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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.

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For members


INTERVIEW: ‘Work permit law is a turning point for talent deportations’

Ali Omumi, the Iranian engineer whose work permit struggles helped bring Sweden's talent deportations to attention, tells The Local how optimistic he is that Sweden's new work permit law will help solve the problem.

INTERVIEW: 'Work permit law is a turning point for talent deportations'

“The changes are so promising,” Omumi says. “What we see right now, finally, is an intention to stop kompetensutvisningar [talent deportations], something we didn’t see in previous years. Now, we see they are taking action.”

Omumi currently works as Area Sales Manager for Hitachi Energy Sweden at the same time as running Real People, a campaign group for a fairer work environment in Sweden. 

One of the changes he thinks will make the biggest difference is the end to the so-called ‘seven-year rule’, which empowers the Migration Agency to consider employers’ and employees’ adherence to the terms of prior work permits going back as far as seven years. 

READ ALSO: Sweden’s new work permit law and the ‘seven-year rule

It’s a rule that has dogged Omumi’s own work permit cases, both back in 2018 and again two and a half months ago. 

“The Migration Agency is allowed to investigate going back in time up to seven years, and if there is any mistake, like in my own case, I had one insurance missing, and it was not fixable retrospectively, they will reject an extension.” 

“Just two and a half months ago, I received a letter from Migrationsverket, applying the seven-year rule, so they investigated my history of immigration, and they found the same mistake again. I was going to get a negative decision again for the same thing, you call it in English, ‘double jeopardy’.”
When the new work permit law comes into force on June 1st, however, the Migration Agency is supposed to take a forward-looking approach, Omumi says, with more of an emphasis on the terms of the job during the work permit period, and less emphasis on past permits. 
The new work permit law also includes language specifically targeting talent deportations, stating that a work permit extension should not be denied as a consequence of “minor errors”, or “if the denial does not seem proportionate given the general circumstances”. 
Here Omumi agrees with those who worry that this clause still leaves too much up to the Migration Agency’s interpretation. 
“This is a matter of how a case officer at the Migration Agency is going to implement it or quantify it, because we don’t know, for example, if lacking a certain insurance for maybe six months is minor, but more than six months is not, so there are a lot of question marks.” 
Perhaps surprisingly, Omumi is not too worried about the Swedish government’s new plan to bring back the skills shortage test for work permits, meaning that employers would need to show that hires from overseas were in a profession, or had skills, lacking in Sweden. 
“If you already have the expertise and the competencies in the country, there is no point in bringing people from abroad. It’s a bad decision economically to let everyone in, of course,” he says. 
In the long run, tightening up work permit requirements will reduce opposition to labour migration, he predicts. 
“I think it’s going to remedy the damaged reputation, maybe not in the short term, but in the long term, because these changes sound very promising.”

The timing of Omumi’s current case means that he risks not benefiting from the rule coming in on June 1st. 

“At the end of February, we got a letter saying this is not a decision, but you have not fulfilled the criteria to either get a permanent residence or another extension, therefore you will be deported,” he says.

“They asked us to provide more arguments or more documentation supporting our application, so what my lawyers did, knowing that the law was going to change, they asked for an extension, and so we are given until 19th of May, which is only a few days until the new law comes into effect, so my lawyers are going to get another two weeks.”

“I am very much hopeful. I think I’m going to stay.