Sweden expects fewer work permit applications in 2020 due to coronavirus

Sweden expects fewer work permit applications in 2020 due to coronavirus
Earlier in 2020, the government announced a plan to overhaul the work permit system in Sweden. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
With the coronavirus expected to impact both international travel and the economy for months if not years to come, the Swedish Migration Agency has said it expects fewer work permit applications than earlier forecast for 2020.

“Like large sections of society, the Migration Agency is also affected by the ongoing corona pandemic,” the agency wrote in a statement explaining that it had adjusted its forecasts for several categories of cases, including asylum applications and work permit applications.

Overall, it forecast that 51,000 work permit applications would be made in Sweden; 8,000 fewer than last year and 6,000 fewer than an earlier forecast for 2020. 

But this number may reduce further depending on how long the pandemic and its consequences last for. The current forecast was based on the assumption that global travel restrictions will be reduced in summer, and will be adjusted month by month.

“It is not an assessment, but a simplified assumption made in order to handle an uncertain and changing situation in the forecasting process. This assumption may need to be adjusted, which we will return to in our July forecast. We are following the development [of the coronavirus] and are taking measures on an ongoing basis to secure our operations and contribute to a reduced spread of infection,” said the agency's head of planning, Henrik Holmer.

Normally a permit is required for anyone who moves to Sweden to work from outside the EU and without any other kind of visa or permit for Sweden (such as a family visa). 

There is currently a ban on entry to Sweden from outside the EEA and Switzerland, part of an EU-wide travel ban. It doesn't apply to everyone, with Swedish citizens and residents exempted as well as foreign workers whose jobs are deemed important to essential societal functions, a category that includes agricultural workers for example.

However, even workers who are technically able to travel to Sweden for work may find it hard to do so, due to domestic travel restrictions in place overseas making it hard to visit Swedish embassies, and a lack of commercial flights.

The pandemic has also hit the economy, leading to large scale job losses, and several people have spoken to The Local about their experience of losing the job they had moved to Sweden for.


In 2019, almost 60,000 work permit applications were submitted in Sweden, more than the year before and the continuation of an upward trend.

The most common category was “technicians and associate professionals”, which made up 8,414 of all approved permits and primarily included berry-pickers and fast-food workers. This was followed by the 6,547 work permit grantees defined as “specialists”, referring to jobs requiring education beyond tertiary, including architects, healthcare specialists, some teachers, legal professionals, HR specialists, doctors and others.

Earlier in 2020, the Swedish government announced plans to overhaul its work permit system, including by reviewing maintenance requirements for family members of work permit holders, and introducing a special visa for workers with skills that are particularly in-demand in Sweden.

This is in order to both prevent exploitation of foreign workers and address the problem of work permit holder deportations over minor errors.

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