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INTERVIEW: Sweden's new work permit system 'is just not going to work'

Paul O'Mahony
Paul O'Mahony - [email protected]
INTERVIEW: Sweden's new work permit system 'is just not going to work'
Employers in the forestry sector are among those concerned about the government's plans to further raise the salary threshold for work permits. Photo: Johan Gunséus/TT

Sweden’s new work permits rules will damage Sweden’s economy and make it harder for companies to find the workers they desperately need, according to the Swedish Federation of Small Businesses (Företagarna).


A recent government report recommended that applicants for a work permit must earn a minimum monthly salary above the median national wage. The median salary for 2022 was 34,200 kronor a month and the 2023 figure is set to be released on June 18th.

The report also proposed a new three-step process to decide on which in-demand skills and professions should be exempted from the salary threshold, with the government having the final say.

But the plans have come in for sharp criticism. Even business groups traditionally supportive of Moderate Party-led governments are deeply opposed to a system that they say will make Sweden’s economy less competitive.

“We believe that these rules risk having a strong negative impact on the business owners, but also on Swedish business life in general,” says Catharina Bildt Grape, Företagarna’s policy expert on migration, integration and labour market issues.

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Företagarna represents some 60,000 small and medium enterprises divided into 250 local organisations. Its mission is to develop a business climate conducive to the growth of its members, a goal it feels is being stymied by a government more interested in reducing the numbers of foreign workers than doing what’s best for the economy.

“The government argues that the focus needs to be on highly qualified labour skills and that the way to do that is through higher salary. Here we strongly disagree, as high qualification rather comes through professional skills and perennial experience,” Bildt Grape tells The Local.

“You can gain that in so many different ways; it does not only come with a high salary. So there are several [sectors] that require really good craftsmanship, expertise. And at the same time, it's really hard to find those people in Sweden.”

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Sweden's plans for tougher work permit rules

Given that the government introduced the first step of its reform by raising the monthly salary threshold to 27,360 kronor in November, employers are already feeling some of the effects.

Bildt Grape echoes concerns expressed by employers around the country who are often faced with a serious dilemma when key foreign workers don’t earn a wage commensurate with the new requirements. If an employer hikes the wage above the limit they may be able to keep the foreign worker, but where does that leave their other employees? Unless they treat employees equally in wage negotiations they risk falling foul of anti-discrimination laws, she notes.

“A foreign entrepreneur understands this immediately, we just don't understand why the government doesn’t understand it.”


Under the proposed system, the Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) will develop a list of professions to be exempted from the salary requirement. The list will then move on to the Migration Agency for approval, before making its way to the government, which makes a decision on any changes to the list of exempted professions once a year.

According to Företagarna, the planned new system directly contradicts the government’s own directive stating that it must be designed in a way that simplifies processing and minimises the administrative burden for employers.

“It makes it very, very difficult for the business owners to plan their work. And it's going to be very unsure how long a person can stay.”

Bildt Grape believes that the new system will be short-lived.

“It's just not going to work,” she says.

With Sweden competing for foreign workers with countries like Germany, Finland and Denmark that are lowering the barriers to entry, the reality on the ground will necessitate a turnaround, she predicts. 

“Who wants to come to a country that signals you're not really welcome? And why would the most skilled and professional want to come here when they can go wherever they want?”



Listen to the full interview in the February 28th episode of Sweden in Focus Extra.

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