For members


What’s the reaction to Swedish government’s work permit proposals?

Swedish agencies and associations, including trade unions and the Migration Agency, have weighed in on government proposals to overhaul the work permit system.

What's the reaction to Swedish government's work permit proposals?
Organisations representing workers, employers and government agencies have responded to Sweden's work permit proposals. File photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/

Sweden’s rules about labour migration are currently under review, and the government hopes to update legislation at the start of next year. 

In February, the government presented its own proposals on how it wants to tighten the rules, which several relevant agencies and organisations have now responded to as part of the “consultation” phase bills must go through before they can become law.

The government’s report proposed making it compulsory for work permit holders who want to bring their family to Sweden to prove that they can financially support them – what is usually referred to as the “maintenance requirement”.

It also suggests introducing a talent visa, which would allow foreigners with a postgraduate degree to get a nine-month visa to come to Sweden and look for work – rather than finding a job and applying from abroad.

And it addressed ways to crack down on dishonest employers who don’t live up to what the work permit holder was promised when they agreed to come to Sweden. To do this, the government proposed that Sweden’s Migration Agency should carry out checks of the terms of employment for employers of work permit holders.

Employers would be obligated to report any deterioration in these terms, and would be subject to a fine or even imprisonment if they failed to report these changes. As an alternative, the report suggested that the system could instead require an employment contract in order to have a work permit application granted.

File photo: Maskot/Folio/

The latter option, requiring a contract, was preferred by the police and trade union LO.

“A system where the employment contract is already attached to the application […] could strengthen the employee’s position by making it easier for them to assess the terms of employment,” the police wrote in their response, referring to a separate government report on organised crime which found that foreign workers are often forced to work for lower salaries and poorer conditions than those first advertised.

“From a crime prevention and law enforcement perspective, it is important that such incidents are prevented and made more difficult,” said the response, which also noted that the proposed increased maintenance requirement for bringing over family members could help prevent these family members from being exploited. 

The Work Environment Authority noted that there was a potential conflict of interest in requiring employers to proactively notify the Migration Agency if employment conditions deteriorated compared to the original offer. Its statement said: “This is unlikely to happen even if there is an obligation to notify [the agency of worsened conditions] combined with a fine” and recommended that the government review the Migration Agency’s duties, and consider if further resources were needed to carry out effective checks.

But the Migration Agency itself advised against requiring an employment contract, saying that this would be complicated to enforce, and also pointed out that there is already a system allowing for follow-ups. The agency requested “an analysis of whether the current system could achieve the same purposes if used to a greater extent”.

The agency also said it would need more clarification on how to make assessments in order to ensure that, as the government proposes, permits are not revoked in cases that are “minor or for other reasons unreasonable”.

Also critical of the requirements for a binding employment contract were the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries (Teknikföretagen) and the Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF).

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise said in its response that the employment contract should not be binding. Instead, it agreed with the idea that fraud could be counteracted by requiring employers to report on work permit holders’ employment conditions – but said a prison sentence was too harsh a sentence for a missed or delayed report.

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise said that the talent visa should differentiate between people moving to Sweden to job-hunt or start a business, saying that educational requirements should be lower for the latter. It also called for “a more appropriate regulatory framework” for people moving to start up businesses.

Labour union TCO said that the government should carry out further analysis in order to reduce the unnecessary deportations of foreign workers. It warned against using a 2017 judgment from the Migration Court of Appeal as the basis for legislation, arguing that this does not give enough clarity.

It also pointed out that requiring a high level of education as the main basis for getting a job-seeker’s visa could have undesirable effects including highly-skilled foreign workers forced to take jobs that don’t match their qualifications.

And it argued that at the moment, foreign workers’ job conditions often change after being granted their permits, and it said that the government should introduce more checks to make sure employers comply with a requirement to report any changes.

Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/

Some of the agencies consulted said they did not have any comments, including the Tax Agency, Discrimination Ombudsman and Labour Court for example, while others such as the Swedish Agency for Government Employers commented only to say that they approved of the proposals.

The government’s proposals may now be edited based on the responses during the consultation period, and the next stage is to put them to a parliamentary vote. 

Justice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson has previously said the aim is for the changes to come into effect as soon as possible and that the proposed date for that to happen is January 1st, 2022.

Why does Sweden need new labour laws?

Back in the early 2000s, Sweden had a lot of restrictions around labour migration, with strict quotas for different professions based on government assessments of where the labour shortages were. These were relaxed significantly in 2008 under the centre-right government at the time which worked with the Green Party on a new labour migration law.

After that, the rule was that anyone from outside the EU could move to Sweden for work if they could find an employer there, meaning in theory that foreign workers could move for the jobs where they were needed, rather than having to follow the quota system.

In practice, the system led to increased exploitation. Checks were rarely carried out on employers to make sure they were offering workers decent conditions, so in 2014 the system was tightened up. The Migration Agency gained the power to check that foreign workers’ pay and conditions were in line with Swedish industry norms and the initial contract, and it was able to revoke permits where that wasn’t the case. 

This change had its own unintended consequences.

As well as catching cases in which workers were being exploited, the rigidity of the law meant that even workers who were being treated well could be ordered to leave the country if their employer had made a small mistake in their paperwork. Not only were individuals put in a difficult position, being uprooted from Sweden after building a life there, but employers complained the system made it hard to attract and retain skilled workers.

A landmark appeals court ruling in late 2017 meant that decisions should be based on an overall assessment, which has led to a reduction in the number of rejected work permits, but some foreign workers still fall through the gaps.

Member comments

  1. Does the new legislation address policies of punishing/deporting workers who are not responsible for the actions of their employers? I’ve read of foreigners holding work permits who end up being deported when – after 2 years of living & working in Sweden – they discover that they’re not eligible for a 2nd permit because *their employer* – UNBEKNOWNST TO THEM – failed to remove a retirement fund deduction, or something like that from their paycheck. Whether it’s an honest mistake or not, it makes no sense to me that it is not the employer who shoulders the responsibility for this. The consequences should be theirs, not the migrants. If this point isn’t addressed in the new legislation, it’s incomplete and inviting cruel and unjust results.

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For members


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.