Swedish parliament says no to residency exemptions for doctoral students

A parliamentary majority has voted no to allowing exemptions for international researchers who want to stay in Sweden permanently after their doctoral studies.

Swedish parliament says no to residency exemptions for doctoral students
Sweden's new migration act affects the rules for doctoral students who want to stay in the country after their studies. Photo: Veronica Johansson/SvD/TT

As The Local was among the first Swedish news sites to report, as of July 20th doctoral students who want to apply for permanent residency in Sweden have to show that they can support themselves for 18 months – a rule change that effectively reverses a 2014 decision which made them eligible for permanent residency more or less automatically after four years of living in Sweden with a permit for doctoral studies.

The new rules – which came into force as Sweden sought to tighten its migration legislation in general – affect everyone who has applied for permanent residency and had not received a decision by July 20th, even though the rules where different at the time of their application.

Representatives of the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers – Doctoral Candidates Association argued in an opinion piece for The Local at the time that the new rule “hampers Sweden’s research and development attractiveness and impedes the scientific excellence brought by international talents to the country”.

Several doctoral students told The Local that they believed the requirement to support yourself for 18 months from the time the application is reviewed by the Migration Agency would put their future in Sweden at risk. Many highlighted the difficulties of finding a job while finishing PhD research, and pointed out that in academia, many contracts are fixed-term and only awarded and renewed on an annual basis.

The Liberal Party attempted to raise the issue on the Swedish parliament’s committee on social insurances, but the party’s proposal to reintroduce exemptions was voted down on Thursday by the centre-left government and the conservative opposition, reports Swedish news agency TT. It writes that the Centre Party and the Left Party backed the proposal, which was not enough for a parliamentary majority.

“We very much support Sweden being an advanced research nation near or at the absolute top of the world. We won’t be able to do that if we don’t also welcome international researchers from outside the EU and provide opportunities for research careers at our Swedish universities, not only that they can come here for a short period,” Maria Nilsson, Liberal spokesperson on higher education, told TT.

Social Democrat Justice Minister Morgan Johansson’s press secretary referred to his previous statements when approached by TT: “Researchers and doctoral students must meet the requirements for a permanent residence permit, just like everyone else who is covered by the rules. If you want a doctoral student to be able to get a permanent residence permit, you have to hire him or her for 18 months from now on.”

When The Local asked the Swedish justice ministry for a comment when we first reported on the issue back in August, a spokesperson argued that the new rules struck “a reasonable balance which contributes to Sweden having sustainable legislation in the long term which does not differ significantly from other EU countries”.

Member comments

  1. Lol, they will reverse this again in 5 years time. Mark my words. There is not nearly enough homegrown talent to keep Sweden afloat.

    1. So, having a Ph.D that doesn’t get you a job no longer counts for much from an immigration perspective. And reverse this or not in five years – it is a big step towards managed, skills based immigration.

      With this, I’m wondering if readers of this paper will start looking elsewhere after their studies? Canada for example, is rather open. Happy to discuss this with anyone who is interested, and to provide some tips.

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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.