Campaigners hail change in rules for foreign postgrads in Sweden

Campaigners have hailed a rule change in Sweden which should make life easier for foreign postgraduates in the country, who have previously lived in an uncertain situation caused by short residence permits.

Campaigners hail change in rules for foreign postgrads in Sweden
Previous residence rules in Sweden meant PhD candidates missed conferences and couldn't travel home. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers (SULF) has been pushing for Sweden’s Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) to issue longer residence permits for foreign PhD candidates, with one-year permits previously the norm.

That meant that during a four-year doctoral course at a university in Sweden, PhD candidates would have to reapply for a residence permit several times. Along with being a time-consuming process, restrictions on foreign travel during the processing period also applied.

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Now, Migrationsverket has changed their rules to grant doctoral students a permit for two years at a time. The rule change covers not only applications for a first-time permit, but also people who already have a permit and are applying for an extension for their studies, as well as their family members (co-applicants).

“We greatly welcome the change and have been working hard for several years to solve such problems for our members,” SULF board member Benny Borghei, and the chair of its association of doctoral candidates, Anna Ilar, told The Local.

“Today, a third of all PhD candidates in Sweden come from abroad, and we believe that this simple change will significantly improve working and living conditions for many of our members,” they added.

Restrictions on foreign travel during the processing period for permit applications were a particular nuisance for PhD candidates as it meant missing important conferences:

“Due to long processing times, PhD candidates often could not receive their visa on time to attend conferences or travel back home. And this nightmare was repeated every year for many years in a row until the person either got a permanent residence permit, or finally gave up and left Sweden!”

The academic association hopes that the resources saved by the new two-year visa period can be used to shorten processing times for permanent residency applications.

But while the change is a welcome one, there are still other issues they hope to see resolved, not least the way that Migrationsverket processes applications for Swedish citizenship from foreign PhDs.

“All students and PhD candidates are asked to clearly state when they expect to leave Sweden once they fill in the visa application forms. Migrationsverket then uses this information when the applicants apply for citizenship, saying they did not indicate their intention to stay in Sweden.”

“We are ready to provide our advice based on the most updated information we constantly receive from our members, to improve this situation,” Borghei and Ilar added.