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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Swedish Migration Agency launches new system for handling work permits

The Migration Agency will roll out a new processing model for work permits on January 29th, which should, among other things, speed up waiting times for international talent.

Swedish Migration Agency launches new system for handling work permits

“The new way of working aims to make it easier for companies to quickly obtain the labour they need,” Maria Mindhammar, director-general of the Swedish Migration Agency, wrote in a statement.

“To succeed, we need to concentrate our efforts and focus our service offerings where they are needed most – early in the process and in a way that is highly responsive to employers’ individual needs.”

From January 29th, the agency will prioritise service to employers recruiting highly qualified workers. It will do this by introducing a new way of sorting applications for permits, filtering by occupation and industry and sorting out applications which are ready for a decision, which, it claims, will also make it possible to cut processing times drastically.


It will do this by dividing work permit applications into four categories, ranked from A-D, of which only the first, Category A, will be handled by the new international recruitment units, with a new maximum processing time of just 30 days.

Category A applications will be those already classified as “highly qualified” under the Standard for Swedish Classification of Occupations (SSYK), and will include leadership roles, roles requiring higher university education, and roles requiring university education or equivalent.

In addition to this, the agency will offer a new service to employers handling highly-qualified workers, through help via phone, email, and potentially also in-person meetings, as well as extra support to major projects with large recruitment needs, like battery companies and new steel plants in Norrland which often require labour from third countries.


“We will continue to engage with industry and employer organisations to meet their information needs. The goal is to increase the proportion of complete applications”, Mindhammar said.

Why are they doing this?

“We want Sweden to be competitive and to be able to attract talented people. That means making it simple to apply for work permits and for the process to go quickly,” Sweden’s Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard said at a press conference in May 2023 announcing the system. 

“We’ve unfortunately been dragged down by long processing times which have sometimes affected companies’ ability to compete.” 

The so-called certified process, brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits for big companies, had also stopped working, they said.

When it started only 20 companies were certified, most of them big employers like Volvo or Ericsson, now there are 640 companies, with many others accessing the process through agents such as EY. 

In an interview with The Local’s Sweden in Focus podcast, Mindhammar’s predecessor, Mikael Ribbenvik, said that he had lobbied the government behind the scenes to task him with this, as it would allow him to carry out root and branch reform. 

“I said to the government, ‘if this is what you want, be clear and task us with promoting that [highly skilled] segment’, and they did, and I’m very happy about that,” he said.