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Sweden’s migration rules tightened as new law comes into force

Sweden's new migration legislation comes into effect on July 20th, replacing temporary legislation introduced five years ago.

Sweden's migration rules tightened as new law comes into force
Sweden's migration laws change on July 20th, 2021. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

The bill, which was put forward by the Social Democrat-Green government in late April, was approved by the Swedish parliament last month.

The background is that a new set of laws was needed to replace temporary legislation which was introduced in 2016 to bring down the unprecedented number of asylum requests at the time.

One part of the new law, for example, makes residence permits for refugees time-limited as a rule of thumb rather than permanent. Since the temporary law was introduced temporary permits have been the norm in Sweden, but before that permanent permits were the default since 1984. It also brings in exceptions from family maintenance requirements for Swedish and EU/EEA citizens who wish to bring their partner to Sweden.

No transitional legislation has been introduced for the initial period, so if you have not received a decision on your application for permanent residency before today, it will be judged based on the new laws regardless of when you submitted it, according to the Migration Agency.

A requirement for Swedish language skills in order to receive a permanent residence permit was floated as part of the legislative work on the migration bill, but this hasn’t made it into law. The original proposal states that these should be introduced at some point, but they are not yet an official requirement, so it is unclear how these skills will be tested and measured, or when (and if) they will actually come into effect. 

Initially, the plan was to pass a law that had a broader political consensus behind it.

A Migration Committee was set up with representatives from each party and a mandate to come up with ideas for a “humane, legally certain and effective” migration policy to replace the temporary laws introduced in 2016. 

But the talks were fraught, with immigration a core issue for most of the parties and widely disparate views on the best way forward. So the proposals brought forward by the committee were less extensive than expected; after cross-party talks broke down, the final report was made up of more than 20 proposals rather than a comprehensive policy, each one supported by a different combination of parties. 

The junior government coalition partner, the Green Party, was not happy with many of the proposals, in particular a proposed cap on the number of asylum seekers who can enter Sweden each year.

So the government put forward a new bill, based on the committee’s suggestions but with some notable differences, including no cap on asylum seeker numbers. The Green Party also pushed through rules that mean that people who are not eligible for asylum may in some cases be allowed to stay in Sweden on compassionate grounds.

The law will now apply from July 20th, 2021, onwards.

Member comments

  1. The radical 4-percent Green Party manages yet again to put a spanner in the works of important legislation. Both Emma and Catherine said the other day in the podcast that this new legislation is in parts difficult to understand. But the confusion is probably deliberate because Morgan Johansson is the minister behind it, and Johansson is a master at doing and saying nothing while trying to give the impression that he’s fully in control. Plus the inevitable manoeuvering to appease the Green Part once again. It’s no mistake at all that this new migration law is unclear and incomplete. All that it has done is to buy the Government more time and keep lawyers busy trying to decipher how the legislative text should be interpreted.

  2. Seems like a generally reasonable and fair step in the right direction, although the law should be clear and firm to be effective. Maybe it is a bit to wishy-washy, but I guess only time will tell.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Racism doesn’t get much more obvious than Sweden’s refugee bias

When you look at Sweden's reception of Ukrainian refugees, it's clear that what was good enough for poor Muslims from Syria, is not considered good enough for white Christians from Ukraine, notes Stockholm University Professor Christian Christensen.

OPINION: Racism doesn't get much more obvious than Sweden's refugee bias

As thousands of Ukrainian refugees began to arrive in Sweden following the invasion by Russia, the headline of a recent opinion piece by the leader of Sweden’s far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrat party spoke volumes: ‘There is a Difference Between Refugees and “Refugees”’

For Åkesson and his nationalist supporters, Ukrainian refugees are “real” refugees. They are from ”a Christian country with a culture that is more closely related” to that of Sweden, while refugees who escaped Syria and Afghanistan were framed as being made up of millions of backward, poorly-educated “professional migrants” (his term) devoid of European values and sensibilities.

With this backdrop, recent comments posted on Twitter by a municipal council member in Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, provided a disturbing insight into how politicians, not only the far-right but on all sides of the political spectrum, use different sets of standards when considering Ukrainian and Syrian refugees. And how the vision of refugees held by the Swedish far-right has bled into the Swedish political mainstream.

On May 5, Daniel Bernmar, the group leader for the opposition Left Party in the Gothenburg municipal council, sent a series of tweets in which he detailed how fellow council members expressed dismay over the poor services and paltry benefits available to refugees arriving from Ukraine. While on the surface an egalitarian position, the irony, Bernmar pointed out, was that the levels of financial support and services about which they were complaining were set by the very same group of politicians…when the arriving refugees were predominantly Syrian.

In other words, what the local politicians considered to be acceptable support for Syrians was now considered unacceptable support for Ukrainians.

Bernmar detailed a number of the specific concerns expressed by his colleagues.

Members of anti-immigration Sweden Democrats complained that the small amount of spending money given to Ukrainian refugees meant that they could not even afford to take local buses. Why, they asked, had the policy of allowing refugees to ride for free been scrapped? Others asked how without access to public transport Ukrainian refugees could be expected to take their children to school or look for work? And, in perhaps the most Swedish of issues, municipal councilors expressed concern that Ukrainian parents could not send children under the age of three to state-subsidized daycare.

Bernmar noted that he had “never before heard these parties or people address the unacceptable social or economic situation for refugees.” He then addressed the elephant in the room. The dismay expressed by colleagues over conditions facing refugees – conditions the same politicians approved when refugees were Syrian – was unsurprising, he wrote, given that they, “did not previously apply to white, Christian Europeans.”

These revelations should come as no surprise. While seemingly at odds with Sweden’s reputation for openness and egalitarianism, the fact is that political parties at both ends of the Swedish political spectrum have adopted increasingly aggressive anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Yet, when structural discrimination is presented in such a transparent fashion, it is still jarring.

At the most fundamental level, the case demonstrates how perceptions of the value of human life and human dignity are shaped by ethnicity, religion, and nationality. What was good enough for poor Muslims from Syria just isn’t good enough for white, European Christians. Racism and ethnocentrism don’t come much clearer than that.

But this revelation cuts even deeper and wider. And it applies to nations beyond Sweden’s borders, where immigrants and refugees struggle to construct new futures. What is evident from the comments made by the local politicians in Gothenburg is that they are fully aware of the impact of their policies on the everyday lives of refugees, how the ability to participate in the workforce, for example, is dependent upon basics such as transportation and childcare. That “integration” isn’t just a question of some mythological will, but of available material resources.

To remember that with Ukrainians, but forget it with Syrians, is cynicism of the highest order. It is to amplify the smear that there is a difference between refugees and “refugees.”

Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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