‘Give foreign PhDs a clear path to residency in Sweden’

Sweden needs to change rules that strip foreign doctoral candidates of the same rights as other tax-paying migrant workers seeking permanent residency in Sweden, argue a group of doctoral candidates from the Royal Institute for Technology (KTH).

'Give foreign PhDs a clear path to residency in Sweden'

Foreign doctoral candidates in Sweden can often find themselves in difficult predicaments. Whether it’s navigating through the seemingly endless ‘personnummer’ applications required for the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket); or, year in, year out, having to apply to the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) for visa extensions almost immediately after receiving a valid visa.

We have our fair share of headaches – and that’s before we even have to deal with our supervisors.

And we put up with all of this because Sweden is really a great country.

We can get an excellent education in one of the world’s leading countries in terms of innovative higher degree research; the average Swede’s lifestyle is what every human on the planet aspires for; and it’s a beautiful place to live (not to mention the fabulous weather, especially compared with Australia).

Sadly though, despite all our work, and all the money invested into our research and candidatures, as the law currently stands, not a single day’s work towards our doctoral theses will count towards eligibility for permanent residency in Sweden.

Providing doctoral candidates with the right to permanent residency, after the completion of their degree, not only provides an additional incentive for international candidates to do research in Sweden, but initiates numerous benefits for the country as a whole.

Instead of funding doctoral candidates who end up moving elsewhere to use their skills, Sweden can take advantage of its investment by providing us with the ability to apply for permanent residency upon the completion of our studies.

Making it easier for us to gain residency is a simple way for Sweden to capitalize on the potential benefits of embracing this highly-skilled sector of the workforce.

We also have strong global networks and specific cultural expertise from our home nations.

Easing the requirements for residency will help Sweden benefit from freshly minted PhDs not only by increasing the chances they have to apply their skills in the country, but also through those candidates who choose to move back and forth, which will strengthen Sweden's global academic and business ties to their home countries.

To not provide this right only seems to further damage Sweden’s reputation as an internationally-supportive place of higher degree studies.

Fortunately, there is hope that Sweden may soon correct what we see as a major shortcoming in the country's treatment of foreign researchers who come here to receive their PhDs.

Later this month, the Riksdag will a motion stemming from a March 2011 report from Sweden’s Committee for Circular Migration and Development which proposes introducing a new form of residence permit specifically for doctoral candidates coming from countries outside of the EU/EEA.

A normal working migrant pays taxes and has the right to permanent residency after four years. As international doctoral candidates, we also pay taxes, but do not receive this same right, despite our training.

The committee’s proposal includes plans to fundamentally change this situation by equipping international doctoral candidates with the same rights as ordinary migrant workers.

Unfortunately though, there is little indication today as to whether the Swedish government will put forward their own proposal on this matter and pass the responding laws that are required for change.

But what we do know is that on May 30th, a committee at the Riksdag will debate a motion put forward by Karin Granbom Ellison of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) aiming to make it easier for PhD students to gain permanent residency in Sweden.

It is our intention to provide the Riksdag with a petition outlining the overwhelming support for this change.

As international doctoral candidates, we are not only asking for the right to further contribute to Swedish society, but we want Sweden to "use" us so that we can pay back our debts to the nation and further strengthen this country’s reputation as a world-leading place of research and business.

It is our sincere hope that with enough support through this petition, the government will be provided with the mandate to implement the required changes and put forward their own proposal before the upcoming debate.

Jake Whitehead (Australia), Shiva Habibi (Iran), and Masoud Fadaei (Iran) are international doctoral candidates at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm

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Which regions in Germany need foreign engineers?

Germany’s worker shortage is hitting the engineering sector hard, and there are huge differences in worker shortages between the regions. The Association of German Engineers (VDI) is calling for Germany to be more welcoming to foreign engineers in order to fill the gaps.

Which regions in Germany need foreign engineers?

What’s going on?

Germany is currently facing a worsening shortage of skilled workers, with employers struggling to fill around 630,000 job vacancies in various industries. The engineering sector is particularly affected and saw a 21.6 percent increase in vacancies in the fourth quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.

According to the latest figures from the Association of German Enginners (VDI), there are currently 170,300 vacancies for engineers.

READ ALSO: ‘600,000 vacancies’: Why Germany’s skilled worker shortage is greater than ever

There’s a particular shortage of civil engineers, computer scientists and electrical engineers which is leading to hold-ups in public construction and digitalisation projects.

Which regions are particularly struggling?

Though there are shortages everywhere, there is a widening gap between the numbers of foreign engineers in large cities and those in rural areas.

In Munich, for example, foreign nationals make up almost 13 percent of the total number of engineers. In the Stranberg district of the city, more than one in four engineers are foreigners.

The employment of foreigners in engineering professions is highest in Berlin where they make up 18.6 percent of engineers, followed by Hamburg with 13.3 per cent and Bavaria with 12.7 per cent. Schleswig-Holstein has the lowest proportion of foreigners out of the western German states with a share of 4.9 per cent.

Employees of the Tesla Gigafactory Berlin Brandenburg work on a production line of a Model Y electric vehicle. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

In eastern states like Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt, foreign engineers are few and far between, despite being desperately needed.

There are also differences between the states in terms of the types of engineers needed. For example, in the last quarter of 2022, the total number of vacancies in information technology jobs in Hesse increased by 49.7 per cent, in Baden-Württemberg by 45.2 per cent and in Berlin/Brandenburg by 40.1 per cent, while the number in Rhineland-Palatinate/Saarland decreased by 23.5 per cent.

READ ALSO: Germany sees ‘over 550 percent increase’ in Indian IT workers over decade

The demand for civil engineering jobs, however, decreased significantly in Berlin/Brandenburg (-3.8 per cent), Saxony (-7.7 per cent) and Saxony-Anhalt/Thuringia (-7.8 per cent).

According to the VDI, the huge differences in the proportion of foreign engineers mainly depend on which universities and companies there are in the region.

If there are technical universities with lots of foreign students, this increases the proportion of engineers with foreign passports in the region.

The presence of factories or international corporations has a similar effect. For example, the proportion of foreign engineers in the Oder-Spree district in Brandenburg was stuck at two to three percent for a long time. But at the end of 2020, that figure tripled within a few months – thanks to the car manufacturer Tesla opening a factory there.

Germany needs to be “more welcoming” to foreigners

Head of the VDI, Dieter Westerkamp has said that without a strong influx of foreign skilled workers, Germany will not be able to close the gap in the labour market for engineers and that this could ultimately slow down Germany’s economic development.

READ ALSO: IN DEPTH: Are Germany’s immigration offices making international residents feel unwelcome?

The VDI is now calling for Germany to make itself more attractive to foreign engineers. The German government recently published a new draft law which aims to plug its skills gap by adapting its immigration laws. Amongst other things, the proposals aim to loosen the requirements for Blue Card applicants and to bring in a points-based job seekers visa. 

However, Westerkamp complains that some immigrants wait months for a visa appointment at the German embassy and that staff shortages at the foreigners’ offices lead to delays.

A recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Skilled Migration Monitor also found that managers increasingly complain about bureaucratic and legal hurdles as well as difficulties in the recognition of qualifications for foreign workers. 

Westerkamp said that Germans must understand that their standard of living can’t be maintained without more immigration and said that, people must “give foreigners the feeling that they are welcome in this country”.