Swedish inquiry told to propose new laws to stop ‘talent deportation’

Swedish inquiry told to propose new laws to stop 'talent deportation'
Could law changes solve the situation for work permit holders? Photo: Adam Wrafter/SvD/TT
Swedish plans to overhaul the work permit system have been updated to include legal proposals to stop so-called 'talent deportation' – foreign workers deported over minor errors by their employer.

As part of an agreement with the Centre and Liberal parties, Sweden's Social Democrat-Green government launched an inquiry in February to review the country's much-debated labour immigration system, with the aim of “attracting international expertise and counteracting the exploitation of labour migrants”.

But it was criticised for being too soft on what has been dubbed in Swedish media as 'talent deportation'. The inquiry was tasked with analysing the issue and only proposing legal changes if needed. 

The inquiry has now been ordered to also include hard proposals for law changes intended to stop deportations caused by “negligible and excusable” mistakes by a work permit holder's employer.

It has also been told to propose law changes that would see sharper punishments for dishonest employers as well as cash compensation for work permit holders who have been exploited.

It is also expected to suggest ways in which an employment contract would have to be submitted when a person applies for a work permit.

The additional directive was requested by the Swedish parliament earlier this year, and opposition parties have previously criticised the government for not implementing it sooner.

Sweden relies on foreign workers to plug skills shortages in the country, including the fast-growing tech sector. But legislation which was intended to crack down on exploitation of foreign workers had the unintended consequence that many workers with legitimate employers had their permit renewals rejected.

This resulted in hundreds of workers being ordered to leave the country due to minor errors in their paperwork, often relating to small discrepancies over holiday pay or insurance policies.

The situation is improving, but slowly. One of the biggest milestones was a landmark court ruling in December 2017. The Swedish Migration Court of Appeal ruling in the case of a pizza baker in Jokkmokk set a precedent for a principle of so-called 'overall assessment', which meant that a small error should no longer be enough to derail an otherwise good application.

The number of rejected permit extensions has declined since then, but there have not been changes to actual legislation, despite several Swedish parties pledging to solve the problem.

Some parts of the ongoing inquiry will result in a report to be presented no later than February next year, with the deadline for the remainder of the inquiry being November 2021. The next steps would include the government putting forward a proposal that would be voted on in parliament.

Swedish vocabulary

talent deportation – kompetensutvisning

overall assessment – (en) helhetsbedömning

inquiry – (en) utredning

work permit – (ett) arbetstillstånd

law – (en) lag


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  1. It’s too little too late, the Swedish immigration system is fundamentally broken. The reasons why are clear and understandable, but to punish people who have legitimate reasons to be here, and who positively contribute to society is incredibly short sighted. I’m so exhausted by it, the desire to remain in Sweden where my life is on hold for the foreseeable future because it takes an indeterminate amount of time to process a work permit extension is now gone. I also live with the constant fear that it will get rejected, because of one of those stupid administrative errors. So really where’s the incentive? I wait for maybe 6-7 months, if it’s “quick” and then find out it’s denied anyway. I’m one of the lucky ones, I have a great country to go back to with options which my Swedish husband and I have decided to do. I hate to think how much worse this is for those that aren’t that lucky. It’s disappointing when we wanted to stay and build a life here, but what kind of life is this?

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