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EXPLAINED: Sweden's new work permit law and the 'seven year rule'

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
EXPLAINED:  Sweden's new work permit law and the 'seven year rule'
Office workers in Sweden. Photo: Simon Paulin/Imagebank Sweden

Sweden's new work permit law, which came into force in June, allows people to apply for an unlimited number of work permits, and scraps the 'seven-year rule' which has in recent years seen many skilled IT workers in Sweden deported. We explain the change.


In a change that was not highlighted when Sweden's work permit bill was published in April, since June 1st, those who have already received two two-year work permits in Sweden have been able to apply for a third, fourth, or even more, without having to instead apply for permanent residency. 


At the same time, the so-called "seven-year rule" ceased to apply, meaning that the Migration Agency will no longer look back seven years from the date of application and see if there are any issues with prior work permits. 

"The abolishment of the limit on permits is very much welcomed and will solve part of the problem with talent deportations," the immigration lawyer Pia Lind told The Local in April. "In my opinion, it would not have been possible without those who made their voices heard regarding talent deportations."

Lind estimates that fully a third of her cases related to the seven-year rule, meaning she expected the change to make an enormous difference. 

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

What was the work permit limit and why was it a problem? 

Under the old rules, it was only possible to extend a two-year work permit to a maximum of four years, or six years under "special circumstances". 

Many IT consultants recruited from India and other non-EU countries are granted two-year work permits to come to Sweden for time-limited projects. Very often the projects are delayed, meaning the work permit holder arrives later than planned, and they quite frequently end up finishing the project earlier than planned and long before the two-year work permit expires. An IT consultant might then be used for another project, for which they secure a two-year extension to their original two-year work permit.

The problem came at the end of that four-year period.

Under the old rules, a further two-year extension to a work permit could only be granted if there were "special circumstances", or särskilda skäl. Otherwise, if you had had a work permit for four out of the preceding seven years, the Migration Agency would instead automatically assess whether you were eligible for permanent residency. 

It's worth noting that an application for an extension can be rejected if you have entered Sweden and started working later than four months after the permit was granted. 
Employers also often forgot to cancel work permits if a project ended earlier than expected and the work permit holder leaves Sweden, which could cause trouble later on. 


The permanent residency Catch 22 

To be granted permanent residency, however, the consultant needed to demonstrate a "strong connection to the Swedish labour market", not only over the preceding two-year work permit period, but also under previous permits going back seven years.

If they had spent less than three years working out of four years with a work permit in Sweden they were likely to be rejected. 

According to Lind, the number of cases where this happened had been rising. 

"The Migration Agency and the courts have been increasingly strict when it comes to assessing if special reasons to extend an application are at hand," she said. "It’s not enough to prove that the applicant now is employed in Sweden and that she/he couldn’t prevail over the limited time spent in Sweden during the first period with a work permit." 

When the Migration Agency makes its assessment, it's the total time in Sweden that is considered, so all the time spent outside of Sweden during the first permit and the second permit will be counted together when the agency reviews whether requirements for permanent residency are fulfilled.  

The ghosts of past permits

One other problem with the seven-year rule was that when the Migration Agency is considering an application for a work permit extension, the agency did not just assess how well the employee and employer had adhered to the terms of the previous work permit, but also to those of any work permits granted in the preceding seven years. 

"I think all lawyers that work on these issues have struggled with the fact that there's case history, with previous problems that have existed previously, and there's nothing you can do. I mean, you can't correct the missing insurance from four years back, right, and it can still haunt you." 


A long wait outside Sweden before you get a reset 

The third big problem with the seven-year rule was that if you end up having to leave Sweden and reapply, under the current rules, you sometimes had to wait years before you are eligible. 

The Migration Agency at one point tended to see only a few months spent outside the European Union as long enough away to allow a new fresh work permit application. 
"When I first started working, if you had problems with your work permit and could not be granted an extension, you could go away for six months, and then you could apply for a new permit, and the old history of your permit was erased," Lind says.
This had no basis in law, but it was the common practice. 
However, in years running up to the change in June, a series of court rulings had changed the way the law is applied so that even if the applicant had left Sweden, any work permits they had received over the preceding seven years would still be considered when assessing their most recent application. 
Once they returned to their home country they would not be eligible for a new work permit until the first work permit was granted more than seven years ago. It could be years before they can be granted a new work permit," Lind said. "In my opinion completely unacceptable and in conflict with the intention of the law." 


So what is the situation since the new rules came in on June 1st? 

It remains the case that to be eligible for permanent residency, an applicant needs to have had four years of work permits over the preceding seven years. 

What will be different is that it is no longer obligatory to apply for permanent residency after four years of holding work permits. It is now possible to instead apply for additional two-year work permits.  

If you have broken the terms of your work permit, by, for instance, not receiving the correct insurance or by being paid too little, this will still cause problems with getting it extended. 

"An overall assessment will still be made for the permit that you've had, and you may still get a rejection," Lind says. "But the big difference is that by leaving Sweden and applying for a new permit after the problem permit has expired, you can start afresh and that history will never come back." 

In addition, if you then get a work permit for two years and extend it to four years, you can then apply for permanent residency without the mistakes made in the first work permit leading to your application being rejected.  


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