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IMMIGRATION

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/imagebank.sweden.se

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/imagebank.sweden.se

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/imagebank.sweden.se

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

WORK PERMITS

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. 

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