'Sweden is like a big prison': The tech workers trapped by work permit delays

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'Sweden is like a big prison': The tech workers trapped by work permit delays
Waleed Dajani says that the impact of work permit processing delays is to make Sweden feel like a prison. Photo: private

Missed funerals and weddings and no chance to meet elderly parents. Three signatories to the recent work permit petition to the Migration Agency tell The Local how their lives and mental health are being affected by today's long processing delays.


The delays in the Migration Agency's processing of work permit renewals are causing huge disruptions to the lives of people working in Sweden who come from countries outside the European Union. 

For those from nationalities that require a visa to enter Sweden, it has meant that while they are free to leave, they risk being refused entry at the border if they try to return.  Thousands of the foreign tech workers on whom Sweden's economy relies have as a result been effectively trapped in the country. 

A petition to the Migration Agency calling for it to find ways to "allow Non-EU residents to travel back home", has so far had 5,650 signatures, with the number growing hour-by-hour. 


Waleed Dajani, who comes from Jordan and works at the Stockholm office of a global engineering firm, told The Local that not being able to leave Sweden freely since March 2021 had affected both his relations with his family and his own mental health. 

"My mental well-being is just deteriorating, because it's so hard. It's like a big prison," he told Paul O'Mahony in an interview which will be broadcast on Saturday in The Local's Sweden in Focus podcast.

"When I tell my family, 'I'm stuck here', and they say, 'you're stuck in Sweden. That's a nice place to be stuck in'. But it's not that simple. I've missed my brother's engagement and wedding and so many occasions." 

Not being able to travel for other reasons, is also taking its toll. 

"It's just work, and there's not really any change to your life. It's the same routine for the past 22 months." 

Listen to the interviews on The Local's podcast

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READ ALSO: Why is it taking so long to get work permits in Sweden?

Fady Sleiman, a computer programmer from Lebanon, has had no response from the Migration Agency in four months. Photo: private

Fady Sleiman, a Lebanese computer programmer, who has heard nothing from the Migration Agency four months after applying, said that being denied the right to travel was degrading. 

"You feel humiliated somehow. You feel marginalised, maybe oppressed," he said. "You cannot have ambitions anymore. You cannot plan for the future. You feel depressed." 

Amanda Herzog, an American marketing professional, is in a slightly different situation, because the US is a visa-free country, but she has still found it difficult to travel as she waits for permits to be approved. 

"It's a really tough way to live and it's like your body goes into this trauma response. I have had a lot of physical symptoms from stress, which is totally common if you are under a high level of stress for months or even years, because when you get one visa approved, you know, you have to do it again in two more years." 

One of the problems they face is that neither family back home nor friends and colleagues in Sweden really understand why they cannot travel. 

"I have my father, who is like eighty years old, and he really does not understand why if I'm working abroad, that I cannot travel," Sleiman says. 

"People asked me, 'did you travel this year? No, why didn't you travel? Swedish people don't understand why I cannot travel. You feel that you are second-rate in society." 

Dajani says that when he tells his colleagues, who almost all Swedes, about his problems they cannot believe that the system is failing to deliver to such an extent. 

"They got completely angry when they found out about the situation. They don't know about it, because this, of course, doesn't affect their lives, and maybe that's why no change is being seen." 


Dajani was not able to go home to attend the funeral of his father after he died, but a few months later, when he spoke to the Swedish embassy in Jordan, he got a soft assurance that if he did travel home, he would be able to get a single-entry visa to return to Sweden, which was then granted. 

"I explained the situation to them, and they were much more cooperative. And they told me that I can apply for a single-entry visa once I was in Jordan," he says. "I went to Jordan at the beginning of June. I missed the funeral, but at least I was there for my family." 

Amanda Herzog studied at Jonköping University in 2017. Photo: Private

The petition to the Migration Agency called for it to extend the new D-visa, which allows people awaiting decisions to go on work trips to be expanded to include personal trips too.

But the agency told The Local that it did not have the legal right to do this under the law, and that this would require a new law to be put through parliament. 

Herzog, Dajani and Sleiman said that they hoped that the petition would at least put the problems they are facing on the political agenda in Sweden.

"This is a huge issue that doesn't really get enough coverage," Herzog said. I'm really happy to see that it's becoming more talked about." 

"It's almost worse than US immigration, because they aren't separating families as often," she continues, adding that the problem was already affecting the tech industry in Stockholm. 

"This is is something that is bigger than just the plight of the immigrant, it really is affecting Swedish society directly at the core, Swedish family, the Swedish economy," she said. 


Dajani said he found it "kind of unbelievable" that the agency was still only just starting to process some applications from the autumn of 2020, and also said it was annoying that people who had applied long after him had already had a decision.

"The whole system seems unfair and unpredictable. You cannot really predict when your case is going to be settled." 

The experience, he said, had changed the way he thought about Sweden.  

"People in Sweden are nice and I love the nature," he said. "It's a first world country, with quite a high standard of living, and yet you have this slow, clumsy system that handles people's lives without caring so much, or making any change to improve it." 

Sleiman is, if anything, even more disappointed. 

"I don't understand what what they mean when they talk about problem with integration if they are treating people this way," he says. "How can you integrate people if you don't give them safety? What is the role of the government or of the parliament, if they don't deal with these kind of situations? They are teaching all the world about the human rights, and yet they have a big problem for people living inside the country."


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sevillguler 2022/10/09 16:01
I have been waiting for my citizenship for more than 3 years while my other colleagues who applied way later than me got it in only 4 months. My case is not even opened yet. I am working in Sweden more than 7 years. I couldn’t get any answer from migration office for years to understand what keeps my application hanging that long while others are getting their decision in few months. I can’t help but I feel like second rate citizen in this country. Besides, I can’t travel because if my citizenship approved my permanent residency will be invalid and I will have to wait for my passport. I have a 7 months old baby so I can’t risk to be away from “Home” more than I plan.
danilodachaobradovic 2022/10/08 20:19
Folks at The Local, Thank you so much for highlighting this problem! It has been so much stress about this. I am also in the same situation, and it is truly depressing and humiliating. However, the issue is presented. Now, the question is if we can do anything about it? Can anyone communicate with Border Control in order to allow people to come back in? Is there ant fast-way practical solution to this? Thank you!
preyankarmch 2022/10/07 19:59
I wish this whole waiting que would be fare! But its not. Cases are assigned and not decided and kept for years! I agree there might be issues, but just solve one case then move to the next! Maintain the que! I dont know how do they deal with it! I just got reply from them that it might need one year or more! Where as my application is complete and the website says it might need 3 months!

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