Talent deportation: Sweden sees sharp drop in rejected work permit extensions

Figures from the Swedish Migration Agency show a sharp drop in rejected work permit extensions since a landmark ruling in 2017. But government progress to smooth the way for international workers has been slower than some campaigners have hoped.

Talent deportation: Sweden sees sharp drop in rejected work permit extensions
Although work permit extension rejections have declined, progress on a promised talent visa has been slow. Photo: Maskot/Folio/

In 2019, 586 people had their requests to extend their Swedish work permits rejected. That's the lowest figure over at least the past seven years, according to figures shared with The Local by the Swedish Migration Agency.

The same figures showed a small drop from the previous year, when the figure was 664, and a marked decline from 2017, when 1,878 work permit extensions were rejected.

A range of reasons were behind the rejections – which can often mean that the worker in question is forced to leave Sweden.

In order to receive a work permit in Sweden, certain criteria must be met, one of the most crucial being that the employer must offer the worker a salary, vacation and benefits, and insurance in line with either collective bargaining agreements or the industry standard. These permits must be renewed after three years as well as in some other situations, such as if the worker changes their job or industry.


In 59 of the permit extension rejections last year, the reason given was a lower salary offered than standard for the industry. That was down from 287 such cases the previous year and 868 in 2017.

The figures don't include people who appealed the Migration Agency's decision.

Photo: Maskot/Folio/

In 46 cases the agency said there was no employer mentioned on the application, a figure roughly in line with previous years.

And far fewer people were rejected due to problems with workplace insurance. The number of rejections on these grounds was 169 in 2017, 51 in 2018 and just 21 in 2019.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline in rejections could be a landmark court ruling from December 2017. The Swedish Migration Court of Appeal ruling in the case of a pizza baker in Jokkmokk, which The Local reported at the time, set a precedent for a principle of so-called helhetsbedömning or 'overall assessment', which meant that a small error should no longer be enough to derail an otherwise good application.

Before that, minor discrepancies in insurance policies had been behind the deportation of dozens and potentially hundreds of workers whose applications were otherwise in line with the rules.

When The Local approached the Migration Agency to ask what was behind the decline in rejections, a press spokesperson pointed to the 2017 court ruling.

“The main cause is that practice has changed after judgments in 2017 in work permit cases. The practice is that we now do overall assessments in cases, compared with earlier,” the press officer said.

But campaigners are critical of the fact that since this judgment, work appears to have slowed down on changing the laws that govern work permits and work migration.

“We have also noticed through our survey and network that the deportations, specifically at the Migrationsverket-level have decreased, which is an outstanding achievement which we have been working so hard for. Unfortunately, for those previously denied and caught in the appeal process, these people are ultimately still left behind,” said Matt Kriteman, COO of the Diversify Foundation, which has campaigned on the issue of worker deportations.

When asked where work still needed to be done, Kriteman said: “There are still several key areas, but specifically permanent residency, which has been touched on by some Supreme Court Rulings, but remains a large unknown for kompetensutvisning survivors, serious employers who want to keep their talent, and I would be willing to bet also for Migrationsverket.”

“The best thing Sweden can do to make the process smoother for not only foreign talent, but serious employers and even public servants is clearly define what it means to 'do it right' when it comes to being a foreign worker or serious employer. Diversity and inclusion are part of Swedish values, and some leadership on its positive effects are very much needed,” added Kriteman, who is behind an award set to be handed out in April to celebrate success stories of Swedish employers, nominated by foreign talent facing deportation.

The January Agreement, a four-party government deal agreed at the start of last year, included the goal “the problem of deportation of skilled labour must be solved”, and suggested the introduction of a new 'talent visa', which was set to be launched in 2021.

But since then, little progress has been reported.

In answer to a parliamentary question on worker deportations in October, Minister Morgan Johansson said that Migration Agency statistics showed that trends were “going in the right direction”, with the proportion of permit extensions granted over 95 percent among professions where higher education was required.

“The government intends to appoint an inquiry with the task of reviewing the regulations on labour immigration, including working on solving the problem of so-called talent deportations. The directives for the investigation are currently being discussed with the parties in the January detail. I will give an update with more details when the discussions are done,” he said at the time

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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.