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IMMIGRATION

How Swedish parties want to tighten up labour migration

Sweden's work permit rules are expected to become a talking point ahead of the country's general election next year, with several political parties calling for stricter labour migration.

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New proposals would make it more difficult to get a work permit in Sweden. Photo: Berit Roald/NTB scanpix/TT

Although multiple parties want to adapt the current system, they have different ideas as to how best to do this.

The centre-left Social Democrats argue that the current system enables exploitation, illegal sale of work permits, unhealthy competition and provides opportunities for organised crime.

They are calling for a reintroduction of arbetsmarknadsprövning – a system scrapped in 2008 where prospective labour migrants wanting to work in Sweden will only have their work permits approved if they are filling a position where there is a national shortage. If this were approved, work permits would be dependent on unions, employers, and authorities confirming that they lack workers in the profession in question.

According to Social Democrat migration minister Morgan Johansson, reintroducing arbetsmarknadsprövning is the “only way” to clean up the system.

“It is unreasonable that we have immigration into positions where we don’t have a shortage, like restaurant workers and cleaners,” Johansson told Swedish news agency TT.

They also suggest introducing requirements stating that job offers for non-EU migrants must be full-time positions with collective bargaining agreements (kollektivavtal), a move which will be welcomed by LO, the Swedish Trade Union Federation, who have spoken out in favour of introducing these requirements previously.

The right-wing Moderates do not want to reintroduce arbetsmarknadsprövning or the requirements suggested by the Social Democrats, but suggest instead that there should be a lower salary limit of around 27,500 kronor per month, or around 85 percent of the average Swedish salary (32,000 kronor per month). Seasonal workers such as berry pickers would be exempt from this requirement.

The Christian Democrats want to raise this lower limit to 30,000 kronor. Both parties want to introduce a requirement that workers can financially support any family members who accompany them to Sweden, as well as banning labour migration for personal assistants.

Their argument is that low-salaried jobs should be filled by unemployed people already in Sweden, rather than by bringing in workers from abroad. They also believe that it will make it harder for people to abuse the system.

It is unlikely that any significant changes will be made to Sweden’s labour migration rules before the next election in September 2022.

What are Sweden’s current work permit rules?

Several things the parties are suggesting more or less exist in Sweden.

Current rules state that applicants must have a valid passport, terms of employment and a salary at least “on par” with the standard set by Swedish collective bargaining agreements, and a position which enables you to support yourself – the Swedish Migration Agency defines this as anything over 13,000 kronor per month, before taxes.

Employers must also provide health, life, employment and pension insurance for prospective employees. Further rules and exceptions apply for other professions and arrivals from other countries.

Sweden’s work permit rules are relatively generous in comparison to several of its neighbours, with Denmark stipulating that applicants must have a full-time job with a monthly salary equivalent to 50,000 Swedish kronor, or a job in a profession suffering from lack of workers, and Norway requiring that workers are highly educated, in full-time positions with a salary equivalent to at least 33,000 Swedish kronor per month.

Both Denmark and Norway require that work permit holders can financially support any accompanying family members.

However, the Swedish system has also been criticised for bureaucratic rigidity, with words such as kompetensutvisning (competence/talent/skills deportation) being coined in 2017 as a result of a confusing, complicated system difficult for foreign workers to navigate.

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For members

WORK PERMITS

What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Many foreigners living in Sweden need to have a residence permit to live in the country legally. Permits are issued for two years at a time and can be renewed 30 days before expiry, at the earliest. But with waiting times exceeding 8 months for many applicants, just what are your rights while you wait to hear back?

What are my rights while I wait for my Swedish residence permit to be extended?

Can I keep working in Sweden?

It depends. If you have a residence permit which allows you to work in Sweden, have held that residence permit for at least six months and apply for an extension before your old permit expires, you still have the right to work in Sweden while you wait for the Migration Agency to make a decision on your permit application.

You can apply for a new residence permit 30 days before your old permit expires, at the earliest, and you can’t get a new residence permit before your old one has run out.

Can I leave Sweden?

Technically you can, but it might not be a good idea. This is due to the fact that if you leave Sweden after your residence permit has expired, it can be difficult to enter Sweden again before your new permit is granted, even if you can prove that you’ve applied for a new one.

In the worst-case scenario, you could be denied entry to Sweden at the border and forced to wait in another country until your new residence permit is granted. 

If you find yourself in this situation, you can, in some cases, apply for a national visa allowing you to re-enter Sweden. These are only granted under exceptional circumstances, and must be applied for at a Swedish embassy or general consulate in the country you are staying in. If you are not granted a national visa to re-enter Sweden, you can’t appeal the decision, meaning you’ll have to wait until your residence permit is approved before you can re-enter Sweden.

The Migration Agency writes on its website that you should only leave Sweden while your application is being processed “in exceptional cases, and if you really have to”.

It lists some examples of exceptional cases as “sudden illness, death in the family or important work-related assignments”, adding that you may need to provide proof of your reason for travelling to the embassy when you apply for a national visa to re-enter Sweden.

What if I come from a visa-free country?

If you come from a visa-free country, you are able to re-enter Sweden without needing a visa, but you may run into issues anyway, as visa-free non-EU citizens entering Schengen are only allowed to stay in the bloc for 90 days in every 180 before a visa is required.

If you are a member of this group and you stay in Schengen for longer than 90 days without a visa, you could be labelled an “overstayer”, which can cause issues entering other countries, as well as applying for a visa or residence permit in the future.

The Migration Agency told The Local that “a visa-free person waiting for a decision in their extension application can leave Sweden and return, as long as they have visa-free days left to use”.

“However, an extension application usually requires the individual to be located in Sweden,” the Agency wrote. “Travelling abroad can, in some cases, have an effect on the decision whether to extend a residence permit or not, in a way which is negative for the applicant, but this decision is made on an individual case basis (it’s not possible to say a general rule).”

“The right to travel into the Schengen area for short visits is not affected, as long as the person still has visa-free days left.”

The Local has contacted the Migration Agency to clarify whether days spent in Sweden count towards the 90-day limit, and will update this article accordingly once we receive a response.

Does this apply to me if I have a permanent residence permit?

No. This only applies to people in Sweden holding temporary residence permits. If you have a permanent residence permit and your residence permit card (uppehållstillståndskort or UT-kort) expires, you just need to book an appointment at the Migration Agency to have your picture and fingerprints taken for a new card.

How long is the processing time for residence permit renewals?

It varies. For people renewing a residence permit to live with someone in Sweden, for example, the Migration Agency states that 75 percent of recent cases received an answer within eight months.

For work permit extensions, it varies. In some branches, 75 percent of applicants received a response after 17 months, others only had to wait five.

This means that some people waiting to extend their residence permits could be discouraged from leaving Sweden for almost a year and a half, unless they are facing “exceptional circumstances”.

You can see how long it is likely to take in your case here.

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