rulings from the Migration Court of Appeal,” she told The Local.

“This has led to a more permissive application of the requirements. We still welcome the proposals and our assessment is that they will further reduce the risk of unjust deportations, especially in combination with each other.”

However, the proposal is far from perfect. “We advocate a well-functioning system for labour migration and burdensome regulations putting excessive demands on either companies or employees, which in practice are difficult to meet, are not a part of that,” Berg said.

One example of this is the new requirement that permit applicants must have a signed contract before they can apply for a work permit.

“We believe that the requirement to provide a signed employment contract ahead of actually applying for a work permit will be both practically difficult and not in line with neither regular procedures nor legal requirements when hiring,” she said.

The proposal that work permit holders must be able to provide for any family members wishing to join them in Sweden may also cause issues. “The new requirement regarding the demand that labour migrants who bring their family must show that they can provide for the family’s livelihood is unclear and may be difficult to meet for many labour migrants,” Berg said.

Member comments

  1. is there any significant change for people that are looking to apply for permanent residence after June?

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WORK PERMITS

How has the Migration Agency been applying Sweden’s new labour law?

Just two weeks after Sweden's new work permit laws came in, problems are already arising, José Vaz, an immigration specialist at Ernst & Young, has told The Local.

How has the Migration Agency been applying Sweden's new labour law?

“It’s only been less than two weeks, but we’ve already seen ridiculous requests from the Migration Agency,” he said.

Wet ink signatures

One of the biggest headaches Vaz reports is that case officers have been demanding that the employment contracts work permit applicants now need to submit are signed by hand. 

“Now that you need to submit an employment contract, they’re actually saying that these need to be hand-signed with a wet signature,” he reports. “This is illegal from a Swedish law perspective, because you can’t mandate employment contracts to be signed by hand. Digital signatures, or even verbal agreements, are legally viable.” 

But when Vaz’s team has made this point, the case officers have not backed down. 

“Their response was, ‘we don’t have the technology to verify digital signatures’, so we have actually escalated that to their legal department.” 

In an interview with The Local at the start of this month, Carl Bexelius, the Migration Agency’s Head of Legal Affairs, said that there were “no formal requirements” for what a signature on the contract should look like, adding that he thought this would end up being decided through “interpretations from the courts”.a

But Vaz reports that in the absence of clear guidance from the agency’s legal team, case officers are demanding so-called ‘wet’ handwritten signatures, which are time-consuming and difficult for many applicants to obtain. 

“This stems from the fact that the legal department just hasn’t provided any guidance to the case officers on how they are to interpret the new legislation, which is then leading to these sorts of ridiculous requests,” he says. 

Bexelius’ approach was causing major headaches for companies, he continued. 

“This is basically the Migration Agency saying, ‘well, we don’t know, we’re gonna let the courts decide’. But in the courts, you are talking about 12 to 15-month processing times, and that’s just not sustainable for companies and for employees who are trying to get their permits extended.” 

Secondment contracts ‘need to meet Swedish requirements’

The second big issue is that case officers are demanding that employees in multinational firms seconded to Sweden have contracts that meet Swedish requirements, even though they signed their contracts elsewhere. 

“With those who are posted or seconded from abroad, they’re saying that the assignment agreements need to be on par with the Swedish agreements,” Vaz reports. “Actually, each person’s home employment contract is dictated by the legislation in their country.”

This just isn’t how big companies work, he argues. 

“They’re now saying that agreements need to match the Swedish equivalent, which is OK, but then you haven’t looked at the consequences of what big multinational companies have in place,” he says. “A lot of multinational companies that send seconded employees abroad tend to have one type of policy agreement or policies in place for what individuals are entitled to.” 

The rental contract issue

One of the big issues when it comes to secondees has been housing. 

“We’ve actually had some requests where they’ve asked, ‘where is this person staying in Sweden?’, and we say, ‘they’re still abroad, there’s no housing secured for them’.”

“Companies,” Vaz says, “tend to have a policy where they offer temporary accommodation for three months while the person comes, settles and tries to find their own permanent accommodation.” 

But the agency is now asking applicants for signed rental contracts before they’ve even arrived.

“They’re asking for rental contracts. Well, they’re not even in Sweden to sign contracts,” he says. 

READ ALSO: How will Sweden’s new work permit rules apply in practice?

Long delays expected 

Vaz says that when the new maintenance requirement came in last year, it took the Migration Agency six months to issue guidelines on how it interpreted the new law, leading to long delays. 

“Instead of the four weeks that they’re supposed to take for certified applications, it actually took months,” he says. “What we’re going to see now is the exact same thing. It’s a repeat, if not worse, of what happened last year.”

What is frustrating for those dealing with the agency is that none of the new rules have been sprung on it at short notice: they were first floated in 2020 and were originally supposed to have been passed in 2021. But it is unprepared nonetheless. 

“The Migration Agency are not going to be able to get on top of things and interpret the new legislation. There is just going to be a mess, because the case officers are not going to know what they’re requesting,” he worries.

“They don’t know how to analyse it, because most of these case officers don’t have the experience or the background. They rely on internal senior case officers, who then in turn rely on the legal department, who have yet to say how they’re interpreting the law.”

This means that those applying for permits, and the firms, like Ernst & Young, who advise them, will be in a position of uncertainty for months to come.

“We’re kind of in a limbo stage, and of course, then there’s the Swedish summer period coming, when everyone will be away,” he says.

“We just have so much uncertainty as to what they’re going to be requesting, how they’re going to be requesting information. And what are the consequences? It is just going to be extended processing times.” 

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