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KEY POINTS: What’s the current status of Sweden’s planned migration laws?

There are a number of migration-related laws and policies in the pipeline in Sweden, including changes to work permits, citizenship and permanent residency requirements, and plans to tighten up permanent residency and asylum applications. Here's a quick overview.

KEY POINTS: What's the current status of Sweden's planned migration laws?
A Swedish MP votes on a law in parliament. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Raising the salary threshold for work permits

What will the proposal do?

It would set a new salary threshold of around 33,000 kronor a month, meaning that anyone earning below this figure would not qualify for a work permit. The exact figure hasn’t been set yet, but the Sweden Democrats and government proposed setting it at the average Swedish salary – 33,000 kronor a month – in the Tidö coalition agreement after the election.

What’s the status of the proposal?

It was passed as law by parliament in late November 2022. The bill stated that the new salary threshold would be introduced by a date to be decided by the government, with Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard saying in late November that the government would decide on the exact amount and introduce the bill “as soon as possible”.

Introducing labour market testing for work permits

What will the proposal do?

It would reintroduce labour market tests for work permits, meaning that work permits will only be granted for jobs in sectors experiencing a shortage.

Denmark has had a similar system, dubbed the Positive List, for a number of years, which is updated twice a year and comprises two lists: one for people with a higher education and one for other skilled workers.

You can read more about labour market testing here.

What’s the status of the proposal?

It is at the directive or inquiry stage, the first stage of the legislative process.

The directive is an order from the government, or more rarely the parliament, for a proposed law or change to be investigated and analysed.

The directive summarises what proposal or idea needs to be analysed, lists the key proposals that should be answered, and sets a date by which the conclusions should be published, normally at least a year into the future.  

The deadline for this inquiry to be complete is July 31st 2023. After that the government would have to decide how and whether or not to move forward with the proposal.

Having said that, the proposal was originally put forward by the previous Social Democrat government, and it is unclear if the current government are in favour, so it could well be dropped, altered (for example, to only apply to jobs earning less than the salary threshold) or paused once the inquiry is complete.

Language and culture tests for citizenship

What will the proposal do?

It would introduce a language and culture test for citizenship applications, which would apply to those aged between 16 and 66.

An inquiry into bringing in the language requirement concluded in January 2021 that applicants for citizenship should be able to listen to and read Swedish at B1 the second of the six levels in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), equivalent to having completed level D, the fourth-highest level in the Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) course. 

This is a fairly high level of Swedish. It’s enough to get the gist of what’s in Swedish newspapers, listen to the radio, or to follow a lecture without too much difficulty.

When it comes to speaking or writing Swedish, the inquiry suggested requiring a lower level, A2. This is equivalent to SFI level C.

This is the same level which the government has suggested for those applying for permanent residency for reading and listening as well as speaking and writing.

With regards to the culture test, the law proposes a digital test of “basic knowledge needed to live and function in Swedish society focusing on democracy and the democratic process”, which would be based off the contents of a book produced specifically for test purposes.

What’s the status of the proposal?

This law is at the remiss, or “consultation”, stage. The inquiry report and its proposals are sent for consultation to the relevant government agencies or organisations, municipalities and other stakeholders, who can submit remissvar, or “responses”

It is the government department responsible for the proposed law that gets to decide which organisations or individuals are invited to submit responses, so sometimes organisations who believe they should have a say do not get one. It is possible for these organisations to send a response uninvited, but the government is not required to read them or take their arguments on board. 

Indeed, the answers given in consultation responses are purely advisory, meaning the government can, and often does, ignore the views of agencies and other stakeholders. If the responses are extremely critical, or raise insuperable obstacles, however, the proposed law can also be abandoned at this stage. 

Despite not yet going through a parliamentary vote, if it does go ahead, the law has a proposed introduction date of January 1st 2025.

Language and culture tests for permanent residency

What will the proposal do?

This would, similarly to the law on citizenship above, introduce a language and culture knowledge requirement for permanent residency applications.

There are not yet any official guidelines for how good your knowledge of Swedish language and culture will need to be in order to pass, but they are likely to be similar to or slightly lower than the requirements set for citizenship.

What’s the status of the proposal?

This law is at the inquiry stage (launched in June 2022), with a deadline for this stage set for May 21st 2023.

Strengthened system for coordination numbers

What will the proposal do?

This law will make the Swedish Tax Agency wholly responsible for awarding coordination numbers, the numbers given to people living in Sweden who are not yet eligible for a personal number, personnummer

This should make it easier to keep track of which numbers are held by real people and which are dormant. The bill will also create a new category of “supported identity” coordination numbers, where the holder goes to a Tax Agency office in person with a passport or other identity document and has their identity confirmed.

These should meet a sufficiently high security threshold to allow holders to access BankID, opening the way for them to access a host of services in Sweden. 

What’s the status of the proposal?

It was passed as law on November 30th 2022, and is due to come into force on September 1st 2023 (January 1st 2023 for affected staff at foreign embassies).

Crackdown on work and residence permit abuses

What will the policy do?

The government in December 2022 ordered the Migration Agency to “develop its handling processes”, “create a clear division of responsibility for recalling work and residence permits”, and carry out an analysis into whether an “automated system and other types of case-handling support” could be used to a greater extent.

In addition, it told the agency to “step up its work on recalling residency for studies in higher education, where there are indications that residency permits are being misused”. 

What’s the status of this policy?

The agency has been asked to submit a written account on how it is enacting the government’s requests by June 30th 2023. 

Tighten asylum legislation to ‘minimum level’ allowed in EU

What will the policy do?

The government wants to tighten asylum legislation to the “minimum level” allowed under European Union law or other international treaties to which Sweden is a signatory.

It could withdraw residency from asylum seekers “if the original grounds for asylum no longer apply”, abolish permanent residency for asylum seekers in favour of temporary residency permits, and reduce the scope for family reunion for those with residency in Sweden to the minimum circle of relatives allowed under EU law: a spouse or domestic partner and any children under 18 years.

It could also establish transit centres either in Sweden or overseas, if possible under the Swedish constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

What’s the status of this policy?

This policy was included in the government and Sweden Democrats’ coalition document, the Tidö Agreement, but has not been formally proposed yet. However, in the Tidö Agreement, the parties stated that an inquiry into changes to asylum and immigration law would be launched “in spring 2023”, with the aim of passing a new law in parliament before the mandate period comes to an end in 2026.

Extending residence requirement for citizenship and other changes to citizenship

What will the proposals do?

They would extend the time it takes to qualify for Swedish citizenship from the current limit of five years (three years for spouses or cohabiting partners of Swedish citizens) to eight years “in the normal case”.

It’s not clear what, if any, exceptions there will be for citizenship applications, or whether those married to a Swede or with Swedish children will have a reduced wait. 

On top of this, the government and Sweden Democrats want to introduce a demand that anyone applying for Swedish citizenship can support themselves financially, investigate the possibility of introducing a new obligatory ceremony, such as an oath of loyalty or a citizenship interview which would act as the final stage in citizenship process, and look into the possibility of withdrawing citizenship from dual citizens who carry out “system-threatening crimes”, or whose citizenship was granted on false premises. 

What’s the status of these proposals?

These policies were also included in the Tidö Agreement but have not yet been formally proposed. The Tidö Agreement does not list any specific deadline or goal for passing such laws either, although it is likely that a directive would be issued (the first stage of the legislative process) before the current mandate period ends in 2026.

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Swedish EU presidency pushes for greater returns of migrants denied asylum

Sweden's migration minister argued at a meeting of EU interior ministers that member states should push third countries to accept returning citizens who've been denied asylum in the EU.

Swedish EU presidency pushes for greater returns of migrants denied asylum

“Returning those who have been denied asylum in Europe is a really important issue,” said Maria Malmer Stenergard, migration minister for Sweden, which hosted the meeting as current holder of the EU presidency.

European Commission statistics show that in 2021, out of 340,500 orders for migrants to be returned to their countries of origin, only 21 percent were carried out.

“We have a very low return rate,” noted EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

“We can do significant progress here to increase the numbers of returns and have it more effective and quicker,” she said.

The Swedish EU presidency believes cooperation could be improved with countries outside the EU whose citizens make up significant numbers of irregular migrants.

Malmer Stenergard said it was “crucial” that EU member states use the full weight of their governments – including leveraging development aid – to press third countries on the returns issue.

The EU funds various reintegration programmes in countries that readmit their citizens who have been denied asylum in Europe.

These are separate from deportations or forced returns based on a court or administrative order, which are often carried out under escort and typically do not include in-country assistance.

The EU has had a mechanism in place since 2020 to use visa issuance as a lever against countries that refuse to take back their nationals or decline to issue them with the necessary travel papers.

But so far that measure has only been applied to Gambia, for whose citizens getting a Schengen visa is more difficult and costly.

The commission in 2021 proposed the mechanism be extended to Bangladesh and Iraq, but that has not happened.

Johansson said after a November visit to Bangladesh that the threat of the visa sanction has prompted Dhaka to become more “politically open” to accepting irregular migrants back from Europe.

France backed a carrot-and-stick approach, with its junior minister for citizen affairs, Sonia Backes, saying in Stockholm that first “constructive dialogue” should be used.

That “should then be hardened by restrictive measures if results aren’t met,” she said. Germany however has reservations about that approach.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said accords signed, especially with countries in north Africa, “on one hand allowed legal paths (for migration), and on the other, effective returns”.

The overall tone on migration has hardened in Europe since 2015-2016, when it took in over a million asylum-seekers, most of them Syrians fleeing the war in their country. The bloc in 2016 struck a deal with Turkey for it to prevent much of the onward passage of irregular migrants into Europe.

Austria is backing the construction of a fence along the border of EU member Bulgaria with Turkey to further reduce the flow of asylum-seekers. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Monday, during a visit to that border region, that the fence would cost around two billion euros and he called on the European Commission to fund it.

The commission has been reluctant to do that, emphasising instead the role of Frontex, the bloc’s border patrol agency, that EU member states can call on.

Juan Fernando Lopez, the chair of the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs committee said as he went in to attend the Stockholm meeting that “a fence might be part of an extraordinary measure… but never the solution itself”.