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How could a new skills shortage test for work permits impact foreigners in Sweden?

Sweden's government has announced their intention to introduce a skills shortage test for work permits, which would mean work permits would only be awarded to those applying for a position in a sector where there is a national shortage. How could this impact foreigners?

How could a new skills shortage test for work permits impact foreigners in Sweden?
Healthcare workers are likely to be featured as an approved profession under a possible shortage list system. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

What is the shortage test?

The shortage test, known as arbetsmarknadsprövning in Swedish, is a system where prospective labour migrants wanting to work in Sweden will only have their work permits approved if they are filling a position where there is a national shortage.

Sweden has had this system before. It was scrapped in 2008 by the then-Moderate government led by Fredrik Reinfeldt, a move which migration minister Anders Ygeman said had caused issues in Sweden, such as extensive labour immigration for low-qualified jobs for which there is no shortage of labour nationally.

“Deregulation has led to serious consequences for the country,” Ygeman said at a press conference on Thursday, going on to say that there “have been many warning signals over the years”.

Who will be affected?

Firstly, this would mainly affect people who are not currently working in Sweden and applying for their first work permit in the country.

The law would only affect non-EU, non-Nordic people wishing to work in Sweden. EU and Nordic citizens have the right to live and work in Sweden without having to apply for a work permit.

It’s hard to say at this stage which professions would be affected, but a look at Denmark’s version of the system, the “positive list”, may provide some insight.

Denmark’s list for those with a higher education includes architects, healthcare professionals, teachers and programmers, and their list for skilled workers includes laboratory technicians, chefs, electricians, social and healthcare assistants and hairdressers.

It’s unclear how the law could be applied to those who are already working in the country, but it could mean that you run into issues when it’s time to renew – although, it should be stressed that any change in law is unlikely to happen for at least a year and a half, if it happens at all.

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

What do Sweden’s political parties say about the shortage test?

Unsurprisingly seeing as they scrapped it last time they were in government, the Moderates are still against the shortage test. 

The Centre Party, Liberals and Green Party are also against reintroducing the shortage test, arguing that employers are better placed to decide whether they have a labour shortage than government authorities.

The Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and Left Party are backing the Social Democrats, with all three in favour of reintroducing the shortage test, but for different reasons.

The Left Party argues that it will prevent the exploitation of foreign workers, whereas the Christian Democrats and Sweden Democrats believe it should be introduced for all positions with a salary of less than 35,000 kronor per month, with no shortage requirement on positions with a higher salary.

When will it be introduced?

It may not be introduced at all. So far, the government have said that they plan to investigate the reintroduction of arbetsmarknadsprövning, but the investigation won’t start until the summer, after which it is expected to take at least a year.

That means that any change in law is unlikely to happen before the second half of 2023, making the return of the test reliant on the Social Democrats winning September’s election.

If the opposition parties were to win September’s election, it is even less likely that this law would be introduced. A more likely scenario in that case would be the introduction of a lower salary cap on work permits, meaning that applicants would have to secure a salary above a certain limit before they can be granted a permit.

It’s unclear what this salary would be, although the Moderates have previously argued it should be at least 85 percent of Sweden’s median salary, which would place the limit at aroung 27,500 kronor a month.

The Sweden Democrats and Christian Democrats are in favour of a higher cap, which would require prospective immigrants to earn at least 35,000 kronor to work in Sweden.

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Foreigners trapped by Swedish work permit delays call for visa relief

Work permit holders in Sweden have launched a petition asking the Migration Agency to issue special visas allowing those affected by long renewal times to leave Sweden and return.

Foreigners trapped by Swedish work permit delays call for visa relief

After just a day, the petition has already been signed by 2,700 people at the time this article was last updated, indicating just how many are being affected by the long processing delays at the agency. Some foreigners in Sweden are currently having to wait for as long as 15 months to have their work permits renewed, leaving them unable to visit relatives and loved ones back home. 

Fredrik Bengtsson, the director at the agency responsible for work permits this week told The Local that the delays were the result of new rules that came into force in June, the need to redeploy staff to handle refugees from Ukraine, and a post-pandemic surge in applications. 

The petition was launched on Thursday by Dina Ahmad, a Lebanese IT professional, who has herelf been waiting five months for a renewal.

“I decided to launch this petition because I have seen this affect many people,” she told The Local. “I have heard tragic stories about people who could not go back home to see their relatives before they passed away.” 

She heard of one person who had to wait 23 months for a renewal, which as the permit was only valid for two years, meant they had only one month of validity left when they finally received it, meaning they had to immediately go through the entire process again.

In the petition, she complains about the “incomprehensible” rule that people from countries that require a visa to enter the EU who leave Sweden while waiting for a work permit decision may not be allowed to return to Sweden. 

“It is a huge injustice that residents who are here working and paying taxes are unable to return to the country and resume their jobs should they decide to leave,” the petition states. “Many need to visit their families, deal with paperwork back home, or just take a break.” 

The petition notes that other EU countries do not have this rule, with Denmark, for instance, having a “re-entry permit”, or “tilbagerejsetilladelse”, allowing those waiting for decisions to return home. 

It also notes that the Migration Agency has already started issuing so-called D-visas so that people waiting for work permit decisions can attend business meetings abroad.  

“We ask that a solution can be found wherein residents can travel and be able to come back and resume their work in Sweden while waiting for a decision,” they state.  “Perhaps the D-visa can be extended to allow non-business related travel as well.” 

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

Moataz Mohamed, one of the signatories, wrote under the petition that the delay in processing his new work permit had prevented him from “going home to get married to the love of my life”. 

“With the increasing time for a decision, we can’t even plan anything or book a venue. At the same time, my father is sick and if something happens to him, I can’t even think of what to do,” he wrote on the petition. “This rule is prejudiced and borderline racist.” 

Hyder Ali Mohamed, another signatory, wrote that despite working for a certified company, he had been waiting for permanent residency for more than 25 months. 

“Last time we visited our families and friends back home was more than four years ago, and we will never see some of our closest family members ever again who passed away last year,” he wrote. “The sad part is that even after informing this multiple times to the case officer, he is not making a decision.”

“Imagine being locked in a place and not allowed to move out of the country for the reason of delayed process for months or even a year,” wrote Suneel Seelam, another signatory. “I know the pain of it myself and have seen friends of mine suffering from it. I like to travel at least once a year, and for some family reasons people have to travel.”