How has the pandemic affected migration permits in Sweden?

The coronavirus pandemic had a huge impact on people's ability to move around the world. So what did that mean for people applying for or renewing permits to live in Sweden?

How has the pandemic affected migration permits in Sweden?
Several offices are not accepting in-person visits for certain issues, instead asking applications to get in touch online or by phone. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

Applications for first-time work permits fell during the spring and summer, but rose again in the autumn.

This prompted the Migration Agency to increase its total estimate of work permit applications for the year from 39,000 (predicted in July) to 44,000, which is still around 6,000 less than the agency's estimate in May and around 15,000 fewer than last year.

Of the 39,169 first-time work permit applications submitted in Sweden by the end of October, 70 percent were approved and the average processing time was 130 days. 

A further 32,240 applications were made to extend work permits, of which 89 percent were approved with an average processing time of 95 days.

The processing times have increased by around two thirds for first-time permits, which took an average of 81 days to process in 2019, but the 2019 average processing time for renewals was longer at 104 days.

These figures don't just include international workers, but also any partners or relatives who were included on the same permit (this is typically the case if both partners will move to Sweden and the partner with a job offer will work for at least six months) as well as people on temporary work permits. Out of the total, 18,253 of the applications were from people moving to work for a Swedish company.

“Even if average processing time might differ from month to month this year, it is hard to ascribe it solely due to the spread of corona et cetera. Too many uncertainties can affect the outcome,” said a spokesperson for the Migration Agency when The Local asked how processing time had changed year-on-year.

The press spokesperson also outlined several actions that the agency has taken due to the pandemic. These included urging applicants to use online services, email or telephone rather than visiting offices in person, as well as reducing opening hours, closing children's play areas, and limiting the total number of people accepted at one time in service centres. They said no offices had been closed due to the pandemic.

They also told us that it was not possible to make changes to residence permit criteria to take into account the impact of the pandemic – for example by extending the time people have to apply for a renewal, or giving people on work permits who lost their job due to the pandemic extra time to find a new job. The agency's website notes that the Migration Agency makes its decisions based on Swedish laws which “do not consider any extraordinary events”.

“The Swedish Migration Agency cannot make any changes in regards to residence permit criteria. Only the Swedish Parliament has a mandate to make such decisions, following a proposal from the government,” the agency spokesperson said.

“Visitors with expiring visiting visa are since March able to apply for a guest visa valid for 90 day, if they cannot travel back to their homeland due to travel restrictions.”

By the end of October, 28,550 people had applied for permits to move to a family member or partner in Sweden, and a total of 16,916 such applications were approved. That's a huge drop from the 31,785 people granted a permit for family reunification during 2019.

For first-time permit applications to move to a family member in Sweden, processing time was an average of 297 days in 2020, and for renewals of these permits it was 147 days on average. That's not a significant change from 2019, when the average processing time for first-time permits was 284 days and for renewals 151 days.

As of October, there were 27,232 open cases for family reunification, which means people had applied for a permit to join a family member in Sweden but not yet received a response. And there were 17,417 people waiting for a decision on their first-time work permit application.

As for people applying for Swedish citizenship, there was no change to the expected number of applications during 2020.

Processing time for these applications has also been slow, with figures shared with The Local showing that citizenship applications took an average of 394 days to process in 2020.

A total of 70,410 applications were made, and 65,336 decisions were reached (including applications submitted during this year as well as others in the queue) of which 85 percent were approved.

Has your permit application or renewal been affected by the pandemic, or do you have another question about residence permits in Sweden? Please fill in the form below, or you can contact our editorial team at [email protected].


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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.