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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?
José Vaz is senior manager for Global Immigration and People Advisory Service at Ernst & Young. Photo: private

“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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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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