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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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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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