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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Why I wish Sweden’s failing Migration Agency was an election issue

The Migration Agency has a reputation among immigrants for being slow to respond to applications - be it for citizenship, work permits or residence permits. Ben Robertson asks: why aren't the failures of the Migration Agency an election issue?

Why I wish Sweden's failing Migration Agency was an election issue
Migration Agency offices in Sundbyberg. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

I took a visit to Swedish Migration Agency, or Migrationsverket, earlier this week.

This is unusual, as I not only moved here ten years ago but also have Swedish citizenship, and this is an agency Swedish citizens would not usually have any dealings with. However the joys of Brexit mean that both me and my son are temporarily registered in Sweden’s system as “British” rather than “Swedish”, so we can register for some cute little ID cards with Article 50 [the article signalling the UK’s wish to leave the EU] emblazoned upon them. Thanks Boris.

Holding one of these Brexit cards actually holds a tiny advantage over Swedish citizenship, which I won’t go into here.

The Migration Agency has been a government department in chaos for the best part of ten years. Sweden took in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria back in 2015 and overloaded the department, and frankly, it hasn’t come close to recovering.

The agency has its own timescale calculator for cases: applying to work in Sweden in the building industry comes with a twelve-month wait for 75 percent of cases; if an Albanian (to pick a random non-EU country beginning with A) wants to move to Sweden after living together in a relationship with a Swedish woman for over two years, 75 percent of cases are settled within 17 months; if you want to be a Swedish citizen, regardless of whether you meet the criteria or not, 75 percent of cases are settled within 39 months.

That is three years and three months.

For those thinking this is a worldwide problem, think again. The United Kingdom estimates that you should expect a wait of “around six months” for citizenship after applying. The average processing time in the United States is 14.5 months and it’s “up to two years” in France. In Denmark, it’s around 14 months, and in Norway 16 months.  Finland keeps it vague at between eight and 23 months.

Nowhere that is as slow as Sweden is today.

The country tried to solve this politically by bringing in a law that meant that if your case had been dragging on for more than six months you could request it to be heard by the Migration Agency. A queue jump effectively. Except that soon almost every applicant tried to jump the queue in this way, and was then automatically rejected, meaning a huge amount of of administration was created for nothing. Slow hand clap there, Sweden.

As we come into an election it is easy to shout the virtues of democracy, but this is an example where democracy has failed. Migrationsverket as an issue is completely absent from the election. 

When it comes to migration policy, politicians may speak about the need to bring in language tests, or ensure that Sweden remains or doesn’t remain a country open to refugees, but not one is discussing the crumbling framework of the Migration Agency.

And perhaps isn’t so surprising that it is mentioned in none of the party manifestos, as the people it affects are people who can’t vote. 

So back to my visit to the Migration Agency’s Sundbyberg office to get photographs and fingerprints done. I was lucky to find an available booking (when I first looked, Stockholm had zero availability, and I was recommended to go to Västerås instead). Booking time slots at the agency works better than trying to ring them. It is common knowledge among immigrants that if you aren’t on the phone at 8am sharp, you can forget about speaking to anybody at the Migration Agency call centre.

On arrival, you come to a busy customer service point. I had a a pre booked time and apparently I needed to put my code in somewhere, but the only people I could find to point me in the right direction were the security guards.

With a little help, though, I eventually found the little machine, but it’s little surprise to me that several people were so befuddled by the need to punch in numbers that they got in the long snaking queue around the room to speak to an adviser, and as a result missing their pre-booked time

I had my (sometimes) adorable three year old in tow, and I don’t think I’ve seen a sadder children’s room in all of Sweden. Most toys were broken, the number of books were in single digits and the walls had been scribbled all over.

When I finally got to the desk to get my photos and fingerprints taken from the Migrationsverket member of staff, it was easy. Once we’d not-smiled for the photos and checked the information, the last piece of information we received was that it would take between two to four weeks to receive our shiny cards confirming our rights as former EU citizens. That’s not a problem, but the letter beforehand suggested this would be a one week wait, so it was yet another Migration Agency delay.

Given the agency’s poor service, you might be surprised to find out that it has actually decreased staffing 9 percent in the last year, and since 2019 the amount spent on salaries has dropped by 11 percent.

When faced with backlogs, cutting staffing seems the opposite of what you should do, and, like clockwork, the wave of refugees from Ukraine resulted in a department unable to cope, with multi-day queues and unnecessary conflicts.

In the elections coming up, the majority of people voting have never and never will have to deal with the Migration Agency. It is a crying shame that this issue will never be one a government can win or lose an election over.

Member comments

  1. I’m intrigued by Ben Robertson saying that he and his son need “cute little ID cards with Article 50 emblazoned upon them.” Pray tell us more. Do all UK-Swedish citizens need this little card?

    I haven’t seen The Local mention this hiccup, although they usually publish a lot of useful information about nationality issues. There are thousands of UK-passport holders who have obtained Swedish citizenship over the years, and I haven’t seen a squeak about us needing a cute little ID card. Please tell us more.

    1. The ID card in the article probably meant the residence permit. If you have citizenship, you don’t need it.

  2. FYI – the Uppsala Office has drop-in times available daily. There were no times available for 3 months when I arrived in May. We showed up around 11am, waited over 2 hours and then I got my photo and fingerprints done the same week I arrived in Sweden. I thought it was definately worth the wait!

  3. I was calling them for tracking my visa extension status 3 months after submission – I was kindly told by the staff the average waiting time is 14 months, without shame

  4. The cruelty is the point. The government boasts of reducing migration, and it doesn’t matter how. Attrition of applicants resulting from years of abuse at the hands of a failing system is a policy decision, just like any other.

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MAGDALENA ANDERSSON

Sweden’s Social Democrats float idea of voting in a Moderate Speaker

Sweden's Social Democrats have said they would back a Moderate party candidate as the Speaker of the Riksdag parliament, in a move that seems calculated to complicate the right bloc's government negotiations.

Sweden's Social Democrats float idea of voting in a Moderate Speaker

“We would very much like for a broad agreement to be reached around the Speaker,” Sweden’s outgoing Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper. “This is the second-highest ranking post in the kingdom and the highest elected position.” 

The Aftonbladet newspaper reported on Wednesday that the post of Speaker was a key part of the negotiations between the Moderate, Sweden Democrat, Christian Democrat and Liberal parties, with the Sweden Democrats presumably seeking to appoint a senior party figure to the post. 

As the vote is a secret ballot, the newspaper reported, there is concern in the negotiations that enough MPs from the Liberal Party, or even other parties, will break ranks and not vote for the agreed choice. 

READ ALSO: Sweden’s right-wing bloc ‘agreed on stricter migration policy’

According to Dagens Nyheter, Andersson has already contacted Moderate Party leader to discuss the possibility of having a Moderate Party figure in the post. 

In the past, the Social Democrats have argued that the biggest party in the parliament should have the Speaker position, whereas the Moderates have historically argued that it should be the biggest party in the ruling bloc. 

Andersson said her party would be willing to “make an exception” to its principle. “We think there are arguments at this time, to have a Speaker who can be appointed with very broad support in the parliament. What’s important is that it’s someone who can bring people together, either a Social Democrat or a Moderate”. 

The outgoing Speaker, Andreas Norlén, is popular both within the parliament and outside it, given the steady way he has handled an unusually turbulent two terms.

“I can state that Andreas Norlén enjoys great respect, both in the parliament, and among the Swedish people,” she said. “He has handled his duties creditably and during a turbulent time, and a problematic parliamentary situation.” 

She said she was offering to discuss the issue with Kristersson to avoid the risk of a Sweden Democrat Speaker, something she said would be “problematic”. 

“This is a party whose whole rationale is to split rather than unite. This is also about the picture of Sweden overseas.” 

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