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WORK PERMITS

INTERVIEW: ‘The biggest change to work permits in eight years’

Sweden's new work permit laws, which came into effect on Wednesday, have brought in a lot of changes. We spoke to Carl Bexelius, the Migration Agency's Head of Legal Affairs, about how significant they are

INTERVIEW: 'The biggest change to work permits in eight years'
Carl Bexelius, Head of Legal Affairs, at Sweden's Migration Agency, says the new laws are the most extensive changes to work permit law in at least eight years. Photo: Hannah Davidsson/Migration Agency

For the past three months Carl Bexelius, Head of Legal Affairs at Sweden’s Migration Agency, has been working flat out to put in place new structures to deal with the many changes to Sweden’s work permit regime which came into effect on June 1st. 

“The regulations regarding work permits in Sweden haven’t changed significantly in the past seven or eight years, so these changes are quite extensive,” he tells The Local. 

The changes include a new ‘talent visa’, a requirement for employers to alert the agency of any negative changes to employment terms, a requirement for workers bringing their families to show they can support them, and the requirement to show a signed employment contract. 

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The agency has been busy updating routines, checklists and training manuals for staff, training staff in the new requirements, and taking on new employees to deal with the extra workload the new laws are likely to bring. 

“It’s quite extensive work that we have done, and this should also be looked at in the light of the fact that we have increased numbers of applications for work permits as well, so we have had to hire new staff, as we see that this legislation is quite complex.”

Even with the additional resources in place, though, he still expects the additional requirements on the agency to mean longer processing times for applications, although he said it remained to be seen if this meant extra weeks or extra months. 

“It’s quite difficult to estimate since some of these provisions are entirely new. We haven’t dealt with these cases before,” he said. 

He said it was, for instance, difficult to estimate how many people would apply to come to Sweden on the new “permit for highly skilled persons”, and the same went for some of the other new provisions. 

“We don’t know how much they will be used, basically, so we are monitoring this, this first year, and it shouldn’t be excluded that we need to relocate resources within the agency as well.” 

What will count as a “minor deviation” or a “disproportionate” decision to refuse a permit?  

Bexelius dismissed the criticism that the clauses in the new law designed to stop so-called “talent deportations” left too much room for interpretation. 

“It is very difficult for the legislator to specify all situations, so it’s up to the competent authority that applies these rules, the Migration Agency and the courts as well.” 

But he said that the law had done “a good job” specifying that the Migration Agency should excuse both “minor deviations”, and also more serious deviations where it would be “disproportionate” to refuse a permit. 

He gives a few examples of minor deviations. 

“It could be, for instance, that for a couple of months, the salary has been below what was initially stated, maybe 200-400 kronor. It could be that for a couple of months, the insurance wasn’t in place.” 

When it comes to more serious deviation where it would nonetheless be “disproportionate” to refuse a permit, a lot will come down to whether the explanations given for the mistake are “excusable” and “reasonable”, and also to the past record of the employer. 

What kind of job contract will you need to provide? Is a digital signature good enough? 

A key question people considering applying for work permits have after the new rules have come in is what sort of signed contract they need to send along with their application, as sending paper contracts back and forth to countries in Asia or Africa to be signed can take weeks. Some wonder whether the agency will accept contracts as a digitally signed PDF file. 

“There are no formal requirements, since we have no provisions regarding what a job contract should look like,” Bexelius says. “So the crucial part is that we as the authority can assess the information, and that there is a legal contract between the two parties, and that could take different forms.

“I think we will see different forms of contracts being accepted when this legislation is in place, and I guess we will also see interpretations from the courts.”

How much does the new maintenance requirement raise the bar for work permit applicants? 

The new work permit law does not change the bottom salary that those applying for work permits can be paid, which is currently at a very low 13,000 kronor. It does, however, require first-time applicants who are bringing their families to prove that they can support them. 

They will need to show that they have access to 8,520 SEK if they are bringing a spouse or co-habitant partner, 2,736 kronor for children up to six years old, and 3,150 SEK a month for children over the age of seven. 

“They’re basically a copy of the other rules regarding family reunification. The novelty is that there is such a requirement, because there wasn’t before.” 

Bexelius said that the new requirement would effectively increase the minimum salary needed to receive a work permit for anyone coming with dependents. 

“Quite often, you’re either a single man or woman, so in that sense, there won’t be any changes. But if you want to bring your family as well, yes, that will be the result.” 

Why have so-called “talent deportations” continued to happen so long after the alarm was raised? 

When asked about why “talent deportations”, the refusal of work permits to highly skilled workers, had continued to happen long after it became a big national issue in 2015-2016, Bexelius argued that a lot of the Migration Agency’s decisions had in fact been justified. 

In the preparations for the new legislation, an analysis of about a hundred Migration Agency work permit refusals had found, he said, that less than five percent were for “minor deviations”. 

“They couldn’t find any systematic abuse from the agency in that regard, so I think you should have in mind that there could, of course, be situations where individuals believe that there were minor deviations, but that is not how we assess the current case law.” 

But he also said that the problems around the issue had stemmed from a lack of clear legislation on work permits, which had left too much of burden for interpreting and setting policy with the Migration Agency and the Migration Court. 

“This is an area which is very important for Sweden, and it has been left to the Migration Courts to develop case law in an area where you have seen changes in how you look at work permits and in what you need to do to attract and get highly skilled labour,” he said. 

The legal framework was changed by court judgements in 2015 and in 2017, but no new legislation was put in place, leaving the Migration Agency and lower Migration Courts to rely heavily on case law. 

“There’s quite an extensive case law on the area of work permits from the Migration Court of Appeal — I can’t find another area where you’ve had so many cases, and that is because the Migration Court has deemed it necessary to explain to the lower courts and the Migration Agency how this should work.”

“That poses some problems, because case law developing how applicable provisions should be applied is not as clear and stable as when you have new provisions, particularly where you have preparatory work to explain [the law].” 

Member comments

  1. I within the global immigration team at EY (Ernst & Young AB) where we support Swedish businesses with their immigration programmes including work and residence permit applications. I can tell you that the Migration Agency have not prepared themselves well enough for the new legislation. D visa applications are accepted but they don’t know how to process these application nor are they able to capture biometrics to process applications. The Migration Agency have also been requesting employment contracts to be signed by hand (wet signatures) claiming that they do not have technology to validate digital signatures. There are lots of examples where the Migration Agency are ill equipped to handle the changes that the new legislation has brought and I’d be happy to elaborate on these further.

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For members

READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question. 

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