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MIGRATIONSVERKET

Explained: What’s going on with Sweden’s record-long citizenship queues?

As waiting times for Swedish citizenship applications climbed to a record high of over three years, The Local heard from one international resident about the impact of such long waits, and took your questions to the Migration Agency.

Explained: What's going on with Sweden's record-long citizenship queues?
If you want a Swedish passport, you may have to be prepared for a long wait. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

The current expected waiting time for citizenship applications recently rose to 37 months according to the Migration Agency's website. This estimate has been climbing steadily since at least 2017, and Migration Agency press officer Pierre Karatzian confirmed to The Local that the current waiting time is the longest ever.

READ ALSO: Waiting times for Swedish citizenship rise to over three years for the first time

What's more, the waiting time listed on the website is not a guarantee that applications submitted today will reach a decision within the time limit on the website. Rather, it is “the length of the longest-running cases where a decision was made in the last month”. 

Of the cases currently awaiting a decision, just four pre-date 2015, while three of them were submitted in 2015 and 301 in 2016, according to figures shared with The Local.

A total of 12,171 cases first submitted in 2017 are currently open. The Migration Agency was unable to share the date when the oldest currently-open case was submitted.


Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

One reader of The Local who submitted his citizenship application in 2017 says that the long wait has had an impact on him, and called for the agency to be more open about the order in which it assesses cases. 

An email sent to him from the Migration Agency in August 2019, seen by The Local, said that no decision making case officer had been assigned to his case at that point. A message from February 2020, more than two years after his initial application, showed that a case officer had been assigned and a decision expected “soon”.

“It's impacting me a lot both emotionally and economically,” the applicant, who asked to remain anonymous, told us. “With the increasing waiting time, it feels every day they are taking time because they might reject my application. Due to that stress I lost my job a year ago and am unable to focus on getting a new job due to stress. Always thinking about what will happen if they rejects my application.”

“The problem is that I don't know [the Migration Agency's] rules,” he added. “I've tried asking and every time the reply is different from what is written on their website.” 

So how are citizenship cases handled, and just why are waiting times so high?

“Every [citizenship application] is screened the same day it comes into the Migration Agency,” press officer Pierre Karatzian said. “A certain amount (around 25 percent) of the cases are assessed as early as this as ready for a decision; they can either be granted or rejected. These cases are normally processed within three months.”

In general, other applications are placed in a queue and processed in order of the date they were submitted, oldest first.

But certain cases are given higher priority. After waiting at least six months, citizenship applicants have the option (under Section 12 of the Administrative Procedure Act) to submit a request for the case to be concluded within four weeks.

In cases where such a request is made, and the Migration Court grants an appeal of the decision and requests the agency to make a decision on the case 'as soon as possible', these cases go to the top of the queue, meaning a longer wait for those which have been in the queue for a longer time.


Photo: Emelie Asplund/imagebank.sweden.se

The reader who spoke to The Local had made such a request for a decision in November 2019, however his request was rejected.

As well as citizenship applications, the agency is of course also responsible for a variety of processes including work permits, residence permits, asylum requests, and more. 

However, Karatzian said: “The citizenship activities are currently given highest priority, and have been strengthened significantly in terms of resources in 2019 and in 2020 so far.”

“The reason that waiting times have increased so significantly is above all the very large increase in [citizenship] applications over at least the past four years, which is due to the large number of asylum seekers who arrived in Sweden. The Migration Agency did not have the possibility during this time to prioritize citizenship cases,” he explained.

“Under the new Administrative Procedure Act from July 1st 2018, applicants are also given the chance to request that a case be concluded within four weeks. The large number of such requests took resources from the actual processing of citizenship cases. Since these cases must also be prioritized after any judgment from the Migration Court, and since very many applicants who requested a decision under Section 12 hadn't waited longer than six to nine months for a decision, this contributed to the fact that the oldest cases became even older.”

“The large recruitment that was done at the start of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 is giving results, but training of new case workers takes time,” he concluded, but added that the agency expected a reduction in waiting times over the course of 2020.

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Member comments

  1. Thanks for the article. However there are many questions related their handling of citizenship applications should be asked. when they say after first day screening of applications, certain cases are prioritized as ready for decision and rest been queued then what logic is applied to do this prioritization? there are plenty of examples when two identically same applications (in terms of everything including their conduct of living in Sweden etc) are treated differently. Now MV will say that every case is different, which is in theory true, but at the end the applicants are not stupid that they cannot identify the difference. In other words are they saying its a lottery which is done after collecting fresh application? I think you should ask the authority more tough questions about their mysterious handling.

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RESIDENCE PERMITS

REVEALED: The truth about waiting times at Sweden’s Migration Agency

A new report from Sweden's Parliamentary Ombudsman has found that a number of cases at Sweden's Migration Agency were "not actively processed for the majority of the processing time", despite waits of more than three years.

REVEALED: The truth about waiting times at Sweden's Migration Agency

What is this report?

The report, which came out on December 13th, addresses complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman about long processing times at the Migration Agency for citizenship, asylum and residence permit applications.

In the report, Parliamentary Ombudsman Per Lennerbrant said that the Migration Agency must make “special efforts” to address the long waiting times faced by those applying for asylum, permanent residency, or citizenship in Sweden.

Lennerbrant stated that it is “unacceptable” that the Migration Agency, year after year, has unreasonably long processing times for a large range of cases.

He further criticised the Migration Agency for “slow and passive” processing in all cases which were a subject of the investigation.

How long did these applicants have to wait?

The report, which assessed five cases reported by applicants for Swedish citizenship, asylum and residence permits, concluded that, in all cases, processing times “exceeded what is considered acceptable”.

The five cases are described as follows:

  • “AA”, who applied for Swedish citizenship on May 21st, 2020. In January 2021, a Migration Court concluded that the Migration Agency must conclude “AA”‘s case “as soon as possible”. The case was concluded on February 1st, 2022. Waiting time: 1 year, 8 months, 11 days
  • “BB”, who applied for Swedish citizenship on July 30th, 2018. The case was concluded on March 16th, 2022. Waiting time: 3 years, 7 months, 16 days
  • “CC”, who applied for Swedish citizenship on June 27th, 2018. The case was concluded on March 3rd, 2022. Waiting time: 3 years, 8 months, 4 days
  • “DD”, who applied for asylum in Sweden on January 9th, 2020. The case was concluded on February 18th, 2022. Waiting time: 2 years, 1 month, 9 days
  • “EE”, who applied for a residence permit as a family member (a so-called ‘sambo’ permit), on November 29th, 2020. The case was concluded on March 28th, 2022. Waiting time: 1 year, 3 months, 28 days

What did the Ombudsman say about these cases?

The report concluded that, in all cases, processing times “exceeded what is considered acceptable”.

The report further concluded that all five cases were subject to “long periods of passivity”, stating that four cases were “not actively processed for the majority of the processing time”. One of these cases was concluded after “roughly a week” once a Migration Agency case officer finally started processing it.

In the fifth case, it states, processing “was initially carried out”, with “more than a year” passing before further action was taken, and then “a further ten months” before the case was concluded.

How has the Migration Agency responded?

The Parliamentary Ombudsman demanded a response from the Migration Agency, as well as answers to a number of questions, which it received on June 8th, 2022.

In its response, the Migration Agency stated that it “works to conclude received applications within the dates stipulated by law in all types of case”. It further stated that it “calculates that the goal of being able to conclude asylum and family reunification cases within legal deadlines […] will be reached during 2023,” and that the goal of concluding citizenship cases within six months will also be reached the same year.

It further states that a “new structure to provide support to employees working to conclude cases” was established at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, which introduced a “case concluding support network” for each part of the process.

In March 2022, the Agency continues, “a new process was introduced for cases addressing residence permits due to family reunification, meaning, for example, that all new family reunification cases are handled by a central function which sorts out those cases which should be processed quickly”.

In 2021, the Agency states, an additional centre for handling citizenship cases was opened to “increase recruitment and lower vulnerability”.

It also stated that issues for the Agency which can cause delays include decisions from the Migration Courts demanding that cases should be concluded quickly, which affects the order in which different cases are prioritised, as well as outside factors such as war in Ukraine, which can cause bottlenecks.

The Agency agreed with the Parliamentary Ombudsman that processing times had “not been satisfactory” in any of the five cases addressed by the report.

Does that really mean people applying for citizenship next year will have an answer within six months?

The Parliamentary Ombudsman doesn’t seem to think so. It stated that the investigation shows that “the Migration Agency still has major issues with processing times”, and that it “concludes that it will take years before they reach an acceptable level”.

“In my previous assessment,” Ombudsman Per Lennerbrant said, “I spoke of a fear that the agency’s long processing times would become the norm if serious measures were not taken,” he said.

“I am now forced to confirm that my fears appear to have been valid. The Migration Agency must make special efforts to address the long processing times.”

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has also sent a copy of the decision to Sweden’s governmental offices, as the long waiting times are also in part due to a lack of resources.

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