OPINION: Migration Agency boss is ducking responsibility for Sweden's Brexit failure

David Milstead/Brits in Sweden
David Milstead/Brits in Sweden - [email protected]
OPINION: Migration Agency boss is ducking responsibility for Sweden's Brexit failure
The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. Photo: AP Photo/TT/Alberto Pezzali

The Local's interview with Mikael Ribbenvik, Director General of the Swedish Migration Agency, only went to underline the agency's refusal to accept responsibility for its own Brexit failures, argues David Milstead, from the Brits in Sweden group.


The Local’s interview with Mikael Ribbenvik made for interesting and depressing reading.

Instead of tackling the substantive issues affecting Brits in Sweden, Mr Ribbenvik instead chose instead to wrestle with a few strawman arguments and make claims that don’t survive confrontation with the evidence base.

First, the strawman arguments.

Though I’m glad Mr Ribbenvik confirmed that there was no secret goal of getting rid of Brits, I’d never heard anyone suggest otherwise.

Similarly, interesting though it may be to discuss the Eurostat data, we never thought that it did imply that Sweden had actually deported as many as one thousand Brits. The issue is that, once again, there is a difference between Sweden and the other EU countries.

This has also been observed in data on failures of applications for Withdrawal Agreement protections for residence and cross-border workers. This is a contributing factor to the Eurostat data. The failure rate for Withdrawal Agreement protections suggest that Sweden is driving a legally questionable, hard line compared with other EU countries. The conclusion that Sweden is something of an outlier is also supported by lived experiences.

Some of these even led to the European Commission forcing Sweden to change one of its most restrictive criteria for residence following a complaint. Unfortunately, the complaint procedure took two years and the end result was thus of little practical benefit to Brits. This all requires a (verifiable) explanation. It’s a pity he didn’t offer one.


Second, Mr Ribbenvik’s claims.

He argues that the authorities tried ‘to reach every corner’ to let Brits know that they needed to apply. Unless Brits in Sweden live in a big circle, this argument doesn’t hold water. It was a very lucky Brit who encountered any outreach from the Swedish authorities despite the Withdrawal Agreement requiring a PR campaign from Sweden.

Furthermore, Brits who did contact the Swedish Migration Agency frequently received advice that was dangerously wrong. Some missed the application deadline as a consequence. Even now, there is information on the agency’s web pages on Withdrawal Agreement rights that is unambiguously incorrect.

Another questionable claim by Mr Ribbenvik is that Brits who fail to gain Withdrawal Agreement protection just need to deal with the "hassle" of applying as third country citizens for another immigration title. This is disingenuous. The purpose of the Withdrawal Agreement is that Brits resident in Sweden before 2021 retain broadly the same rights as before, as Swedes have done in the UK.


If many need to shop around in a residence limbo for another immigration title then this is a failure of Sweden’s implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, especially if this isn’t happening elsewhere in the EU to the same degree.

Furthermore, Mr Ribbenvik seems to have forgotten his earlier public warnings about residence security for those with a permanent residence permit under national law. He thinks that they should be worried given the plans of the current government.

Finally, and most importantly, it is beyond pure "hassle" to discover that there is no national immigration title to which someone can apply. Mr Ribbenvik claims this isn’t "life-destroying". True, but for someone who has lived for decades in Sweden, it’s close enough.

Possibly the most bizarre of Ribbenvik’s assertions is that the number of Brits missing the deadline would have been unchanged had Sweden, like Denmark and the Netherlands, individually contacted Brits.

I know people who can’t sleep for worrying about deportation. They missed a deadline of which they were unaware or because they thought (because they had read it on the Swedish Migration Agency web pages) that they had a permanent right of residence.


It stretches credulity to consider that a letter explaining that their ‘permanent’ right of residence would end and that they must make an application to retain legal residence would not have made a difference.

Mr Ribbenvik also commented on the Swedish Migration Agency’s ongoing attempts to have Mrs Kathleen Poole, a 74-year old with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, deported.

In Mr Ribbenvik’s view, one reason why this has happened is that Sweden doesn’t have a "dictator" who can impose or revoke a decision by a government agency. The obvious response to this is to point out that a "dictator" isn’t needed.

The problem could likely have been avoided had Sweden followed the Withdrawal Agreement more rigorously, in particular with respect to the provision to help applicants. For example, the UK’s implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement has measures for vulnerable citizens who can’t obtain photo ID.

Mrs Poole’s case is the most egregious example of how Sweden is implementing the Withdrawal Agreement but it is far from being an isolated case. Many long-term residents have been forced out, usually the most vulnerable.

These include a pensioner couple who had lived here for decades but whose income was deemed too low and a Brit who had been hospitalised with mental illness.

Right now, hundreds are in limbo, having missed the deadline.

Unfortunately, the Swedish Migration Agency refuses to accept responsibility for its own contributing failures, including its own empirically poor outreach and its draconian application of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Listen to the interview with Mikael Ribbenvik

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