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Want permanent residence? Learn Swedish first, new report proposes

Permanent residence permits should only be granted to foreigners who can show they are able to meet certain requirements regarding Swedish skills and civics knowledge, a new report suggests.

Want permanent residence? Learn Swedish first, new report proposes
The proposal is part of a major new report on Swedish migration laws. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The proposal is part of a major report by a parliamentary Migration Committee, which was set up last year to suggest new migration laws that would replace a temporary law which is due to expire next summer.

It is important to note that the fact that it has been proposed does not mean that it will automatically make it into Swedish law, or even to the next step of the legislative process. There are several hurdles along the way, not least the fact that Sweden's centre-left coalition government is split on many of the report's proposals.

But as Sweden is one of the few countries that does not even require language tests for citizenship applicants, it would be a major change to the lives of many foreign residents in Sweden, so we'll explain what it means.

The Migration Committee's full report, which is more than 600 pages and contains a series of other proposals, including temporary permits for asylum seekers and new family maintenance exceptions, which you can read about here. It explains the new proposals for permanent residence permits as follows:

“The Committee proposes that permanent residence permits should only be granted to aliens who meet the requirements of Swedish-language skills and civic knowledge, who can support themselves, and where there is no doubt, with regard to the alien's expected way of life, that a permanent residence permit should be granted.

“A permanent residence permit should also be conditional on the alien having held a temporary Swedish residence permit for at least three years.”

Would there be exceptions?

Yes. Children and people who are entitled to receive a national pension or guarantee pension should be exempted from the requirements regarding language skills, civic knowledge and maintenance, according to the committee's report.

It should also be possible to exempt others if there are “exceptional grounds” for doing so.

The committee also proposes that it should be possible for the applicant to appeal a decision not to grant a permanent residence permit.

How would language skills be tested?

The report does not go into depth into how a foreigner's language skills would be assessed, but suggests that organising tests may be too demanding on resources and that an alternative option could be to link it to the applicant passing a Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) level C course.

But the matter is deliberately left open-ended.

A separate ongoing government inquiry into introducing language and civic tests for citizenship applicants is set to present its report later this year and next year, so the Migration Committee suggests awaiting that, and that the government or an expert authority should then come up with detailed requirements for how language skills could be assessed.

What happens next?

What would normally happen is that Sweden's government would prepare a bill on the back of the proposals, then send it out for a consultation round, and then put it to parliament for a vote.

However, Sweden is ruled by a Social Democrat-Green centre-left coalition government, who disagree on most of the proposals. The Social Democrats back them all, but the Greens only a few, arguing that the majority of them are too strict, including the language requirement. Bridging that gap in order to put forward a legislative proposal will prove difficult for the government.

But they are pressed for time. Sweden's current temporary law is set to expire on July 19th, 2021. Unless parliament manages to agree on a new law to replace it, Sweden will return to the more generous laws that were in place before 2016, which the Social Democrats have said they do not want.

The Migration Committee's report is split into several proposals, so one potential scenario could be that the government only moves forward with some of the proposals for now. Since language requirements would be a completely new measure, it is less time-sensitive than some of the other proposals, and the government will likely choose to await the outcome of the separate inquiry into language and civic tests for would-be citizens.

What do you think about the proposals? We want to know what our readers think so that we can fight your corner in Sweden. Vote below or email [email protected] to share your thoughts with our editorial team.

Should Swedish skills be a requirement for permanent residence?

Member comments

  1. I’m curious to know if the authors of this proposed legislation have made public statement about what specific problems they wish to solve by enacting a language requirement. I’m concerned by some of the phrasing quoted in the article. For example, about the ability of migrants to “support themselves.” I read an interesting article about a student at Uppsala University who was about to graduate and, thus, sent out many resumes for jobs his skills and experience qualified him for. He heard nothing back. He then changed the surname on his resume to something “Swedish” sounding and sent out many more resume’s ~ some of them to the same employers he’d already applied to. He received calls back. So, I’m wondering, how the ability to support oneself should be measured: if a person is qualified and applying for work but not being called to interview because of racism/xenophobia/jingoism, how will that be evaluated? I do hope the legislators clarify what “the alien’s expected way of life” is supposed to mean as the meaning is inscrutable as written. So, my concerns aren’t about whether there is a language test or not; I worry that the primary motivation around the proposed requirements is mostly just racism. I’m worried that something potentially legitimate, like a language test, is just being used as a bludgeon to harm an already vulnerable demographic, forcing them deeper into a role of kicking post/scape goat for Swedens lower common denominators.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘I’m still searching for the feeling of home’: Life as a trailing spouse in Sweden

Following your partner to Sweden can open new doors and experiences you've never even imagined, as well as leaving you feeling lost, lonely and jobless, The Local's readers told us when we asked them to share their reflections on life as a 'trailing spouse'.

'I'm still searching for the feeling of home': Life as a trailing spouse in Sweden

Before we delve into the challenges, it’s worth noting that out of 38 respondents, only four were unhappy to have moved to Sweden, whereas 18 described themselves as happy with their choice and 16 said they were not sure. In other words, people still generally held overall positive views or were conflicted between the ups and downs of moving to Sweden as an accompanying partner.

Career struggles and difficulties breaking into Swedish society were some of the main things readers mentioned.

“It’s been a real challenge. My husband is totally fulfilled and loving life here, but after three years, I’m still jobless,” said Meg Messmer, a film and TV writer and producer.

“I have a few friends and have hit the ground trying to network. But Swedes aren’t welcoming. I’m not saying they’re not nice, because they are, when you engage them. But becoming a part of their community and network is like approaching a 200-year-old stone wall with a stepping stool. You just can’t break in,” she said.

“Luckily, as a mom in Malmö, I have lots of international parent friends that can relate, so at least I feel heard and can laugh. I enjoy the perks of the Swedish life balance having moved from the hustle of America, but I’m still searching for fulfilment and the feeling of ‘home’.”

An Australian reader in southern Sweden said she and her husband had decided to return home.

“When we arrived my husband had a job, and there was a promise of one for me, which never eventuated, so we had to reassess our plans,” she said, adding that she was grateful for having had the opportunity to live abroad and use the free time to pursue other activities.

A Jamaican reader with significant IT experience said that although he wanted to be supportive of his partner’s career in Sweden, he had found it challenging not to have employment of his own.

“I find also that the salaries are less than in other jurisdictions, but the social services easier to access and afford. I’m worried about us actually being able to sustain our vision of a future here. This is sad because I’d love to live here – it’s a beautiful country,” he said.

Out of readers who did find a job, several said that their career progression had been set back several years, that they had been forced to accept a more junior position or even change their career.

“To be blunt, it can be really fucking hard,” said Thomas Walmsley, a British freelance e-learning script writer and copywriter in Stockholm.

“I’ve been here 11 years and am the father to a two-year-old son, so I’m not going anywhere soon. On the one hand it is easy being a trailing spouse, I have not worked that much and have been able to enjoy the legal benefits of living in Stockholm. However, despite more than average free time and an outgoing personality, making friends has been frankly awful and earning respect for my work and role has been similar,” he said, but he like a lot of other readers was conflicted between the positives and negatives of life in Sweden.

“There have been many benefits to living here that are close to unique in the world. Coming from the UK there are many things both statutory and cultural that are simply superior to the UK. However, there are a number of intangible things that are much worse.”

A lot of readers spoke of an invisible glass ceiling for foreigners.

Gabrielle, a Spanish-American reader in Umeå, left a well paid job with high potential to move to the northern Swedish city. She said her husband’s employer helped her get her career and networking off the ground, but still feels like her career took a hit and although she’s working roughly in the same field six years later, she’s finding it hard to break into more senior roles.

“But I am one of the lucky ones – I have permanent employment, I can be flexible which is great for spending time with my kids. Ask me again in another six years and see if the answer changes. I either will accept my role or find a way to break through the leadership ceiling in Sweden,” she said, adding that family life was the best thing about the move, which she said was right for her children.

Another thing that bothered readers was the gap between their partner’s career and their own, and having to depend on another person. This further added to people’s struggles to find community, as their working partner was often faster to make friends and contacts at work.

“On one hand I am happy that my husband is happy in his job, but on the other, I end up being a ‘dependent’. I keep myself busy attending my SFI classes, household work, looking after children but desperately applying for jobs too. But I am not sure where the applications are going. They are simply not answered. I would love to have an interview, to speak with a person from my industry and give me feedback on what I can do differently here. I constantly meet people at forums, network, but so far no luck,” said Rohini from India.

“Sweden is great. The schools are excellent, the support system the teachers give to us parents while we study is outstanding,” she added. “It’s just that landing a job is extremely challenging here. I had a respectable job in my country, and a work experience of more than 10 years in international organisations, but when I am not even shortlisted let alone being interviewed or hired, it gets more depressing by the day.”

Not knowing Swedish turned out to be a bigger barrier than most people expected.

“We moved here almost five years ago for my husband’s job, with our young son. I had a successful career in the UK and assumed after a few months settling in, I would find work. Everyone said I wouldn’t need Swedish. Having native English would be enough for most roles. That’s not what I have found,” said Rebecca in Gothenburg, whose career development was further delayed by the Covid pandemic and being pregnant with her second child.

“But my youngest son is now three-and-a-half and I’m still struggling. I had over 15 years’ experience and an impressive CV, but here that hasn’t even got me an interview 99 percent of the time,” she said. “I’m currently volunteering and working an internship which can sometimes feel demoralising when I was once so much more successful.”

Rebecca like many other readers who responded to the survey was however also keen to stress the positives of living in Sweden, and she said there were “so many plus points being here”.

“We have made a lot of friends, both Swedish and international. That side I haven’t found as difficult as people say it can be. Perhaps it’s the area we live in, or perhaps the age of our kids, but friendships have been easy for us, as has a sense of community. Overall a positive experience. If only I could get paid work,” she said.

Sindija Svintecka from Latvia, also believes that the pros outweighs the cons on the whole.

“You can’t get a normal job if you don’t speak Swedish. I was very upset and disappointed. I graduated from university, I speak four languages, I have hotel and restaurant manager work experience and all I could get in Sweden was a cleaning job,” she said.

But she added that she had since learned Swedish with the help of supportive teachers: “Education is free in Sweden and that is amazing! You can be whoever you want to be and it doesn’t matter if you need to start your life from zero at the age of 40. If there is a will, there is a way.”

One common unspoken theme, which nobody explicitly addressed in exactly that many words, was that although a lot of readers found the job market extremely challenging, those who had managed to find community in some way – be it friends or assistance from their partner’s company – seemed more comfortable taking on that challenge and were generally happier with their life in Sweden on the whole.

“Not speaking Swedish on my arrival and people in Norrland being a bit shy to speak English made it a bit hard to find a community,” said Raphaël from Switzerland, who moved to northern Sweden in 2018 after his partner found a job with a governmental agency. But putting his sporty side to good use by joining several sports clubs helped him both develop his Swedish and find friends.

“It being summer helped to appreciate the place: lots of water, forests, long sunny days. It took me some time to settle and call Sweden home, despite buying a house quite rapidly after moving. Looking back, it was time-consuming to go through all the administrative paperwork, visiting agencies upon agencies and waiting a long time to get an ID card or personnummer,” he said.

Taylor Hynes from the US said that the Swedish lifestyle had offered her perks that she would never have experienced back home.

“In many ways, being a ‘trailing spouse’ has been a delight. Though I had never visited Sweden before moving, Stockholm is a wonderful and beautiful city. A part of me has felt that I was brought along for a vacation in some ways. We both met community quite early on into being here so there hasn’t been much of an imbalance with community based on who has a job. It’s also nice that I have healthcare while I look for work,” she said, but she too was concerned that the tough labour market would ultimately force her and her partner to leave.

“It’s been much harder to find a job than I expected. I would say I’m mid-level in my career, which was hazard mitigation research and project management work in the US. I didn’t realise that every job that meets my experience would require knowing Swedish, which does make sense. I’m a little worried that if I can’t find something soon, we may have to move on.”

Finding community was for many not just based on having friends, but also the feeling that someone in Sweden had their back, looked out for them and was willing to help if needed.

“I am very happy that I moved to Sweden. I like the culture, the mentality, the climate and the Swedish approach to recycling. I admire many things that have been and are being created in Sweden. After a year and a half, I feel at home here despite the difficulties,” said Darya in Malmö, despite falling into burnout and despair after struggling to find a job, before she landed a freelance contract thanks to networking.

“Returning from other countries, I am glad to be in Sweden – I feel calm and safe here. Friends I have made here have greatly helped me feel at ease. I have a small diaspora here, and they have become my bridge to Sweden. I don’t know if I could feel this way without them in my life. A community is incredibly important for those who have moved to a new country.”

Rajeev, an Indian reader in Helsingborg, who was still looking for a job but enjoyed his life nonetheless, said: “It’s always wonderful to migrate to a new country. And Sweden has a lot of opportunities too. When my wife got a job in her field I left my job in India without a thought to settle my family down in Sweden, and after eight months of being here I don’t regret the decision.”

“Yes, finding a job is a bit cumbersome, but learning the language here and getting to know some people and more importantly mingling and getting to know the culture has been the best.”

Many thanks to everyone who responded to our survey. Would you like to share your own thoughts? Join in the comments below.

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