New dad faces deportation from Sweden after 16 years due to holiday pay error

A new father has been ordered to leave Sweden – and his baby son – after 16 years in the country because of a minor mistake made by his employer relating to holiday pay.

New dad faces deportation from Sweden after 16 years due to holiday pay error
Cihat 'Gino' Karahan has been told to leave Sweden, and therefore his home of 16 years, his job, wife and two-week-old baby. Photo: Private

The case of Cihat Karahan, known to friends as Gino, is the latest evidence that foreign professionals are still being deported from the country over administrative errors despite repeated attempts to stop such incidents.  

“No person should have to go through what I'm going through right now. It's awful that they can deport someone on these grounds and ignore the fact that you've created an honest life in Sweden with a wife and newborn baby,” Karahan told The Local.

“It feels as if you've been erased from Swedish society and never existed. Everything you've built up in Sweden, means nothing. I feel exploited,” he continued. “It's affected my family a lot, especially my wife who was heavily pregnant and experienced several complications with her health. She was forced to take leave of absence from work due to sickness because of mental and physical exhaustion.”

Karahan, a Turkish Kurd, first moved to Sweden in 2002 as a political refugee and since then has put down roots in the country, where he has a home, a job, a wife and now a two-week-old baby. He currently lives in Stockholm, where he has worked in restaurants, and also spent time working in a shop in Grisslehamn, a town on the outskirts of the Stockholm region.

In October 2017, over a year after applying for permanent residence, he was told by the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) that his application had been rejected and he needed to leave the country within four weeks.

The reason was that he had not been paid holiday supplement (semesterersättning) for a period between 2014 and 2016. “The strange thing is that I didn't get the holiday supplement from 2012, but Migrationsverket still chose to extend my work permit then,” Karahan notes.

READ ALSO: What to do if your work permit renewal is rejected?

Well aware of the bureaucracy facing foreign workers and the risk of deportation, Karahan says he had been especially careful to ensure his contract fitted in with rules around salary, vacation allowance, and insurance. After receiving the first rejection from Migrationsverket, his employer adjusted his contract in order to pay the supplement, but it made no difference and the agency confirmed the deportation decision.

“They didn't take into consideration that I have established myself in Sweden by working, paying tax, learning the Swedish language and integrated into Swedish culture,” he said. “My lawyer and I appealed twice and both times I got a rejection, despite saying in my appeal that my sambo and I were expecting a child.”

After laws about work permits were tightened and came to apply retroactively, the Migration Agency began judging such cases more strictly, and the number of permit rejections rose dramatically. 

Last year, legislation was passed which meant permits should not be rejected if a mistake had been noticed and action taken to correct it before it was pointed out by the Migration Agency – but the complicated nature of the paperwork means that often employers and workers believe they have followed the process correctly and only learn of the mistake when the permit is rejected.

However, judgments from the Migration Supreme Court have also set a precedent that decisions should be based on an overall assessment of factors, meaning that one minor mistake should not derail an otherwise good application.

MEMBERS' Q&A: Why is Sweden deporting skilled foreign workers?

Karahan's final rejection came in late July this year, and cannot be appealed again.

He has a flight to Turkey booked for the end of November but is trying one more route: he hopes that the Migration Agency will change its decision based on his new family circumstances, namely the birth of his son, a Swedish citizen.

“We live in hope that Migrationsverket will change its decision so I can be with my family in Sweden,” he told The Local. “The worst-case scenario is that I'm forced to leave the country on November 30th and won't be able to see my wife and newborn son for an indefinite period of time.”

So far, a petition calling for Karahan's deportation order to be stopped has amassed more than 5,000 signatures.

“It is completely absurd that Gino will be deported on these grounds. Do it again, do it properly!” wrote one supporter.

“I'm signing because one of my students came close to losing his father for the exact same reason as Gino. And it's totally sick that a person can be judged for something they didn't do, it's obviously the employer which made a mistake,” another commented.

Others described the decision as “unfair”, “shameful” and even “inhumane”.

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EXPLAINED: What do we know about Sweden’s new work permit bill?

Sweden's parliament has voted through a new bill empowering the government to increase the minimum salary for a work permit. This is what we know so far.

EXPLAINED: What do we know about Sweden's new work permit bill?

What is the new bill and where does it come from? 

The new bill, called “A higher subsistence requirement for labour migrants” (Ett höjt försörjningskrav för arbetskraftsinvandrare), was formally proposed by the former Social Democrat government on September 6th after discussions in the social insurance committee. 

The Social Democrat government on February 6th appointed the judge Anita Linder to carry out an inquiry into “improved labour migration”, which was then sent out for consultation and discussed in the parliament’s social affairs committee, before the government submitted the proposal to parliament. 

What does the bill say? 

The bill empowers the government to raise the maintenance requirement for work permit applicants from outside the EU, the Nordic countries and Switzerland above the current 13,000 kronor a month. 

The bill does not specifically state how much higher the maintenance requirement should be, or propose a date for when the changes should come into force.

In the proposal, it states that the new law can be implemented on “the day the government decides”. The new threshold, meanwhile, is to be set by a government directive which is supposed to be issued at the same time the law comes into force. 

How high is the new maintenance threshold likely to be? 

It’s not yet clear. However, the government may choose to follow the Tidö Agreement through which the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties (the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals) agreed to back Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister. 

In this agreement the parties agreed to set the minimum salary for work permits to be awarded at the median salary in Sweden, which is about 33,000 kronor a month.

This is a compromise between the 35,000 kronor minimum salary put forward by the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats, and the proposals from the Moderates and Social Democrats, who wanted to set the rate at 85 percent of the median salary (about 27,540 a month) and the Social Democrats, who have floated a minimum salary of about 27,000 kronor. 

In an interview with Radio Sweden on December 3rd, Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard stated that the 33,000 kronor a month limit was not yet set, and that the government would “look into the exact amount”. She also stated that the government “will also be able to make exceptions for some individual professional groups,” although she did not go into detail on which groups this would include.

The Centre Party and the Liberal Party were both against the proposal in the run-up to September’s general election, arguing that Sweden’s existing liberal labour migration laws have been economically beneficial.

The Liberals are likely to respect the Tidö Agreement now they are part of the government. 

 READ ALSO: How do Sweden’s political parties want to reform work permits?

Who is against raising the salary threshold? 

The Centre Party has been the biggest opponent in parliament, arguing that the hotel, restaurant and retail industries in particular will struggle to find staff if they are not able to hire workers internationally. 

Martin Ådahl, the party’s economics and business spokesperson, told The Local his party was opposed on both practical and principled grounds to the proposal.

“It is clear in practical terms that many businesses rely on persons from abroad that have qualifications which lead to more growth and jobs in Sweden,” he said. “This is dependent on people starting with reasonable wages because they are new and don’t speak the language. It’s a loss for both Sweden and the individuals.” 

But he said the party’s liberal ideology also made supporting the proposal impossible. 

“On principle, it is wrong that authorities and boards staffed by public officials should tell businesses which talents they should hire at what wages,” he said. “This kind of wage regulation and minimum wages is something Sweden is opposed to otherwise.”

A lot of criticism has also come from business. Ann Öberg, the chief executive of Almega, a trade body representing businesses in the IT, telecoms, engineering, architecture, media, private healthcare, train operations, and security industries, wrote an opinion piece in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper at the end of October criticising the move. 

She argued that it was unrealistic to expect unemployed people already living in Sweden to fill the gap created when low-skilled labour migrants can no longer come to the country. 

READ ALSO: Swedish businesses attack work permit threshold

This article was originally published in November 2022 and updated following Malmer Stenergard’s comments in December 2022.