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ALMEDALEN 2022

Migration minister: ‘We don’t want people to be just semi-Swedes’

Sweden's migration minister Anders Ygeman spoke to The Local about the country's new language test proposals and why the Social Democrats are tightening up the system for work permits.

Migration minister: 'We don't want people to be just semi-Swedes'
Sweden’s migration minister, Anders Ygeman, at a press conference in Stockholm in July. Photo: Ali Lorestani/TT

Ygeman has in recent weeks announced a succession of new policies aimed at tightening up the rules for work permits and permanent residency, with plans to bring back the old system of labour market testing, bring in a higher minimum salary, and also to make those applying for permanent residency pass language and civic knowledge tests

Speaking at the Almedalen festival in Gotland, Ygeman told The Local that in his view people living in Sweden on work permits should not feel under attack from the Social Democrat government. 

“No, [they should] take it easy. We’re not attacking anybody here on work permits,” he told The Local. “What we want to do is get rid of unqualified labour immigration, and [at the same time] we want to make it easier for people with qualifications to come to Sweden to work, because we need competence from abroad.” 

The reforms brought in by the centre-right Alliance government in 2008, he said, had given Sweden “the most liberal labour migration laws in the world”, with negative consequences for both employment and integration. 

“We have received over 200,000 people as working immigrants since then, and the majority of them have been unskilled labour or in sectors of society where we have a surplus in the workforce,” he said. 

“If you are here doing dishes for 4,000 or 5,000 kronor a month, then I’m sorry, we don’t want to exploit you. And we don’t want want that type of workforce immigration affecting the Swedish labour market, because we received 200,000 people from Syria, and a huge bunch of them are now unemployed, and we need to get them into work.” 

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Employers in Sweden have expressed concerns that bringing back labour market testing, which is used in many other European Union countries to control labour migration from non-EU countries, will make it more time-consuming and complicated to hire international talent.

But Ygeman said the government aimed to work together with employers to design a new system which would be as efficient.

“Firstly, we want to involve businesses, but also trade unions, because that’s the Swedish model, and we want to really hear their views. And after that, we want to have a swift and easy system for those who are in sectors where we really need people. And people who has been exploited in this system or, or in other sectors, will have a very tough time to come to Sweden.” 

When it came to the language requirement for permanent residency, Ygeman said that he did not believe the test would make it difficult for businesses to retain skilled international workers, such as computer programmers from India. 

“They will be happier to be a part of Swedish society,” he said. “If you’re here for such a long-term stay that you want to become a permanent resident of Sweden, then of course you should learn the language, and we also really want to help them to learn the language.”

“We don’t want people to be just semi-Swedes, like an expat community who only speak to other expats. We really want them to be a part of Swedish society.” 

In Denmark, the citizenship test is so difficult that last November, only 41 percent of those taking it were able to pass, and even many native Danes say they struggle with the questions.

Ygeman said that he did not expect the Swedish version to be as challenging, although he added that it would take a year before the details of the language and civic knowledge test had been decided. 

“I think we should have a pretty easy, but comprehensive test. If you’ve gone through the C level of Svenska för Invandrare (SFI), you should be able to pass it,” he said.

“We can learn from the Danish experience. We don’t want a test that no one can handle, we want to test that you’re able to manage in Swedish society, knowing basic laws and knowing basic Swedish. And then we’ll have another step for those who want to be Swedish citizens, with a slightly tougher test both on their knowledge of society and their Swedish.” 

In a public discussion on segregation, Ygeman took part in near the central square of Visby, Gotland’s capital, he said that he believed that Sweden’s asylum laws were now sufficiently strict, but that there needed to be further tightening up of work permits and of the system for returning those whose asylum applications had been rejected. 

“Asylum policy is about right, but I think there’s still a lot to do on returns, and also on labour market migration,” he said. 

He said, though, that he doubted whether adopting a stricter policy towards migration earlier would have been enough to prevent the rise of the populist Sweden Democrats, which in 2018 won nearly 18 percent of the vote, coming close to becoming Sweden’s second-largest party. 

“I think that they would have been as big anyway, because we’ve seen that even in countries that have had no refugees at all, like Hungary,” he said.

The Sweden Democrats were now losing some of their momentum, though. “There’s a pretty big chance that the Sweden Democrats will lose ground in an election for the first time since they got into parliament.” 

That the party was falling in polls though, he argued, was not solely a result of his own party launching a more restrictive immigration policy. 

“I don’t think that’s only because of our policy. I think they’re like a broken watch. Whatever the situation, they say we have to have less immigrants. Sometimes, the watch shows the correct time, but the rest of the time, they’re showing the wrong time.” 

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For members

WORK PERMITS

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website

How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 

How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 

Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 

What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years. 

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