In September 2020, the parliamentary Migration Committee proposed a new migration legislation (SOU 2020:54) that imposes stricter eligibility requirements for permanent residence in Sweden. On June 22, 2021, the bill was approved, and it went into effect on July 20, 2021. There are no transitional rules, so all decisions made on July 20 or later are based on the new rules, regardless of when the application was submitted.
The new legislation is designed to reduce the number of applicants that can apply for asylum in Sweden. However, these changes will also affect other non-EU/EEA internationals living in Sweden. The main changes affecting non-EU/EEA citizens applying for permanent residence are the introduction of Swedish language level and civic knowledge requirements, as well as proof of minimal financial support for the individual and any accompanying family members. If an applicant is unemployed, receiving unemployment benefits, or paid through scholarship funding, this proof of minimal financial support may not be fulfilled. Although the legislation proposes the introduction of these new requirements, there are not yet practical details on their implementation. In particular, requirements for knowledge of Swedish language and civics will come, but the specifics have not been decided yet.
National survey of young academics
One of the biggest Swedish sectors with a large population of internationals is research and innovation, where particularly the academic sector houses and trains talent working on temporary positions. To assess the impact of this reform on non-EU/EEA researchers working in Sweden, The Doctoral Students Committee of the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS-DK), the Swedish Network of Postdoc Associations (SNPA) and National Junior Faculty of Sweden (NJF) surveyed the current residence status, Swedish proficiency level, and employment conditions of doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers, junior faculty members, and senior researchers within academia. The survey ran between April and May this year, collected 1508 respondents, and a report of the results was released on July 8. The DSA helped distribute the survey among KI’s doctoral students and assissted in the analysis and writing of the report. A piece in the Local covered the survey results and the potential consequences for Sweden as an international knowledge nation.
In brief, the report titled – National survey of young academics in response to “A long-term sustainable migration policy” – describes:
- The desire to build a career in Sweden is high among survey respondents and permanent residence permit applications will be filed by the majority of non-EU/EAA respondents.
- The new requirements would make many researchers ineligible for permanent residence. This could lead to a brain drain that will make it difficult for Sweden to maintain its status as an international knowledge nation.
- Insecure employment conditions and challenges reaching a high level of Swedish knowledge are the main barriers for qualification among non-EU/EAA researchers.
- Offers specific recommendations for higher education institutions, research group leaders and policy makers to help support foreign researchers in meeting the new eligibility criteria for permanent residency.
Latest developments: maintenance requirement
The changes in the Aliens Act state that the maintenance requirement, the ability to support yourself financially, must be of a certain duration. The Swedish Migration Agency’s interpretation of the maintenance requirement is currently that the duration requirement is met if you have permanent employment or fixed-term employment lasting at least 18 months from the date on which your application is examined. This strict interpretation disproportionately affects young academics as the academic system in Sweden is rich in insecure employment conditions with fixed-term employment contracts of 12 months or shorter.
As this is an interpretation of the law by the Migration Agency, there can be room to influence by highlighting the disproportionate effects on foreign academics in Sweden. The trade unions (SACO and ST) are working actively on this issue, both in the public space through media and in meetings with the Migration Agency and other stakeholders.
A Facebook group has been started by affected doctoral students across Sweden to discuss and inform on the issue. Some doctoral students from the group got to share their experiences and worries about the new law in a piece in the Local: Foreign doctoral students hit out at Sweden’s new and unfair permanent residency rules.
Additional information and contacts
On Friday September 3, the trade union SULF held a webinar on the matter. You can watch a recording of the seminar below.
Additional information about the new migration law can also be found below:
- Swedish Migration Agency’s information on Changes to the Swedish Aliens Act in 2021
- KI International Staff page on Changes to the Aliens Act
- SULF’s updated FAQ on the permanent residence permit
For any questions and expressions of concern we advice you to contact your trade union (SACO or ST at KI). It is important to keep them informed on how this new law is affecting you specifically and how the Migration Agency is implementing its interpretation once you receive a decision.
Petition for foreign doctoral students and researchers
The petition is prepared by foreign doctoral students and other researchers in collaboration with the unions: Sveriges universitetslärare och forskare (SULF), Fackförbundet ST and Sveriges Förenade studentkårer-Doktorandkommitén (SFS-DK).
The petition calls on the authorities to:
- set more fair and sustainable migration laws,
- stand with what was presented in the Research and Innovation Bill (Research, freedom, future-knowledge and innovation for Sweden, Bill 2020/21: 60, p. 123),
- acknowledge the short term nature of the employment contracts within academia and revert the legal grounds for doctoral students and other researchers to how it was before July 20, 2021,
- introduce an exception for this group from the requirement of financial self-sufficiency and ensure that such an option is available for both those with employment and those with scholarships.
Chronology of events and responses
- 2020-09-15: Presentation of “En långsiktigt hållbar migrationspolitik” SOU 2020:54
- 2020-09-19: University World News covers Sweden: Residency restrictions eased for students and researchers
- 2020-10-08: Stakeholder consultation responses to SOU 2020:54
- 2020-12-07: SULF consultation response on SOU 2020:54
- 2021-02-08: Universitetsläraren: Ny migrationslag kan försvåra för forskare
- 2021-02-18: University World News covers Sweden: New migration law set to ‘drive foreign researchers away’
- 2021-03-15: KI President’s Blog – Make it easier to recruit international talents – not harder!
- 2021-03-18: Läkartidningen covers the KI President’s Blog piece
- 2021-04-01: SUHF (Sweden’s Universities and Colleges Association) comment on migration law
- 2021-04-06: SULF consultation response on SOU 2021:5 in light of SOU 2020:54
- 2021-04-06: Opinion piece in SvD from Sweden’s Engineers and SULF
- 2021-04-07: KI President’s Blog – Comment on what others are saying on the stricter rules
- 2021-06-22: Legislation passed the Swedish parliament (Riksdag)
- 2021-07-08: Release of report of national survey by young academics’ associations
- 2021-07-19: Brain Drain: Survey warns stricter migration law could see international academics leaving
- 2021-07-20: New stricter migration law went into effect
- 2021-08-18: SULF update on new migration law
- 2021-08-20: SULF Opinion in the Local: Sweden’s new migration act will damage our research and send international talent elsewhere
- 2021-08-20: Foreign doctoral students hit out at Sweden’s new and unfair permanent residency rules
- 2021-08-23: Universitetsläraren: Svårare för utländska forskare som vill stanna i Sverige
- 2021-08-24: SULF and SFS opinion piece in SvD
- 2021-08-25: SULF opinion piece in Forskning&Framsteg
- 2021-08-26: Universitetsläraren: More difficult for foreign researchers who wish to remain in Sweden
- 2021-08-26: English translation of SULF and SFS opinion piece in SvD
- 2021-08-27: ‘Reasonable balance’: Swedish government defends new rules for foreign PhD students
- 2021-09-02: Petition: Change the legal grounds of Permanent Residency for doctoral students and other researchers in Sweden
- 2021-09-03: University World News covers Sweden: New migration law will ‘harm Swedish research’ – Unions
- 2021-09-03: SULF Webinar on changes to the Aliens Act
- 2021-09-03: ST opinion piece: Unreasonable requirements make life difficult for foreign doctoral students
- 2021-09-05: Dagens Nyheter Editorial: Sverige förlorar på att forskartalangerna stöts bort
- 2021-09-08: KI president’s opinion piece in Dagens Samhälle
- 2021-09-08: KI president’s extended opinion on his blog
- 2021-09-10: Universitetsläraren interviews PhD students
- 2021-09-13: Times Higher Education: Sweden risks brain drain with ‘crazy’ post-PhD residency rules
2021-09-03: Section added on petition started by affected doctoral students and unions. Additional news stories added as well as the recording of SULF’s webinar.
2021-09-14: More news items added.