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EXPLAINED: Sweden's plans to double the salary threshold for work permits

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Sweden's plans to double the salary threshold for work permits
Employment minister Johan Pehrson wants foreign assistant nurses, who would work alongside Åsa, the nurse in this picture, to be exempted from the minimum salary thresholds for work permits. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Sweden's government announced on May 4th that it will soon double the minimum salary to be eligible for a work permit. Here's everything we know right now.


What did the government announce on May 4th? 

Sweden's Justice Department announced that the minimum salary someone coming to Sweden from outside the EU can be offered and still be eligible for a work permit would be increased to 80 percent of the median salary, as calculated each year by Statistics Sweden.

Under current rules, the minimum salary is set at the lowest level at which the Migration Agency estimates it is possible to survive in Sweden without welfare support, just 13,000 kronor a month. 

Given the current median salary is currently 33,200 kronor, the government said in the press conference, the new law would see the salary threshold more than doubled to 26,560 kronor a month. 


READ ALSO: What's the current status of Sweden's planned migration reforms? 

How certain is it that the minimum salary will increase? 

It's very, very likely. What was published on May 4th was a notice rather than the actual directive changing the salary threshold. It is now being sent out for consultation to employer organisations, government agencies and the like, so it remains possible that the government will alter its plans slightly before October 1st.

In the note, it states: "The change in the law will come into force on the day the government decides", and the government says that the change in the regulations, or förordningändringen, which will actually change the salary requirement will be set at the same time as the law comes into force. 

It proposes October 1st as the date.

There have already been several consultations held over the salary threshold, however, so it is difficult to see what, if anything, new will emerge.

Will the new threshold affect those with existing work permits or work permit applications? 

Anyone who living in Sweden with an existing work permit will not be affected by the higher salary threshold until they apply to renew it. 

It is currently unclear, however, whether anyone who has a work permit application or renewal pending on October 1st will be covered by the new minimum salary level or the one in place at the time they applied. 

Malmer Stenergard told The Local at a press conference in February that those renewing work permits would be given a one-year grace period during which time the old 13,000 kronor salary threshold would apply. 

But in the document published on May 4th, it states that "there is no requirement for decisions on a transition period". 

Elin Harrysson, the leader of EY's Immigration Practice for Sweden, told The Local that she interpreted this as meaning that any applications waiting for a decision on October 1st would be covered by the new threshold. 

The Local has contacted Malmer Stenergard's press secretary for clarification. 


What will the minimum salary be? 

According to wording in the government's proposed new regulation, "the median salary in place at the point of application will apply". 

The current median salary estimate from Statistics Sweden – 33,200 kronor a month – is based on data from 2021. 

These 2022 statistics will be published on June 20th, meaning by the time the new salary level comes into force, the median salary is likely to be between 34,000 and 35,000 a month, and the minimum salary threshold as a result between 27,000 and 28,000 a month. 

Camilla Mårtensen, the labour market spokesperson for the Liberal Party, said at the press conference that there were advantages in using the Statistics Sweden median salary as a benchmark. 

"There will be an automatic salary correction every year when SCB comes out with its median salary number," she said.

"The level is high enough to create the effect we want, which is to reduce labour migration in the lowest paid jobs, but also low enough that we can still have high qualified labour migration for companies that need to recruit internationally." 


How many people and what professions will be affected by the new salary level? 

According to the document, restaurant staff, cleaners, and domestic servants were examples of jobs where the average salaries are less than 80 percent of the median salary. 

However, as these are already sectors with a high level of work permit abuse, only a relatively small number of permits are currently issued. According to the document, there were 800 work permits issued for cooks and restaurant workers in 2021, and 600 for cleaners and 'domestic service personnel'. 

The government said that it believed that these jobs would be better being carried out by "unemployed people already in the country". 

Importantly for Sweden's regional health authorities, setting the threshold at 80 percent of the median salary will mean that nursing staff will still be able to receive work permits, even if some assistant nurses and hospital cleaning staff might be affected.  

"If you are a nurse or a researcher, you will be earning above the median salary," Mårtensen said in the press conference. "We have made sure that if you are a battery technician or a researcher you can still come to Sweden."


What exceptions are there? 

Perhaps the biggest exception is for internal transfers within multinational companies. This means, for instance, that the big Indian and international IT consultancies such as Tata Consulting, Infosys, Wipro and HCL Technologies will be able to shift employees to Sweden for contracts without having to give them a salary over 80 percent of the Swedish median salary. 

Seasonal agricultural workers are also exempted from the new salary threshold, as are people holding an EU Blue Card. 


What's the background to the announcement? 

Both the previous Social Democrat government, and the four parties backing the current right-wing government have in recent years been pushing to tighten the liberal labour migration regime brought in by the four-party Moderate-led Alliance government in 2008.

The Social Democrats initially pushed for the return of so-called labour market testing, under which unions and employers draw up a list of jobs where there is a shortage in Sweden.

The Moderates and Christian Democrats, on the other hand, wanted a higher minimum salary and in the Tidö Agreement between the three government parties and the far-right Sweden Democrats, they agreed to raise it to "close to the median salary in Sweden".

On November 30th last year, however, parliament voted through a new law initially tabled by the Social Democrats which empowered the government to increase the minimum salary.

Under the new law, people coming to Sweden on a work permit do not simply need to be able to support themselves without receiving any welfare, but to support themselves "at a good level". 

It is up to government to dictate what that "good level" should be "at a time of its choosing". 


At the press conference on Thursday, Sweden's migration minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard, blamed the way the Social Democrats had framed the law for the long five-month delay in agreeing a new salary level.

"The proposition which was put forward by the former government is limited and it has no possibility to bring in exceptions," she said. 

Mårtensen told The Local that the Sweden Democrats had wanted to hike the threshold directly to the median salary level even though there were no exceptions, and that the announcement this week was a compromise which had needed to be negotiated. 

"The earlier government with the Social Democrats had eight years to fix this and they didn't fix it. We fixed it in six months. So in that perspective, we have been very fast," she said. 

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Will the salary threshold be hiked eventually to the Swedish median salary? 

As reported in The Local in February, the government plans to hike the work permit threshold in two stages. 

The government earlier this year requested that an inquiry into reforming the work permit system look at how to bring in exemptions to the salary threshold, which professions should be exempted, and what the threshold should be. 

Once this inquiry delivers its conclusions on January 1st, 2024, the government may propose a new law to parliament which will raise the threshold close to the median salary, as proposed in the Tidö Agreement. 


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