Games producer told to leave Sweden over former employer’s error

One of Sweden's largest game developers is calling on the government to freeze deportations of work permit holders as one of its key staff members faces the threat of having to leave the country over a former employer's error.

Games producer told to leave Sweden over former employer's error
Vachon Pugh is a games producer for Swedish tech giant Paradox Interactive. Photo: Private

For Vachon Pugh, moving to Sweden had always been a dream. And while Sweden's growing tech scene has been working hard to attract international talent, it was first and foremost the love for the country itself that brought the experienced games producer here – first to southern city Malmö, then to Stockholm and Paradox Interactive, where she landed her dream job overseeing the production of the Hearts of Iron IV game.

But her life and career were thrown into turmoil last month when a letter from the Migration Agency arrived, informing her that her work permit extension had been rejected and she had four weeks to leave Sweden.

“I was very surprised and panicked. I contacted my manager and I was completely freaking out,” Pugh tells The Local. “I knew it was a risk that it could happen, because when we applied for renewal they asked for additional information, but I thought we had taken care of it and done everything we needed to do.”

Pugh, 38, has been employed by three companies, including Paradox, since moving to Sweden from Florida almost three years ago. The Migration Agency found no fault with either her first or current employment – but her second employer failed to pay out a number of workplace and pension insurances during her trial period.

In 2015, Swedish laws were tightened to stop the exploitation of foreign workers. But as The Local has previously reported, it also led to the deportation of hundreds of work permit holders working for serious employers over often minor administrative errors. The situation has shown signs of improvement, but the phenomenon is so ubiquitous it has given rise to a new word, kompetensutvisning or 'talent deportation'.

The tough rules mean that the requirements for non-EU employees are in reality often higher than for EU citizens, and they face harsher punishments when they are not met. Pugh was the first international worker her previous company had employed, and it had been set to start paying out the workplace insurances as soon as the trial period ended. It has since changed its routines so that they take effect immediately. 

“I don't believe that my previous employer had ill intentions, it was an oversight. I understand that the rules are there to stop people from being exploited, but I wasn't exploited, it was an accident,” says Pugh.

Legislation passed in 2017 means that work permit extensions should not be rejected if action was taken to correct a mistake before it was pointed out by the Migration Agency. And judgments from the Migration Court of Appeal have set a precedent that decisions should be based on an overall assessment of factors (or helhetsbedömning), meaning that one minor mistake should not derail an otherwise good application.

But Pugh's situation still does not meet the requirements, according to the Migration Agency.

The rejection letter, seen by The Local, states that the mistakes were not rectified until the agency pointed them out, and that “a period of approximately five and a half months of lost insurances, during a period of two years of permits, is long enough to find that the conditions for your previous work permit were not met”.

A spokesperson for the Migration Agency told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, which first wrote about Pugh's case, that rulings by the Migration Court of Appeal including on the practice of 'overall assessment' did not “give (them) the possibility to ignore all the mistakes committed by the employer”.

Pugh is now appealing the decision to the Migration Court with the help of a lawyer paid for by Paradox.

“It's really good to know that your employer is fighting for you, but I'm stressed, to say the least,” she says.

“It's scary and I don't know what's going to happen. I keep staring at my stuff, wondering if I'm going to have to pack it? I have two cats that I adopted from a shelter in Malmö, and I'm worried about what's going to happen to them. Also, it's in the middle of a pandemic.”

Paradox Interactive CEO Ebba Ljungerud. Photo: Paradox Interactive

Paradox is one of Sweden's largest games producers, with more than 400 employees. For CEO Ebba Ljungerud, choosing to back Pugh was not a hard decision.

“It's a personal tragedy, and it's a big loss for us. Vachon develops one of our most popular games. It's a difficult game to develop, and it's a very hard role to find senior people for. We as an employer are also a victim of this. Even if we're not at fault, and Vachon is not at fault, it still affects us,” she tells The Local.

Sweden relies on foreign workers to plug skills shortages in the country, including the fast-growing tech sector, and a government inquiry is currently looking into addressing the problems of deportations. But the inquiry is not set to present its proposals until next year, and Ljungerud is calling on Sweden to act now.

“I wish they would freeze these deportations until they have been properly reevaluated. This problem has been talked about for years, everyone seems to agree that it is not the intent of the law,” she says.

“Sweden as a country is trying to build our tech industry and that means we are trying to attract people from abroad. This reduces their willingness to move to Sweden for obvious reasons,” Ljungerud adds.

“It's incredibly unfair and outrageous.”

Member comments

  1. “ In 2015, Swedish laws were tightened to stop the exploitation of foreign workers. But as The Local has previously reported, it also led to the deportation of hundreds of work permit holders working for serious employers over often minor administrative errors.” It doesn’t sound like the laws are doing what they were intended to do here. The worker has not been protected and neither is her current (law abiding) employer. Why are they being punished for someone else’s mistake?

  2. Swedish Government must follow the law. I’m sorry for this woman but rules is rules, for goodness sakes.

  3. “I understand that the rules are there to stop people from being exploited, but I wasn’t exploited, it was an accident,” says Pugh.

    Even if she were being exploited, why should the person being exploited be punished, rather than the person/company doing the exploiting?

  4. @claptonfan: “Swedish Government must follow the law. I’m sorry for this woman but rules is rules, for goodness sakes.”

    It’s not someone else’s rules that the government “must follow”. The Swedish government MAKES the rules. And BAD rules should be changed!

    I ask you, claptonfan, if the government suddenly made a rule requiring that YOU be deported to another country, would you just passively say, “OK. I go… because ‘rules is rules’.”? I seriously doubt it.

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For members


What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Many foreigners living in Sweden need to have a residence permit to live in the country legally. Permits are issued for two years at a time and can be renewed 30 days before expiry, at the earliest. But with waiting times exceeding 8 months for many applicants, just what are your rights while you wait to hear back?

What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Can I keep working in Sweden?

It depends. If you have a residence permit which allows you to work in Sweden, have held that residence permit for at least six months and apply for an extension before your old permit expires, you still have the right to work in Sweden while you wait for the Migration Agency to make a decision on your permit application.

You can apply for a new residence permit 30 days before your old permit expires, at the earliest, and you can’t get a new residence permit before your old one has run out.

Can I leave Sweden?

Technically you can, but it might not be a good idea. This is due to the fact that if you leave Sweden after your residence permit has expired, it can be difficult to enter Sweden again before your new permit is granted, even if you can prove that you’ve applied for a new one.

In the worst-case scenario, you could be denied entry to Sweden at the border and forced to wait in another country until your new residence permit is granted. 

If you find yourself in this situation, you can, in some cases, apply for a national visa allowing you to re-enter Sweden. These are only granted under exceptional circumstances, and must be applied for at a Swedish embassy or general consulate in the country you are staying in. If you are not granted a national visa to re-enter Sweden, you can’t appeal the decision, meaning you’ll have to wait until your residence permit is approved before you can re-enter Sweden.

The Migration Agency writes on its website that you should only leave Sweden while your application is being processed “in exceptional cases, and if you really have to”.

It lists some examples of exceptional cases as “sudden illness, death in the family or important work-related assignments”, adding that you may need to provide proof of your reason for travelling to the embassy when you apply for a national visa to re-enter Sweden.

What if I come from a visa-free country?

If you come from a visa-free country, you are able to re-enter Sweden without needing a visa, but you may run into issues anyway, as visa-free non-EU citizens entering Schengen are only allowed to stay in the bloc for 90 days in every 180 before a visa is required.

If you are a member of this group and you stay in Schengen for longer than 90 days without a visa, you could be labelled an “overstayer”, which can cause issues entering other countries, as well as applying for a visa or residence permit in the future.

The Migration Agency told The Local that “a visa-free person waiting for a decision in their extension application can leave Sweden and return, as long as they have visa-free days left to use”.

“However, an extension application usually requires the individual to be located in Sweden,” the Agency wrote. “Travelling abroad can, in some cases, have an effect on the decision whether to extend a residence permit or not, in a way which is negative for the applicant, but this decision is made on an individual case basis (it’s not possible to say a general rule).”

“The right to travel into the Schengen area for short visits is not affected, as long as the person still has visa-free days left.”

The Local has contacted the Migration Agency to clarify whether days spent in Sweden count towards the 90-day limit, and will update this article accordingly once we receive a response.

Does this apply to me if I have a permanent residence permit?

No. This only applies to people in Sweden holding temporary residence permits. If you have a permanent residence permit and your residence permit card (uppehållstillståndskort or UT-kort) expires, you just need to book an appointment at the Migration Agency to have your picture and fingerprints taken for a new card.

How long is the processing time for residence permit renewals?

It varies. For people renewing a residence permit to live with someone in Sweden, for example, the Migration Agency states that 75 percent of recent cases received an answer within eight months.

For work permit extensions, it varies. In some branches, 75 percent of applicants received a response after 17 months, others only had to wait five.

This means that some people waiting to extend their residence permits could be discouraged from leaving Sweden for almost a year and a half, unless they are facing “exceptional circumstances”.

You can see how long it is likely to take in your case here.