Sweden ‘cannot guarantee Brits’ future in no-deal Brexit’, EU minister tells The Local

EXCLUSIVE: In an interview with The Local, Sweden's EU minister said he was currently unable to guarantee what the status of Brits in Sweden would be one year after a no-deal Brexit, but said he was confident that "any problems will be sorted out".

Sweden 'cannot guarantee Brits' future in no-deal Brexit', EU minister tells The Local
EU Minister Hans Dahlgren, right, next to Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

“We don't really want [a no-deal Brexit] to happen. But if it does, and there is a serious risk that it might, then we feel that we are pretty well prepared for that situation,” Hans Dahlgren told The Local. “It doesn't mean that would be without problems.”

As The Local has previously reported, the Swedish government has decided to offer a one-year 'grace period' in the event of a no-deal Brexit, meaning that British citizens and their families already resident in Sweden could continue living and working in the country with most of the same rights for 12 months, without needing to apply for any additional permit.

Asked what rules or permits would apply to Brits after this one-year period in a no-deal Brexit scenario, Dahlgren said: “That's not clear yet, that is something that would have to be worked out after this period. There are a lot of countries outside the EU and they don't all have similar rules so that's something we'd have to negotiate.”

Hans Dahlgren was appointed EU minister in 2019. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

One group whose status would be uncertain is Brits working in companies that do not meet the conditions required to offer third-country work permits, for example smaller startup companies without a collective bargaining agreement (kollektivavtal). Sweden's largest business federation has warned that many Brits risk not having their permits approved if these are processed under existing legislation. 

“During the grace period there's going to be no change. But after that, I cannot answer that question because we don't know exactly what the rules will be at that time,” explained Dahlgren. “That's why we have this grace period, in order to have time to work these things out.”

MEMBERS' Q&A: Why is Sweden deporting skilled foreign workers?

The same applies to Brits who moved to Sweden using their EU freedom of movement but do not meet the usual requirements for a residence permit as a third country citizen, such as retirees or self-supporting people, the minister said.

“The question of who will be eligible for a work permit or a residence permit after the grace period is something I don't have any answers on today,” Dahlgren told The Local.

He added that the government would be prepared to take further decisions on the status of Brits during the one-year grace period in order to resolve any problems that arose during that year.

“I'm sure that during the negotiations that follow, we'll make every effort to facilitate for UK citizens now living in Sweden to have as easy an access to this country as possible. But the details of this have to be worked out during this grace period,” the minister said. “A lot of things can be done in one year and if there are remaining problems I'm sure they can be worked out.”

NO-DEAL BREXIT: New checklist for Brits in Sweden

Protesters outside the UK parliament. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

While any withdrawal agreement with the UK must be agreed between the country and the EU as a whole, EU member states have been able to decide individually what rights, if any, to offer Brits in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The most generous offer is from Malta, which has said all UK citizens resident on the date of a no-deal Brexit would receive 10-year status in the country, while sources at one rights group have said Italy is considering offering British residents the right to remain for life. Some countries have said Brits would need to meet income criteria in order to receive a residence permit.

READ MORE: No-deal Brexit: Which EU member state is being the most generous to Britons?

“We cannot negotiate with the Brits about a situation after a hard Brexit before it has happened because we cannot have double negotiations. We are now in a discussion about an organized withdrawal and that's our main focus. If that fails, then we will deal with the problems,” Dahlgren said.

Dahlgren, who himself spent a summer working in a sweet shop in Wales as well as a stint as a TV and radio correspondent in London in the 1960s and 70s, emphasized that Sweden and the UK have historically enjoyed close ties, and that he expected this to continue after Brexit.

“I'm sure we will have a good exchange of people: workers and students and in all walks of life, in the future. But the rules will be different because it will be a third country,” he said. “There is no sense of revenge here. We regret the outcome of the referendum but we will build on what we have.”

Thank you to those who submitted questions for this interview. If you have more questions about how Brexit will affect you, please email [email protected] and we'll try our best to get answers. And if you would like to see more interviews with key players about the issues that affect internationals in Sweden, please consider becoming a Member of The Local. Big thanks to existing Members – your support is invaluable.

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The difficulties of moving to Sweden as a non-EU spouse… even if you marry a Swedish princess

Sweden's Princess Madeleine and her British-American husband, Chris O'Neill, are returning to Sweden after living in Florida since 2018. But how can Chris move to Sweden as a non-EU citizen?

The difficulties of moving to Sweden as a non-EU spouse... even if you marry a Swedish princess

Princess Madeleine and Chris O’Neill are moving back to Sweden with their three children in August. We hope they like it here.

Unfortunately for O’Neill, some things have changed since he left Sweden in 2015. Brits are no longer EU citizens, which means he’ll have to apply for a residence permit like all the other non-EU citizens planning a move to Sweden.

Unlike before, when O’Neill could live in Sweden as a self-sufficient EU citizen with comprehensive health insurance, there’s no such option for non-EU citizens, meaning he’ll have to fulfil the criteria for a non-EU residence permit (uppehållstillstånd), apply from abroad, and potentially wait for his permit to be processed before he can enter Sweden.

With waiting times well over a year for both family reunification permits and work permits, planning a move to Sweden in just a few months might be a bit… optimistic.

What options does Chris O’Neill have?

The most obvious route for O’Neill to take is a residence permit for moving to someone in Sweden, sometimes also referred to as a sambo permit.

O’Neill qualifies for this, as he is married to a Swedish citizen. His wife must also be able to support him and his three children. According to the Migration Agency, this maintenance requirement is fulfilled if the family member in Sweden has enough money to pay for their home, as well as living costs for the family.

The Migration Agency states more specifically that the Swedish family member must earn 9,445 kronor per month to support a couple living together, plus 3,055 kronor per month for each child under the age of six and 3,667 kronor for each child aged between 7 and 10 years old.

The couple’s children are aged 5, 7 and 9, meaning that Madeleine will need earnings of at least 19,834 kronor a month (after tax) on top of housing costs in order to fulfil this requirement. She can also fulfil this requirement by having enough savings to support the entire family for at least two years – so a mere 476,016 kronor, plus whatever their housing costs will be for the two-year period.

Let’s assume that she can cover the family’s living costs – she’s a member of the Swedish royal family, after all. 

Next, Madeleine needs to have a home “of a suitable size and standard” for the family to live in together.

The Swedish Migration Agency states that a family consisting of two adults needs to have an apartment with a minimum of one room and a kitchen or kitchenette, with more rooms necessary if the family has children. Two children can share one room, it states, meaning that O’Neill and Madeleine need a room with at least three rooms, one kitchen and one bathroom for them and their three children.

The family’s seven-room apartment by Nybroplan in Stockholm is definitely “of a suitable size”, and after a six million kronor renovation a few years ago we can assume that the standard is up to scratch.

O’Neill will also have to provide proof of identity with a valid passport. He’s a citizen of the US and the UK, so here he can choose whichever passport he prefers.

Great, so Madeleine and Chris O’Neill easily fulfil the requirements. 

What are the next steps? 

Firstly, as Madeleine is a Swedish citizen planning on moving to Sweden with a family member who does not hold EU citizenship, the couple will need to prove that they are planning on moving to Sweden “within the near future”. They can do this by providing a housing contract or a job offer, or presumably a press statement from the Swedish royal family stating their plans to move over in August.

O’Neill can’t move to Sweden until his application has been processed, but he is allowed to visit Sweden for up to 90 days at a time, and, as a citizen of a visa-free country, he doesn’t need a visa to do so.

He may also need to visit a Swedish embassy abroad in order to undertake an interview before his application can be processed.

With the family planning on enrolling their children in Swedish schools this autumn, it looks like Chris and Madeleine – like many couples consisting of a Swede and a non-EU citizen – will have to live apart, with Chris separated from his children for months at a time.

In that time, he won’t be eligible for a Swedish personal number, Swedish healthcare, or any other benefits such as sick leave or VAB.

He’ll also have trouble getting BankID or opening a Swedish bank account (unless he already has one from last time they lived in Sweden), and may struggle to get a gym membership, phone contract, or even a membership card at the local ICA (do husbands of princesses do their own food shopping?)

As a British citizen applying for a residence permit for the first time to move to someone in Sweden for the first time who he has been living together with outside Sweden for at least two years, O’Neill can expect to wait around 15 months. Now, that figure isn’t a guide – technically, only 75 percent of recently closed cases matching those criteria were concluded within 15 months – so he could have a much longer or much shorter wait before he’s reunited with his family.

You may be thinking ‘but he’s a successful businessman, can’t he just apply as a self-employed person’? Well, yes, if he wants, but then he’ll be waiting even longer – 75 percent of recently closed cases for permits as a self-employed person got an answer within 29 months.