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RESIDENCE PERMITS

EXPLAINED: What do we know about Sweden’s plans to withdraw permanent residency?

The government's coalition agreement pledges to abolish "the institution of permanent residence permits", and recent comments from government officials suggest plans to convert permanent residence permits to temporary permits. How would this work and who could be affected?

EXPLAINED: What do we know about Sweden's plans to withdraw permanent residency?
Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

What is the government planning on doing?

The exact text of the Sweden Democrat-backed government’s agreement, the Tidö Agreement, states that “asylum-related residence permits should be temporary and the institution of permanent residence permits should be phased out to be replaced by a new system based on the immigrant’s protection status”.

It further states that “an inquiry will look into the circumstances under which existing permanent residence permits can be converted, for example through giving affected permit holders realistic possibilities to gain citizenship before a specified deadline. These changes should occur within the framework of basic legal principles.”

What does this mean?

Until recently, it has been unclear whether this applies to all immigrants or just those in Sweden as asylum seekers.

A message to SVT prior to their ’30 minuter’ news programme on November 17th had previously suggested that the change would affect all immigrants in Sweden under Swedish rules (i.e. with those with uppehållstillstånd rather than uppehållsrätt or uppehållsstatus), but Sweden’s Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard confirmed in an interview with Radio Sweden on December 4th that it would only affect asylum-related migration cases.

This means that, if this were to become law, the only way for asylum seekers and those in Sweden as family members of asylum seekers to stay in Sweden permanently would be by attaining citizenship – which would take between three and five years under current rules, or eight years under new proposals.

This means that people in this group who currently have permanent residence permits could be forced to pass language or culture tests, fulfil financial requirements or even give up their other citizenship if they come from a country which doesn’t allow dual citizenship if they wish to remain in Sweden permanently.

It also means that people in this group who are unable to get citizenship for whatever reason – for example if they had a black mark on their credit record or cannot afford the maintenance requirement – would be unable to gain permanent residency in Sweden.

When will these changes come into force?

The short answer to this question is “probably a few years, but we can’t be sure”. The long answer to this question requires a bit of explanation into how the Swedish legislative system works.

First off, a law needs to go through six stages before it can be voted on in parliament. These are the directive, inquiry, final inquiry report, consultation, and draft bill stages, after which bills need to be checked and adapted by the lagrådet, or Council on Legislation.

By far, the most time-consuming stage of this process is the inquiry, which can take years, depending on the issue. It’s rarely shorter than a year, and can be much longer (for example, the inquiry in to introducing tests on language and cultural knowledge for citizenship took over a year and a half. It was started in October 2019 and ended in July 2021). 

Another stage which can be time-consuming is the consultation stage, which is often around 3 months. But, again, this can be shorter or longer.

The other stages in the legislative process usually take place relatively quickly. But as a general rule, it takes about two years from a law being proposed (as in, formally proposed by parliament issuing a directive), to it being voted on in parliament, so we can expect to see these laws reaching the vote in parliament around the end of 2024, at the earliest.

Some laws take longer. The proposed law on introducing language and cultural knowledge tests for citizenship was proposed three years ago at the time this article was written in November 2022 and has still not been approved by parliament.

The parties in the right-wing bloc behind the Tidö Agreement have said that they aim to get most of their policy through within the current mandate period, meaning that they’re hoping these proposals will become law before the next election in September 2026.

Might the proposal be blocked? 

In his interview with state broadcaster SVT, Ribbenvik said that if he had permanent residency in Sweden he would be “extremely worried”, indicating that he feels there is a real chance that holders may end up seeing their residency made temporary. 

But the passage in the Tidö Agreement saying that any changes would have to “occur within the framework of basic legal principles” could lead the investigation to conclude that abolishing permanent residency or converting it to temporary residency is not possible. 

Kristoffer Jutvik, a researcher at Linköping University who has researched the impact of the 2016 shift to temporary residency for those granted asylum, is sceptical over the legality of the proposed change. 

“When I read about the proposal to convert all permanent residence permits to temporary my immediate thought was that it is impossible under the current regulations,” he told The Local. “According to the Swedish Migration Agency, a permanent residence permit can only be withdrawn if it was granted based on deliberately false information or following the conviction of certain crimes. However, I don’t really know what kinds of changes the investigation will propose and I think that no one really does.”

Jutvik said that generally within Sweden’s system, you can’t retroactively withdraw something which has already been granted to people.

“Basically, within public service if you have a positive decision about something, it’s hard to revoke that. It’s just a central tenet of the welfare system and Swedish administrative law (förvaltningslagstiftning).” 

Even if the investigation does judge that such a change is possible under such principles, the government pushes ahead with the proposal and parliament votes it into force, the change might then be challenged at an EU level. 

This article was originally written in November 2022 and updated following Malmer Stenergard’s comments in December 2022.

Member comments

  1. Thank you for a very detailed explanation! All of it is very concerning, to say the least. :/
    Do you have any information if this practice of not having permanent residency has ever been implemented in any other EU country? And how does it potentially affect Blue Card holders? Will this one still be possible to have?

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For members

BREXIT

IN FIGURES: How many Brits in Sweden have had their post-Brexit residence status rejected?

Following Brexit, many Brits in Sweden had to apply for post-Brexit residence status to stay in Sweden. How many Brits have applied, how many were rejected, and what happened to those who weren't granted residence status?

IN FIGURES: How many Brits in Sweden have had their post-Brexit residence status rejected?

Between November 2020 and December 2022, a total of 12,461 Brits applied for post-Brexit residence status to retain their rights to live in Sweden under EU law. Of these 12,461 applications, 11,495 had been concluded by the end of 2022, with 966 still waiting for a response.

How many applications were approved?

According to Migration Agency figures seen by The Local, a total of 9,340 applications for post-Brexit residence status were approved between December 2020 and December 2022, meaning that more than four in five, 81.25 percent, of applications for residence status processed in this time period were granted.

The number of applications approved per month corresponded almost exactly to the number of applications submitted per month, with the most approvals (3,178) occuring in December 2020. December 2020 also saw the highest number of submissions: 3,529. There was another small peak in December 2021, where 432 of a total of 775 applications were rejected.

These two peaks in application numbers are probably due to the fact that December 2020 was the month when applications opened and December 2021 the last month before they closed.

How many applications were rejected?

A total of 2,155 applications for post-Brexit residence status were rejected between November 2020 and December 2022.

This means that around 18.75 percent of applications for post-Brexit residence status were rejected in this time period.

Again, the highest number of rejections occured in December 2020, with another peak in December 2021, where 223 applications were rejected.

 

Why were applications rejected?

When The Local contacted the Migration Agency for more information on why applications were rejected, press officer Frederik Abbemo was unable to give us exact information on the number of cases rejected for each possible reason.

However, he was able to give us a rough idea of the most common reasons for rejection.

"The most common reasons applications were rejected were incomplete applications, late applications, applications where the applicant did not fulfil the requirement for residence status, and applications listed as 'reason unknown', where we cannot see in the statistics why the application has been categorised that way," he said.

What about people who appealed their applications?

According to Abbemo, around 450 of the 2,155 rejected applications were appealed to the Migration Court (Migrationsdomstolen). Of these 450 appeals, "around 20" were overturned, with the applicants being granted residence status.

It is not clear how many of those who appealed, if any, are yet to receive a verdict.

What has happened to the Brits who had their applications rejected?

It's difficult to know exactly what has happened in each individual case, but we can draw some conclusions based on other data.

For example, new figures from Eurostat earlier this month showed that Sweden has ordered 1,050 Brits to leave the country following Brexit - more than any other EU country. This number includes Brits refused entry at the Swedish border, Brits found to be illegally present in Sweden, and Brits ordered to leave for other reasons.

The Eurostat figures cover a slightly different time period than the figures from the Migration Agency above, stretching from January 2021 to September 2022.

If we focus on Migration Agency figures for the same period, January 2021 to September 2022, a total of 1,857 people had their applications for residence status rejected in this time period. This suggests that at least 800 Brits who did not receive residence status were able to stay in Sweden in other ways.

One way of staying in Sweden legally despite not being granted residence status could be by holding a valid residence permit (uppehållstillstånd) under different rules (such as due to being in a relationship with a Swede or applying for a work permit), or by holding Swedish citizenship, which also gives you the right to live in Sweden.

Could the EU figures include people who never applied in the first place?

Yes. The Eurostat figures also include Brits living in Sweden illegally who never applied for post-Brexit residence status, who receive an order to leave when detected by the Swedish authorities.

Many are indeed unaware of the fact that they should have applied and that their stay in Sweden is illegal, and have simply not realised that their permanent right of residence under EU law (permanent uppehållsrätt) ceased to be valid when the UK left the EU.

A number of people in this category are detected when they leave the country and re-enter (like what happened to Brit Stuart Philpott in this article), and others only discover they are living here illegally when they receive an order to leave from the Migration Agency.

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