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A-kassa: The Swedish secret no one tells you

Foreigners face a unique set of hurdles in the Swedish job market, but few understand how unemployment insurance can help. One UK native tells The Local how Akademikernas a-kassa made his working life in Sweden easier.

A-kassa: The Swedish secret no one tells you
Photo; Getty Images

UK-born Richard Wright has a common tale – boy meets girl. The girl just happened to be Swedish.

“I met Anna and the rest is history,” Wright tells The Local. “I’ve been here 22 years now, and we have three kids and a house.”

But his history isn’t without its hiccups.

When Wright first moved to Stockholm so many years ago, he arrived in June – ideal timing in regards to the weather, but a bit problematic for his job hunt.

“Sweden is pretty dead in June and July,” he says. “Nothing happens.”

The best work he could find was as a postman, cycling around Stockholm. He also applied for a position as a language instructor at Berlitz, and began working part-time on a freelance basis there in September.

“I did both for a while, delivering post in the morning and giving English lessons in the afternoons,” he recalls. “And that worked out okay.”

Richard Wright. Photo: Supplied

But as warmer weather rolled around again, business with Berlitz slowed to a trickle, and then vanished entirely for the summer.

“It was very seasonal, and there were summers where I basically became unemployed,” he says.

While those seasonal setbacks were a real headache for Wright in the early days of his Swedish working life, today they wouldn’t be an issue, as Wright is now a member of Akademikernas a-kassa, an unemployment benefit fund specifically for workers with higher education.

Back then, Wright didn’t know about the fund.

“I had been here for well over a year before I even knew that it existed,” Wright tells The Local. “When you move here no one tells you about those small but important things, like unemployment insurance.”

Wright ended up hearing about ‘a-kassan’, the colloquial Swedish term for unemployment funds, from a friend.

“Luckily I landed on my feet and wasn’t unemployed for long,” he says. “But I wish I had known about it sooner; it would have saved me a lot of worries.”

Wright adds that the Swedish a-kassa system is much different from the UK government unemployment service, where “you would get next to nothing for being unemployed”.

“You can’t even compare the two. Here, you get 80 percent of your salary if you become unemployed.”

Akademikernas a kassa is the unemployment insurance for graduates. Discover how it can look after you and your family

In Sweden there are several independent unemployment insurance organizations, many of which have certain qualifications for different job types.

Wright chose Akademikernas a-kassa, and has been a satisfied member for more than a decade now. The only requirements to join are that you have a Bachelor’s degree and have been working in Sweden.

“It’s basically for those who have a degree; it doesn’t really matter what profession you have,” Wright says. “And it’s only 130 kronor a month. It’s not even worth thinking about; just do it.”

Once he knew about it, the fund helped Wright stay on his feet in Sweden, and though he hasn’t had to use benefits for a while, he says his membership has always been a welcome safety net.

“I also benefited when I started my own company and went freelance,” he says. “It was a nice security; the peace of mind that I had it to fall back on if things didn’t work out.”

There have been other membership advantages as well, he adds.

“When I bought an apartment in Sweden, one of the requirements to get a mortgage was that I was in an a-kassa. So it’s a nice thing to have in a lot of ways.”

Richard is now working as a fully qualified teacher at an international school in Stockholm. He’s noticed that many of his colleagues remain unaware of the benefits available through unemployment insurance plans like Akademikernas a-kassa.

“I was talking with some teachers today who had just arrived from the US and Canada,” he says, “and no one really tells them this kind of thing, in the same way, I was never told. Basically, it’s the first thing you should do, as soon as you get a job. It’s a very easy process, and it’s so cheap.”

For Wright, membership in the a-kassa has not only eliminated a lot of worries but also made him feel at home in Swedish society.

“For me, once you understand more about the Swedish system, it becomes a mutual support thing,” he explains. “Once you’re part of the system here, you’re sort of looked after. I don’t mind paying the fee to support other people. It’s about solidarity.”

Protect yourself from unexpected problems with your livelihood – join Akademikernas a-kassa today

For members

RESIDENCY PERMITS

FACT CHECK: Can you get a residency permit if you buy property in Sweden?

There have been several reports of foreigners who bought Swedish property after they were falsely made to believe that it would speed up their process towards a Swedish residency permit. But what do the rules actually say?

FACT CHECK: Can you get a residency permit if you buy property in Sweden?

I’ve never been told buying property in Sweden will give me a residence permit. Is this really a thing?

The short answer is a firm no, but despite this there has been a series of incidents of non-EU foreigners who were allegedly tricked into buying property in Sweden before moving, believing that owning property would make them eligible for a Swedish residence permit.

What’s the story? 

These incidents most recently grabbed headlines in June 2024, when public broadcaster SVT reported that a number of properties in Sweden had been sold to buyers in the Middle East well over market price, after the buyers were led to believe it would help them gain residence permits. The properties are all linked to businessman Kadry El Naggar, who runs the company Sweden for Investment.

As far back as 2013, SVT reported that another company owned by El Naggar, Swedish Connections, at the time told buyers in Egypt that buying property in Sweden would help speed up the process of getting a residence permit or even Swedish citizenship.

El Naggar has never been convicted of any crimes, but he has been sued by two previous buyers. In one of the cases, the purchase was cancelled, and the other buyer won their court case. He denied to SVT that his company offers its services under false pretence.

“I buy old houses and sell them on. I don’t sell permanent residency permits. That’s clear if you look at our sites,” he told SVT.

A note on his website reads “we do not issue visas or guarantee any residence permits as these are determined individually by the Swedish Migration Board”. But SVT reports that in several social media posts, El Naggar falsely claims that all foreigners need to get a Swedish residency permit is a bank statement showing a balance of at least 20,000 dollars (210,660 kronor), as well as a company and property.

How many properties have they sold?

According to SVT, there are 50 properties up and down the country linked to El Naggar, his wife or their company, with 32 of those in Norrland. Thirty-six properties currently have one or more foreign owners, with a total of 53 owners registered as living outside of Sweden.

The broadcaster also linked 37 different Sweden-registered companies to these owners, who are registered as living in a number of different countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Palestine.

Many of the properties are in relatively bad condition, sold via executive auction through the Swedish Enforcement Authority (Kronofogden).

One pharmacist from Egypt told SVT he had paid 188,000 kronor for a home in the village of Undrom outside Sollefteå in northern Sweden, with the dream of giving his children a better life, after Facebook adverts promised that he could get residency through buying a property.

He hasn’t even been able to visit his house in Undrom due to the cost of travelling to Sweden from Saudi Arabia, where he lives. 

He told SVT he had been warned by someone else who had been in a similar situation just before he was due to make the final payment on the home, and he then demanded to cancel the purchase, but the company refused. He has now hired lawyers in Egypt and Sweden.

“We’ve seen that this method has been ongoing for a while,” Migration Agency official Anette Bäcklund told SVT.

“And all of those people who have applied for a residence permit from us have had their applications denied. You need to follow certain rules to qualify for a residence permit, and that hasn’t been the case in these cases.”

How do I move to Sweden as an entrepreneur or investor?

It is possible to get a temporary residence permit as a self-employed person in Sweden, and permit holders who can support themselves and their families are eligible for permanent residency after just two years, but this requires more than just having a high enough bank balance, registering a company in Sweden and owning a property.

According to the Migration Agency, self-employed people must meet the following requirements in order to be granted a two-year residence permit:

  • hold a valid passport
  • show you have good experience of your industry and previous experience of running your own company
  • show you have relevant knowledge of Swedish or English. For example, if you have contact with a number of suppliers or customers in Sweden, you need to be able to speak Swedish to a very high level
  • prove that you are in charge of running the company and that you have decisive influence for it
  • prove that you have enough money to support yourself and any family accompanying you (200,000 kronor for you, 100,000 kronor for an accompanying partner or spouse and 50,000 kronor for each accompanying child)
  • show a credible foundation for your budget
  • show that you have built a network of customers or other business network
  • pay a fee in most cases (equal to the fee for a work permit)

The Migration Agency will then assess your business plans to determine whether or not you should be granted a permit. There is no requirement for applicants to own a property in Sweden.

If you are granted a two-year permit and want to apply for permanent residency once it runs out, there are further requirements. You will need to prove that you are still running the company, are complying with good accounting practices and have all the necessary permits for the business, among other things, at the time you renew your permit. 

Permanent residency applicants need to prove that they and their family have been living in “reasonable” housing conditions, but there is no stipulation that they must own this home.

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