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EXPLAINED: What do we know about Sweden’s new work permit bill?

Sweden's parliament has voted through a new bill empowering the government to increase the minimum salary for a work permit. This is what we know so far.

EXPLAINED: What do we know about Sweden's new work permit bill?
Sweden's Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard has yet to say what the new salary threshold will be. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

What is the new bill and where does it come from? 

The new bill, called “A higher subsistence requirement for labour migrants” (Ett höjt försörjningskrav för arbetskraftsinvandrare), was formally proposed by the former Social Democrat government on September 6th after discussions in the social insurance committee. 

The Social Democrat government on February 6th appointed the judge Anita Linder to carry out an inquiry into “improved labour migration”, which was then sent out for consultation and discussed in the parliament’s social affairs committee, before the government submitted the proposal to parliament. 

What does the bill say? 

The bill empowers the government to raise the maintenance requirement for work permit applicants from outside the EU, the Nordic countries and Switzerland above the current 13,000 kronor a month. 

The bill does not specifically state how much higher the maintenance requirement should be, or propose a date for when the changes should come into force.

In the proposal, it states that the new law can be implemented on “the day the government decides”. The new threshold, meanwhile, is to be set by a government directive which is supposed to be issued at the same time the law comes into force. 

How high is the new maintenance threshold likely to be? 

It’s not yet clear. However, the government may choose to follow the Tidö Agreement through which the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties (the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals) agreed to back Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister. 

In this agreement the parties agreed to set the minimum salary for work permits to be awarded at the median salary in Sweden, which is about 33,000 kronor a month.

This is a compromise between the 35,000 kronor minimum salary put forward by the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats, and the proposals from the Moderates and Social Democrats, who wanted to set the rate at 85 percent of the median salary (about 27,540 a month) and the Social Democrats, who have floated a minimum salary of about 27,000 kronor. 

In an interview with Radio Sweden on December 3rd, Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard stated that the 33,000 kronor a month limit was not yet set, and that the government would “look into the exact amount”. She also stated that the government “will also be able to make exceptions for some individual professional groups,” although she did not go into detail on which groups this would include.

The Centre Party and the Liberal Party were both against the proposal in the run-up to September’s general election, arguing that Sweden’s existing liberal labour migration laws have been economically beneficial.

The Liberals are likely to respect the Tidö Agreement now they are part of the government. 

 READ ALSO: How do Sweden’s political parties want to reform work permits?

Who is against raising the salary threshold? 

The Centre Party has been the biggest opponent in parliament, arguing that the hotel, restaurant and retail industries in particular will struggle to find staff if they are not able to hire workers internationally. 

Martin Ådahl, the party’s economics and business spokesperson, told The Local his party was opposed on both practical and principled grounds to the proposal.

“It is clear in practical terms that many businesses rely on persons from abroad that have qualifications which lead to more growth and jobs in Sweden,” he said. “This is dependent on people starting with reasonable wages because they are new and don’t speak the language. It’s a loss for both Sweden and the individuals.” 

But he said the party’s liberal ideology also made supporting the proposal impossible. 

“On principle, it is wrong that authorities and boards staffed by public officials should tell businesses which talents they should hire at what wages,” he said. “This kind of wage regulation and minimum wages is something Sweden is opposed to otherwise.”

A lot of criticism has also come from business. Ann Öberg, the chief executive of Almega, a trade body representing businesses in the IT, telecoms, engineering, architecture, media, private healthcare, train operations, and security industries, wrote an opinion piece in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper at the end of October criticising the move. 

She argued that it was unrealistic to expect unemployed people already living in Sweden to fill the gap created when low-skilled labour migrants can no longer come to the country. 

READ ALSO: Swedish businesses attack work permit threshold

This article was originally published in November 2022 and updated following Malmer Stenergard’s comments in December 2022.

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Sweden to hike work permit salary threshold in two stages

Sweden's government now plans to raise the minimum salary threshold for work permits in two stages, with a smaller rise planned for this year followed by a rise to close to the median salary in 2024 or later.

Sweden to hike work permit salary threshold in two stages

Erik Engstrand, press spokesperson for Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard, said that because the law passed in November did not give the government the possibility to exempt certain professions from the salary threshold, it had decided to increase it from today’s 13,000 kronor in two stages. 

“First, the government has the possibility to set the salary rate in a first step — we haven’t decided the exact amount yet, but it won’t be as high as the median wage — and then the next step will be the median wage.” 

Sweden’s parliament at the end of November voted through a bill which empowered the government to raise the minimum salary for a work permit at the time of its choosing and to whatever level it chose. 

Malmer Stenergard said at the time that the government would announce the new threshold “as soon as possible”. 

In the Tidö Agreement between the three government parties and the far-right Sweden Democrats, the parties agreed that the new rate should be close to the median wage of some 33,200 kronor. 

But last Friday, the government instead announced that it was instructing an inquiry into work permits launched by the previous Social Democrat governments to instead propose a suitable salary threshold, extending its deadline until January 2024. 

The government also said that anyone renewing a work permit would be given a one-year transition period during which the previous rules, including presumably the 13,000 salary threshold, would apply.  

This appeared to kick the introduction of a higher salary threshold into 2024 at the earliest, but Engstrand said that the government still expected to introduce the first rise this year. 

“The problem with this first stage is that you can’t set up any exceptions from that, so it has to be lower than the median wage. It’s basically because of the way the previous government initiated this. They didn’t give the possibility to insert exceptions from certain work categories.” 

The first raised salary requirement is currently being drawn up by the Swedish government offices, and will then be sent out for consultation before being decided on during 2023. Engstrand said that this new salary level would certainly be higher than the current 13,000 kronor minimum salary level. 

The second salary raise would be set “with the Tidö Agreement as starting point” and “with reference to the median salary”, Engstrand added in an email. 

As part of this raise the government inquiry will also look into exemptions for some job categories, and also whether to make it impossible for some job categories to get work permits. 

While Engstrand blamed the way the previous Social Democrat government had framed the directive voted through in November for the lack of exemptions in the first step, there have also been reports that the government, and in particular the Liberal Party, had failed to agree on which professions should be exempted. 

Johan Pehrson, Sweden’s employment minister and the leader of the Liberal Party, told TT that business leaders and the heads of regional health authorities had told him that a minimum salary of 33,000 for work permits for non-EU citizens would lead to staff shortages. 

He said he was particularly worried about nursing assistants.