Stockholm drone entrepreneur faces deportation for cutting own salary

A Stockholm-based drone entrepreneur has been ordered to leave Sweden within a month after the Migration Agency confirmed its decision to deny him a work visa extension because he went several months without a salary.

Stockholm drone entrepreneur faces deportation for cutting own salary
Ahmed Alnomany at work in his offices at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Photo: Inkonova
Ahmed Alnomany arrived in Sweden in 2015 and has since set up a mining drone company Inkonova, based at the THINGS startup hub at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Last month Inkonova raised 3.1 million kronor from Japan's Terra Drone in return for “a significant stake”. This came just months after Swedish mining giant LKAB and the world's largest gold miner Barrick Gold both contracted it to scan mines using the Batonomous system, the first commercial scanning jobs for its drones. 
But on Friday, Alnomany was ordered to leave the country, a decision he hopes to appeal. He finally got the verdict on an earlier appeal he made in 2017 against a decision to deny him an extension to his work visa. 
“After more than a year of waiting, running the business while being locked in the country because I cannot travel, the decision is: yet another refusal from Migrationsverket for my work permit,” he told The Local. “This time they added more reasons additional to taking too little salary, including that I took too little vacation.” 
Alnomany, who was born and grew up in Dubai, said that Sweden needs a better work permit system for foreign entrepreneurs which would allow them to forgo salaries and vacation in the early stages of their companies' development, just as Swedish entrepreneurs invariably do. 
“This blindness from the Swedish Migration Agency to this whole process of entrepreneurship is just unjust,” he said. 
Sweden's government this year stopped working on a long-awaited new law to prevent talented international workers being denied permits for minor administrative errors. 
It justified this decision by arguing that a December ruling from the Swedish Migration Court of Appeal now required the Migration Agency to look at the entirety of an individual's case when making decisions, meaning small administrative errors should not result in deportations. 
But, as Alnomany's case and many others make clear, skilled workers and entrepreneurs are still being forced to leave Sweden. 
“It depends on what you classify as a small mistake,” Alnomany said of the agency's new legal framework. “Maybe not taking a salary is not a small mistake.” 
The entrepreneur said he would now try to appeal the ruling once again, but described his chances of success as “really slim”.
“It's not Migrationsverket's fault. They're just applying the rules blindly, so we just need to put some momentum so people can say maybe these rules need to be changed,” he said.
“However, I believe that this is an injustice, so I need to fight it to the end and see where it goes.”

He said it was particularly frustrating that the ruling had come at a time when the company he co-founded along with was looking increasingly close to becoming profitable. 
“Right now we are making progress. Right now we are in a partnership with a Japanese company and starting to sell all over the world,” he said. “It took a lot of effort to secure that partnership, and bear in mind that I was locked in the country. I can't go and meet them there. I had to bring their team, their president, here.” 
With both Alnomany and his co-founder Pau Mallol now well established in Sweden and the company growing fast, he said he still hoped to stay in the country somehow. 
“There's not many companies in the world who are doing such things. It's deep tech. I really want to keep it in Swedish borders so that the wider community can benefit,” he said.

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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?

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.