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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

WORK PERMITS

Eight ways Sweden’s Migration Agency could cut the wait for work permits

The immigration team at the accounting firm EY in Stockholm help clients with over a thousand work permit applications and renewals every year. The Local asked them for their suggestions on how the Migration Agency could cut processing times.

Eight ways Sweden's Migration Agency could cut the wait for work permits

Sweden’s new immigration minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard, said in December her government was committed to reducing the time it takes educated foreign hires to get work permits. 

“We want to focus on the highly skilled workforce coming to Sweden, and improve the rules to make handling times shorter,” she said in an interview. “We are set on improving the rules so that it will be more attractive to come to Sweden.”

The Migration Agency in December launched a kraftsamling, or special focus on reducing waiting times, with Mikael Ribbenvik, the Migration Agency’s Director General, holding a workshop for 70 members of the work permit team.

The agency is pushing ahead with its digitisation programme, which allows some parts of applications to be automatically assessed. It is also looking at how to simplify the process, and asking case officers to reserve the most detailed checks of applications for those from industries or countries associated with a high risk of abuse. 

But EY believes that these measures, while important, are only part of the solution. They provided The Local with a wish list of eight actions the agency could take – some major some small – which they believe would make a real difference.

Changes in the Migration Agency’s internal guidelines to avoid six-month permits

Since a change in the rules last June required work permit applicants to submit a signed contract, many people have only been given six-month work permits, as the case officers could now see that they had agreed to a six-month probationary period.

“It means that the backlog is huge, because they’re getting so many more extensions after six months,” explained Elin Harrysson, the leader of EY’s Immigration Practice for Sweden and a former manager at the Migration Agency. “And it’s creating a lot of problems for employees, because if they happen to get a permit that’s less than six months, then they’re not allowed to work during the extension processing time.”

What is frustrating for EY and their clients is that nothing has changed in either the rules on probationary period or in the applicants’ contracts. 

“The Employment Protection Act and the Aliens Act do not go hand in hand here and a change in legislation is needed to enable individuals to receive a permit that extends longer than the probationary period,” Harrysson said.

Many companies have simply removed the probationary period from the contracts of non-EU hires, but this means that they gain an unfair advantage over colleagues from Sweden and the EU.

Increase number of case workers

A big part of the problem faced by the agency is the discrepancy between the number of work permit applications and the staff hired to process them. According to regional director Fredrik Bengtsson, the Migration Agency had received over 100,000 applications in 2022. 

Decrease the amount of additional information requests

EY and its clients often find case officers from the Migration Agency asking for the same additional information over and over again.

“I think that’s down to a lack of training the staff, because they ask for different things, and they ask for the same things over and over again, and that prolongs the processing time a lot,” said Harrysson’s colleague Robert Kling, another former Migration Agency manager.

He said that under the agency’s own “indication-based” approach, case officers are not supposed to ask so many detailed questions when the employer is a reputable one.

“If you have indications that a company is a bit shady, then you would go in and do further research on that company,” he explained. “But EY is a certified company, which means we have an agreement with the immigration agency that we’re going to submit complete and correct applications and we represent some of the biggest companies in Sweden.

“When they start questioning things that it’s not necessary to question, it seems that there’s a lot of people that might not have the knowledge needed for the work to be done. They need internal training, or guidance on how to deal with this.”

He said that more than six months after the Migration Agency decided that a digital signature was sufficient on contracts, EY was still having to fend off requests for a so-called “wet-ink” signature.

“We see these requests coming over and over again. We appreciate that there is a lot of new staff at the Migration Agency, however these additional requests create more work and prolong the processing times not only for our clients but also for the Migration Agency themselves,” Kling said. 

Exclude certain nationalities from passport requirements

A change in internal policy within the Migration Agency has meant that work permit applicants are now required to go into their local Swedish embassy and show a copy of their passport before a work permit can be issued.

How much time this takes varies from embassy to embassy: while the Swedish embassy in New Delhi operates an efficient drop-in system, the embassy in Washington requires applicants to book an appointment.

“If they’re busy, it might take several weeks to get an appointment, so it could prolong the time to get a permit by a month,” Harrysson said.

She said the agency should consider whether passport controls are needed for all nationalities and for their dependents as well, particularly as passports are already checked by the Migration Agency before they make a decision, there is another check in person when the individual submits their biometrics, and also a third check by the border police once the individual enters Sweden.

“These checks should be sufficient and yet another check shouldn’t be needed,” she said.

Re-do the certification to be more selective

When the Migration Agency launched its certification scheme, which set up a fast-track process for big companies that make a lot of work permit applications every year, the number of certified companies ballooned.

“In the beginning, it was more selective, but now they certify a lot of companies. The whole framework of the certification has been a bit lost,” Harrysson said. “It should maybe not be a company that has two applications per year which is a small business, because if everyone is on the fast track, then it’s not a fast track.”

Certification is an agreement between the Migration Agency and participating companies in which the companies agree to submit correct and complete applications, and the agency agrees to have a turnaround of 10 working days (which it currently cannot keep).

Processing certified companies should be expanded to other departments

Right now, applications for companies on the certified fast track are handled by a single team based in Norrköping.

“Any time you have something with just one department, it becomes a bit vulnerable and they have a very high workload,” Harrysson said. “We don’t see any reason why they couldn’t give it to other departments or other cities.”

Citizenship processing was only located in Norrköping until 2021 when the agency decided to distribute that task between other offices in other cities to help bring down the long waiting times, Kling added.  

Make decision on permanent residency in connection with extension applications

Current long processing times mean an applicant might have been in Sweden with a temporary work and residence permit for four years, qualifying them to apply for a permanent residence permit during the processing time.

In these cases, the Migration Agency now issues a two-year work and residence permits. This means that the employee will have to wait a further two years to qualify for permanent residency.

“This is not beneficial for the employee or for the Migration Agency, which will receive more applications after two years and thus increase their own workload,” Harrysson said.

Previously the Migration Agency would simultaneously issue an extension of a work permit and a decision on approving permanent residency. Legally, they should still be able to do this, as it seems their internal processes rather than government guidelines have changed.

“We have raised this question with their legal department but are yet to receive a response,” Harrysson said. 

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