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Deported engineer sues Sweden over work permit rejections

An Iranian sales engineer who was forced to leave Sweden over a former employer's error is suing the state – the first time a deported labour immigrant is pressing charges against the country itself.

Deported engineer sues Sweden over work permit rejections
Ali Omumi at Stockholm District Court. Photo: Rikard Samuelsson/Centre for Justice

Ali Omumi, who works for major Swedish engineering company ABB, was ordered to leave Sweden last year because a previous employer had made an error over his health insurance.

His case became one of the most high-profile out of a series of employees having their work permit renewals rejected over minor administrative errors – a problem that grew so ubiquitous that it became known under its own name as 'talent deportation', or kompetensutvisning in Swedish.

Omumi's situation was even debated in the Swedish parliament after an MP said he read about the engineer in The Local and was also brought up by organizations such as the Diversify Foundation.

He was then initially blocked from returning to Sweden on a new work permit, after the Migration Agency said it had been submitted “after too short a time” following the earlier rejection – however that decision was thrown out by the Migration Court and Omumi is now back working for ABB in Sweden.

The father-of-one is now taking the case to court, demanding that Sweden compensate him for the income he lost due to the two decisions.

The Centre for Justice, which is representing him, said it was “the first time that a wrongfully deported labour migrant sues the state and demands responsibility for the Migration Agency's talent deportations”.

“The talent deportations have meant personal tragedies for those who have been wrongly expelled and have been detrimental for Sweden. The state now has to take responsibility for the fact that the Migration Agency is making up rules and does not follow the applicable rules,” said Alexandra Loyd, legal counsel at the Centre for Justice.

“I can't understand why I had to quit my job at ABB and why I was treated like a criminal. With this legal process I hope to make a difference for other workers who have been wrongly expelled by the Migration Agency,” Omumi told TV4 as the lawsuit was handed into Stockholm District Court on Friday.

EXPLAINED:

Omumi is not the only work permit holder who has made headlines in recent years. In 2017, more than 1,800 people had their work permit extensions rejected by the Migration Agency, after Sweden tightened its rules with the intention of cracking down on dishonest employers taking advantage of foreign labour.

It's not possible to say how many of these rejections were due to minor administrative errors like in Omumi's case, but the number was well over the double the figures for previous years, after a 2015 decision from the Migration Court of Appeal led to Swedish authorities interpreting cases on an increasingly strict basis.

But progress is being made.

Campaigners, media and politicians have been raising awareness of the issue, and in December 2017, the Migration Court of Appeal ruled that work permit renewals should be based on an overall assessment of each case (helhetsbedömning), rather than allowing single, small errors to derail an application.

This was hailed a landmark ruling for work permit holders, and although there have been several high-profile cases of people getting deported due to their employer's errors since, on the whole the number of rejections has fallen significantly.

In 2018, 664 people had their work permit renewals rejected, followed by 550 between January 1st and December 8th this year, according to fresh figures given to The Local by the Migration Agency. That is a return to the levels seen before 2017, when the issue first started making major headlines in Sweden.

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Member comments

  1. Woah woah woaaahhh.
    Talk about entitlement…It’s a privilege to move to Sweden. He should be thankful for the time he had, and the lessons he learned.
    Lesson #1: Check your own paperwork.
    Lesson #2: Sweden has loads of sales engineers, as is a rather successful
    nation on its own
    Lesson #3: Being a sales engineer isn’t such a big deal. It’s not like
    being an artificial intelligence software developer with a Ph.D in

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WORK PERMITS

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.

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