Swedish inquiry told to propose new laws to stop ‘talent deportation’

Swedish plans to overhaul the work permit system have been updated to include legal proposals to stop so-called 'talent deportation' – foreign workers deported over minor errors by their employer.

Swedish inquiry told to propose new laws to stop 'talent deportation'
Could law changes solve the situation for work permit holders? Photo: Adam Wrafter/SvD/TT

As part of an agreement with the Centre and Liberal parties, Sweden's Social Democrat-Green government launched an inquiry in February to review the country's much-debated labour immigration system, with the aim of “attracting international expertise and counteracting the exploitation of labour migrants”.

But it was criticised for being too soft on what has been dubbed in Swedish media as 'talent deportation'. The inquiry was tasked with analysing the issue and only proposing legal changes if needed. 

The inquiry has now been ordered to also include hard proposals for law changes intended to stop deportations caused by “negligible and excusable” mistakes by a work permit holder's employer.

It has also been told to propose law changes that would see sharper punishments for dishonest employers as well as cash compensation for work permit holders who have been exploited.

It is also expected to suggest ways in which an employment contract would have to be submitted when a person applies for a work permit.

The additional directive was requested by the Swedish parliament earlier this year, and opposition parties have previously criticised the government for not implementing it sooner.

Sweden relies on foreign workers to plug skills shortages in the country, including the fast-growing tech sector. But legislation which was intended to crack down on exploitation of foreign workers had the unintended consequence that many workers with legitimate employers had their permit renewals rejected.

This resulted in hundreds of workers being ordered to leave the country due to minor errors in their paperwork, often relating to small discrepancies over holiday pay or insurance policies.

The situation is improving, but slowly. One of the biggest milestones was a landmark court ruling in December 2017. The Swedish Migration Court of Appeal ruling in the case of a pizza baker in Jokkmokk set a precedent for a principle of so-called 'overall assessment', which meant that a small error should no longer be enough to derail an otherwise good application.

The number of rejected permit extensions has declined since then, but there have not been changes to actual legislation, despite several Swedish parties pledging to solve the problem.

Some parts of the ongoing inquiry will result in a report to be presented no later than February next year, with the deadline for the remainder of the inquiry being November 2021. The next steps would include the government putting forward a proposal that would be voted on in parliament.

Swedish vocabulary

talent deportation – kompetensutvisning

overall assessment – (en) helhetsbedömning

inquiry – (en) utredning

work permit – (ett) arbetstillstånd

law – (en) lag

Member comments

  1. It’s too little too late, the Swedish immigration system is fundamentally broken. The reasons why are clear and understandable, but to punish people who have legitimate reasons to be here, and who positively contribute to society is incredibly short sighted. I’m so exhausted by it, the desire to remain in Sweden where my life is on hold for the foreseeable future because it takes an indeterminate amount of time to process a work permit extension is now gone. I also live with the constant fear that it will get rejected, because of one of those stupid administrative errors. So really where’s the incentive? I wait for maybe 6-7 months, if it’s “quick” and then find out it’s denied anyway. I’m one of the lucky ones, I have a great country to go back to with options which my Swedish husband and I have decided to do. I hate to think how much worse this is for those that aren’t that lucky. It’s disappointing when we wanted to stay and build a life here, but what kind of life is this?

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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.