At the end of 2020 Sweden introduced a new immigration status (uppehållsstatus) and protections for cross-border workers to protect Brits who would otherwise be left without rights when the transition year ended. The deadline for applications for uppehållsstatus is looming (September 30th) and it’s worth asking how well the programme has been working. The report card is mixed.
Anecdotally from the Brits in Sweden Facebook community, the vast majority of applications are being approved. However, Migration Agency case workers sometimes make what are felt to be unreasonable demands. Furthermore, though the average waiting time is two to three months there are often far longer delays. Also, while most are clued up on the need to apply, a few aren’t and they are often those Brits who’ve been here the longest.
Anecdotes about Sweden’s protections have a value but give an incomplete picture and should ideally be matched with quantitative data. Regrettably, even at this late stage in the application window, there is little relevant data published by the Migration Agency. The explanation given for not including uppehållsstatus in the Migration Agency’s regularly updated statistical overview of applications is that uppehållsstatus is new. However, the application period for uppehållsstatus is short (10 months) and will soon end. The absence of detailed published data makes scrutiny difficult. Furthermore, the data that are public raise concerns.
When uppehållsstatus is discussed in the media, the headline figures tend to be the number of applications and the number of citizens who need uppehållsstatus to retain their rights on October 1st. The official target is for 17,000 applications and the data show that around 10,000 applications have so far been made. However, the target is known to be an overestimate due to many Brits recently becoming Swedish citizens.
Furthermore, there are many Brits who weren’t included in the 17,000 estimate as they had secure residence but who will have applied anyway to retain enhanced family unification rights. In other words the difference between the official target and the number of applications is not a particularly useful proxy for determining how many need to apply. The absence of any serious public assessment on the number of unprotected Brits is worrying especially in view of the impending deadline. If that number is large Sweden should consider extending the deadline, as was done in France and the Netherlands.
Maybe we shouldn’t worry about those who don’t apply in time. I’ve often seen it remarked that they would only have themselves to blame. However, this ignores the many vulnerable people who aren’t web-savvy. As for those who arguably should have known and acted, the referendum was five years ago and life (and residence rights) have carried on as normal. It is easy for someone who doesn’t follow the news and is without British friends in Sweden to not know about the need to apply. Furthermore, cross-border travel has been massively suppressed due to Covid-19 so there wouldn’t even be a trigger at passport control.
The Withdrawal Agreement recognises that we are all fallible and places a legal responsibility on the host state to reach out to the community to inform them about uppehållsstatus. Brits in Denmark and the Netherlands have received letters from the government telling them to apply. Sweden’s outreach effort is perceived to be weak in comparison.
Furthermore, Sweden has given no substantive explanation on how Brits without rights on October 1st will be treated. According to the Withdrawal Agreement, anyone who can supply a good reason for not applying on time can be considered. However, Sweden needs to define what they regard as good reasons. In addition, social benefits and the right to work are linked to having a legal residence status. Will Brits who don’t apply find themselves effectively falling off a cliff-edge on October 1st?
When it comes to outcomes of those applications that have been made, the Joint Committee which oversees the implementation of the common Withdrawal Agreement residence protections in the UK and the EU reports that 8.5 percent of applications for work/residence protections in Sweden did not lead to a permit being given. This is higher than reported for states which host British populations which may be expected to have similar demographic profiles as that in Sweden, such as the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark. In those countries, only 1-3 percent of applications didn’t lead to a status.
The equivalent figure for the UK’s Settled Status programme is 4.9 percent though this also includes rejected applications from EU nationals who are dual UK-EU citizens (and thus have residence security) but who can’t hold the Settled Status immigration title.
There are certainly possible reasons for such a large difference in outcomes between Sweden and other countries which are not alarming. For example, Sweden has comparatively generous citizenship rules which thousands of Brits have used as a Brexit lifeboat. This skews the data such that applications in Sweden are dominantly (though not exclusively) made by Brits who arrived in the past five years.
However, the Netherlands and Finland also publish the proportion of applications that didn’t lead to a residence status from Brits who typically moved to those states in the past five years. These data also seem to be at around the 2-3 percent level.
Another factor that may explain the difference is data definition. Sweden may include repeated applications or applications for cross-border residence permits in its figures which may be omitted in other countries. There may also be differences in the breakdown of reasons why applications weren’t granted (i.e. formally refused, withdrawn/invalid or incomplete). The question of whether the Brit in Sweden is treated fairly (or unfairly) compared to other Brits in the EU (or EU citizens in the UK) is a basic one to which, unfortunately, a firm answer can’t be given, despite the data raising concerns.
If comparisons between countries on application rejections are tricky, they can be made between different groups of Brits in Sweden applying for uppehållsstatus. The Migration Agency supplied on request data related to applications made up to the end of July. Outcomes for different applicant categories, eg employee, self-sufficient and student can thus be studied.
Around 10 percent of applications made under the student category didn’t lead to a status being granted. This rises to 14 percent for self-sufficient applicants, which may be related to a demand by the Migration Agency for some self-sufficient applicants to show up to five years’ worth of funding. This demand seems both odd and excessive given that a Brit can change category from eg self-sufficient to worker at any point. Furthermore, EU citizens in Sweden whose residence rights are nominally governed by the same rules as Brits under the Withdrawal Agreement do not face such a demand.
Another worrying statistic concerns applications for a cross-border worker certificate to allow a Brit who lives elsewhere but who worked in Sweden in 2020 to continue to do so. Around 50 percent of these applications failed. Limited anecdotal evidence suggests Sweden is not taking into account Covid-related difficulties in cross-border working during 2020. There can be other explanations such as posted workers from the UK applying even though they are not eligible. However, the data require an explanation.
One should spare a thought for those who have applied but are waiting for a decision. The average time to a decision is around 2.5 months according to a poll in Brits in Sweden. However, the distribution of waiting times has very large tails. Anyone who worries that they still don’t have a decision after applying in December when the scheme started should be aware that they’re not alone. The Migration Agency states that there were 162 such people living in limbo at the end of July.
As mentioned at the start of this piece, the report card is mixed. On one hand, the majority of Brits are empirically sailing through. On the other hand, despite applying as soon as the application window opened, some Brits are still waiting for a decision. Furthermore, a demand from the Migration Agency on self-supporting Brits and data on application outcomes raises concerns. Worryingly there may be thousands who will even miss out on applying by the deadline with little information on how they will be treated.
Going forward in the limited time left, it is essential that Sweden steps up its outreach efforts and makes public plans for dealing with late applications and applicants. If the number of unprotected Brits is large, Sweden should consider extending the deadline. Furthermore, comprehensive data on applications and outcomes need to be published, ideally with an analysis of why some applications fail. Finally, it may be worth the Migration Agency prioritising applications from those who have waited the longest for a decision.