Readers reveal: How Sweden’s record-long queues for citizenship have affected us

Readers reveal: How Sweden's record-long queues for citizenship have affected us
The long wait negatively impacted some people's career progress and ability to travel, and for others altered their perception of Sweden. File photo: Simon Paulin/imagebanksweden.se
The waiting time for a Swedish citizenship surpassed three years for the first time ever in February, and has now risen to 37 months. We asked The Local readers about their experiences of the queue, the problems they've faced as a result, and the questions they still have about the process.

Many of the readers who got in touch were among the more than 12,000 people who applied for citizenship in 2017 and are still waiting to receive a decision on their case.

The waiting time has been steadily increasing over the past few years, but even some who had applied much earlier were affected by delays, such as Umer from Pakistan who applied in September 2014 and waited two years and nine months to be granted citizenship following more than ten years in the country.

Several described their cases as “simple”, stating that they had clearly met Sweden's requirements of five years' legal residence in Sweden (or three, for those applying as the partner of a Swedish citizen) and good conduct while living in the country.

“I waited until I had met all the requirements before applying and am still waiting. It has affected me negatively as I tend to plan my life as much as I can,” said one Nigerian citizen, who has lived in Sweden since 2012 and works in the medical sector but asked for his name not to be published.

Still waiting for an update after first applying in May 2017, he says the lack of communication about what he considers a “straightforward” case is a disappointment, while other readers also expressed frustration at the minimal communication and lack of transparency. 

In terms of practical impact, readers cited negative effects such as ongoing stress, feeling unable to make long-term plans, being questioned about their documentation while travelling internationally, and being unable to participate at all levels of Swedish society.

Benoit, a freelancer from France, has lived in Sweden for a over a decade and been waiting 29 months for a response. 

“I applied in August 2017 thinking 'I'll be able to vote at the national election in 2018'. As it turns out I'm not even sure I'll be able to vote on the national level in 2022!”


Photo: Marcus Ericsson / TT

For other people, it was distressing to feel like they had contributed to Sweden and were not being properly treated by the authorities.

“I have been working and paying taxes since 2017, with a higher than average salary, but I still don't feel safe and part of the society because I always have this nightmare in the back of my head that until I am a citizen, I could get deported at any time. I cannot even imagine how less fortunate people feel and the stress they have,” said a 28-year-old, originally from Syria, who moved to Sweden as a student in 2014 and applied for citizenship when they became eligible in 2019.

“I have lost multiple better work opportunities that require occasional traveling,” they added. “I have not been able to join my colleagues for trips and conferences outside Sweden. Every day I am stressed about getting my application rejected, which is emotionally devastating for me as a Syrian, because I just want to belong somewhere and get treated respectfully like a normal human, especially when travelling, and the Swedish citizenship is my ticket for that.”

Citizenship applicants are required to have permanent residence, so they retain the right to work in Sweden while waiting for a decision. But a delayed application can mean it is harder for them to travel, particularly for those who have “weaker” passports and require visas or other documentation to go overseas. 

What's more, some jobs require Swedish citizenship, such as certain roles within the police or government authorities.

An IT consultant from Pakistan, who moved to Sweden in 2008 and has been working full-time for over six years, had been affected by this. “I work in cyber security and I am unable to work with the government authorities due to not having Swedish citizenship,” he noted.


Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

“I have missed a couple of business trips outside Europe, which in itself had negative impacts on my job and of course myself,” said an Iranian researcher who applied for citizenship in September 2018 after five years in the country studying and working.

An American reader who received her own citizenship decision in under three months noted that a longer wait would have caused her inconvenience. “Living in Skåne, it was really frustrating that I couldn't work in Denmark [without Swedish or EU citizenship] and I wish that there was some sort of special arrangement for non-EU citizen workers,” she said.

She had previously lived in the UK and Switzerland, and said the Swedish Migration Agency was nevertheless “a delight compared to the UK Home Office”.

One German citizen, a scientist who has lived in Sweden for seven years, said he had missed at least two funding opportunities due to a requirement for Swedish citizenship.

Their wait should soon be over, because the scientist used a tool that sometimes speeds up application processing times: the request to conclude a case. By submitting these requests to the Migration Agency, it is sometimes possible to get a speedy decision if the applicant has already waited for at least six months. 

“I applied to conclude my case in December 2019, the Migration Agency denied this. I appealed this decision in the Migration Court and they ruled (in the beginning of February 2020) that the Migration Agency need to process my application as soon as possible. But haven't heard anything useful from the Migration Agency since,” the scientist from Germany said.

They could be one of the lucky ones though; a Migration Agency press officer The Local spoke to confirmed that cases where the Migration Court has requested a decision as soon as possible are moved to the top priority. 


Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

But a lack of clarity over how these rules work and are enforced had caused problems for some of our international readers, who called for more transparency around their place in the queue of over 10,000 open applications.

Some of those who responded to The Local said their requests for a decision had been rejected.

“It is extremely frustrating to be in this situation where you feel that you are not appreciated for contributing to the society and paying taxes for over seven years in a row,” one of them, an Indian national, said.

Another person who moved to Sweden as a student in 2008 and has been working since finishing their PhD, was still waiting for a reply after applying for citizenship in June 2017. As with many of our readers, they knew of people who had submitted their applications later but had already received a decision, and this left them feeling “discriminated against”.

They submitted a request for a decision, but this was rejected. 

“In December 2019 I called the Migration Agency and they said I should have appealed that decision so they had to give me an answer,” they said. “I have complained to the Migration Agency's Applicants' Ombudsman with no answer at all, and I have also complained to the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsmen, they replied they understand I feel frustrated but they can only send a reminder to the Migration Agency,” the reader remarked.


Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

As well as the long wait causing uncertainty and potentially impacting professional opportunities, there is also the possibility that during the time it takes to process an application, an individual's personal circumstances may change.

This is most obvious in the case of those applying for citizenship as a sambo or cohabiting partner of a Swedish citizen. It is possible to make this type of application after three years living in Sweden, if certain other criteria are met, whereas usually the requirement is five years.

One US researcher moved to Sweden in 2015 to join his partner and went down this route when he submitted his application in August 2018.

“When I applied, I had a Swedish sambo, which is why I moved here in the first place. But since then, we have broken up, and I may not be eligible anymore!” he said.

One question that recurred in the responses we received was exactly how the Migration Agency orders the cases.

Even people who had received fast decisions questioned the order in which applications were processed.

American tech worker Megan said she received a positive decision in less than three months. She thought this could be partly explained by the fact her case was “straightforward” — she is married to a Swede and didn't leave Sweden during her three years here before applying — but said she was “curious to know why it seems to take some people so long when their case details are identical to mine”.


New Swedes take part in a citizenship ceremony at Stockholm's city hall. Photo: Lars Pedersen/TT

And an Indian IT professional, who moved for work in 2014, received a positive response just over two weeks after applying. “Why do different applications take different lengths of time? All my friends in the last six to eight months have received their decisions within one to three months,” they noted.

One reader from the US, received his positive decision after each month and described the figures provided by the Migration Agency as “very misleading”. 

The waiting time published on the agency's website (37 months at the time of publication) is the length of the longest-running cases where a decision was made in the last month. This does not mean it's the average waiting time; the average processing time for all citizenship applications that received a decision in 2019 was only 345 days, just over 11 months.

The Migration Agency advises applicants to send in complete applications as possible in order to speed up waiting times, and explained the process in this article.

“Every [citizenship application] is screened the same day it comes into the Migration Agency,” press officer Pierre Karatzian told The Local. “A certain amount (around 25 percent) of the cases are assessed as early as this as ready for a decision; they can either be granted or rejected. These cases are normally processed within three months.” 

Of the remainder, those which are given highest priority are those where the applicant makes a request for a decision and the Migration Court asks the agency to conclude the case as soon as possible. Others are assessed in order of date, oldest first, he said.

For those still waiting in the queue, it's worth noting that the Migration Agency carried out recruitment for new case officers in 2019 and expects a reduction in waiting times over the course of 2020.


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