Swedish income insurance: how does it work and do you need it?

You may have arrived in Sweden with a fair idea of its strong social support systems. But what do you know about its a-kassas?

Swedish income insurance: how does it work and do you need it?
Photos: Anna Wright, Akademikernas a-kassa/Getty Images

A-kassas (short for arbetslöshetskassa) are unemployment funds that pay income-related insurance benefits. It's a topic well worth taking the time to understand amid the coronavirus pandemic – especially with more generous temporary rules currently in place (more on this below).

We invited readers of The Local to send in questions for Anna Wright, of Akademikernas a-kassa, Sweden’s biggest income insurance provider for university graduates. Here, she explains the key things you need to know and responds to questions you sent us on Facebook and via email. 

Find out more about securing your income by joining Akademikernas a-kassa

Q: What’s the difference between an a-kassa and a union (fackförening or just ‘fack’ in Swedish)? Can you join an a-kassa even if you’re not a member of a union?

Anna Wright: It’s not a requirement to be a member of both a union and unemployment insurance fund (a-kassa), but we always recommend you join both. Here’s the difference:

  • You can get money from an a-kassa if you become unemployed.

  • From a union, you can get negotiating help, salary statistics, advice on employment law, a review of your CV or LinkedIn profile and more.

If you’re a member of both, you can also get income insurance that covers up to 80 percent of your entire salary if you lose your job. The benefit from the income insurance is paid by the trade union – but it’s always based on our decision on unemployment benefit (which we pay). 

Q: Is it mandatory to be a member of a union and an a-kassa to be able to get 80% of your salary in case of unemployment?

AW: It depends on how much you earn. In 2020, you can receive up to 80 percent of 33,000 Swedish kronor from the unemployment insurance fund. We always recommend that you join a union for the reasons above.

Q: What do I need to know about the temporary rules on unemployment benefit introduced in 2020 due to coronavirus?

AW: A number of temporary changes were agreed by the Swedish Government and supporting parties earlier this year in response to the economic impact of the pandemic. The key changes are: 

  • Increased maximum benefit: the highest benefit level is 80 percent of your income up to 33,000 kronor per month and the maximum benefit per day is now 1,200 kronor before tax for the first 100 days of unemployment.

  • No waiting period: unemployment benefit will be paid out from the first day of unemployment, rather than after a six-day waiting period.

  • Shortened membership requirement: you could qualify for up to 80 percent of your salary after being a member for just three months from March to December 2020 (compared with 12 months if you applied before April 13th 2020)

These rules are due to expire after January 3rd 2021. A potential extension to the higher compensation levels beyond this date is being discussed. But the rest will go back to 'normal' with the qualifying period reintroduced, meaning you will then need to have been a member for 12 months to receive compensation based on your salary. You can find full details here

Q: I’m self-employed. Why join an akassa?

AW: Many university graduates choose to go their own way and start a business. But there's always a risk that your company will not be profitable. If you then end up needing to claim unemployment insurance, what you receive will be based on your higher earnings – whether that was as an employee or as an entrepreneur. This applies so long as you become unemployed within 24 months of finishing as an employee – otherwise, we will base the benefits on the period in which you had your own business.In Sweden, it's actually almost 50 years since the self-employed were given the right to join an a-kassa! 

Secure your income now by joining Akademikernas a-kassa

Q: Can I become a member although I’m not working and I’m new to Sweden?

AW: You can join an a-kassa as soon as you start to work and pay tax in Sweden.

Photo: Getty Images

Q: Why is Akademikernas a-kassa’s fee changing to 140 kronor per month in October?

AW: The fee was adjusted to reflect the higher costs associated with offering a more generous daily allowance. This allowance was increased from 910 kronor to 1,200 kronor in March to mitigate the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for individuals and society. Benefits from a-kassas are financed by membership fees and employer contributions. And when 75 percent of our unemployed members get higher daily allowances, we need to contribute more to the government cost. 

We've had an exceptional year, with 40 percent more applications for benefits. We've also had around 50,000 new members join us and we've still been able to maintain our processing times for applications to join. 

Q: I live in Sweden and pay Swedish income tax but commute to London, where I start and end my flights as cabin crew for an airline. I’ll be furloughed in October and I’m wondering if I’m eligible to pay into an a-kassa?

AW: First of all, do you have a Swedish work permit – that is, are you able to work for a Swedish employer? Second, is your employer paying Swedish social security costs (arbetsgivaravgifter)? If the answer to both these questions is ‘yes’ you should be able to join a Swedish a-kassa and get unemployment benefits if your employment ends, provided you fulfil the normal requirements.

Q: Finally, one Facebook comment encouraged people to save money themselves instead of joining an a-kassa, which the reader claimed may not pay out when needed. Another reader quickly disagreed! So, what does the expert say? 

AW: We’re sorry you feel that way about the a-kassa system in Sweden. All the a-kassas have the same rules and if you fulfill the requirements you will get your benefits. If you become unemployed you can get up to 26,400 kronor before tax per month – and you’d have to save your membership fees for quite some time to get that amount of money.

Whether you're employed or an entrepreneur, find out more about protecting your income by joining Akademikernas a-kassa as a university graduate 



For members


How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website

How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 

How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 

Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 

What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years.