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What does Sweden’s new migration law mean for residence permit-holders?

Sweden's new migration law came into effect on July 20th, and contains some important changes for people applying for permanent residency or who want to bring a family member over to Sweden.

What does Sweden's new migration law mean for residence permit-holders?
A Migration Agency office in Solna, north of Stockholm. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

The law was introduced to replace temporary legislation brought in in 2016, when Sweden struggled to process record numbers of refugees.

Some of the changes in the new law relate specifically to refugees, including that most refugee residence permits should be temporary rather than permanent (this is no change from the 2016 law, but before that the default was permanent) and a new category being introduced for people who are considered to need to stay in Sweden on humanitarian grounds, which addresses some cases that previously fell through the gaps.

Laws applying to people on other types of permits were also changed. For example, permits issued to people who move to Sweden to join a family member will also be temporary rather than permanent in all cases.

Time to permanent residence

Under the new law, to get a permanent residence requirement you need to meet several conditions.

You must have lived in Sweden on a temporary residence permit for at least three years, sometimes longer depending on your reason for being in Sweden.

In many cases, that will actually mean it takes four years in total, because most temporary permits are issued for two years at a time and you can only apply for permanent residence around the time your temporary permit is due to expire. For people in Sweden on a family or partner visa, that means waiting two years more for permanent residence than under the 2016 law.

Income requirement for permanent residence

In addition to the changed time limit, adults must be able to prove they can support themselves in order to receive permanent residence.

This is one of the big changes compared to the previous, temporary migration law. It is not enough for your partner to prove that they can support you, even though for some types of permits (see below) they must also meet a so-called ‘maintenance requirement’. The Migration Agency’s website says you can do this by proof of income for example, but does not state an income threshold — this should be updated when the rules come into force. It is also not yet clear if you will be able to meet this criteria through proof of savings. 

In most cases, to receive permanent residence you also need to prove that you still meet the conditions for your temporary residence permit, which will vary depending on what type of permit you have (for example, a work permit comes with conditions linked to your employment, and a family permit requires a close relationship with someone in Sweden).

Studying in Sweden

People who are in Sweden on a temporary family residence permit will be eligible for student finance (CSN), even if they do not fulfil the requirements for permanent residence. Under the temporary law in place since 2016, this was only the case in certain specific situations, with many non-EU residents unable to receive the funding.

Note that student finance is different from free tuition. International students who come to Sweden on a student permit generally have to pay international tuition fees; however these do not apply for Swedish or EU/EEA citizens, or non-EU/EEA citizens who are in Sweden on a different type of permit. Tuition fees are regulated under a different law, so is unaffected by the changes to the migration law.

What about language requirements?

The government has also proposed introducing a requirement for Swedish language skills and knowledge of civics in order to receive a permanent residence permit, but this hasn’t yet made it into law. The proposal states that these should be introduced, but they are not yet an official requirement, so it is unclear how these skills will be tested and measured, or when (and if) they will actually come into effect. 

Family maintenance requirements

Before the 2016 temporary law, a Swedish resident only needed to prove they could financially provide for themselves in order to sponsor a residency permit for a family member. Since 2016, the Swedish resident has also been required to prove they can support the family member moving to Sweden, and under the new law, most people will continue to need to meet a so-called maintenance requirement.

This means meeting an income threshold (for 2021, the standard amount is 8,287 kronor per month after tax for two adults living together) and proving they have a home that is big enough for them and their family member (living at home with your parents does not count as a suitable living arrangement, but legal sub-lets or owned properties do). The maintenance requirement applies even if the family member who wants to move to Sweden has their own savings or job prospects in Sweden. The income threshold is based on work-related income, including salary, sickness benefit, unemployment benefits, income-based pensions, or you can instead prove that you have enough money to support yourself and the family member for at least two years.

One big exemption is introduced in the new law, which was also the case pre-2016: the maintenance requirement is removed for citizens of Sweden, an EU/EEA country or Switzerland who are bringing their spouse or co-habiting partner to Sweden. This makes it easier for people in this category to bring their partners to Sweden. But it is only being removed if the couple can prove they have lived together in another country, or otherwise prove they have a “well-established” relationship. The law does not set out exact details of how you could prove a well-established relationship.

Family members of workers and doctorate students

Close family members of people on a work permit in Sweden, such as partners, are usually co-applicants on their temporary residence permits, meaning they apply at the same time as their partner and usually have a permit granted for the same amount of time.

But the new rules mean changes when it comes to applying for permanent residence. Family members of doctoral students must wait at least three years before they become eligible. The application of the student will be examined first, and if they are granted permanent residence, their family member’s application will be assessed on the basis of a family member of a permanent residence holder, which means the maintenance requirement must be met.

The income requirement for permanent residence applies here too. This means that in addition to the doctoral student meeting the maintenance requirement, the family member must also be able to prove they can support themselves. 

What if I don’t meet the requirements?

If you do not meet the requirements for a permanent residence permit, but you do meet the requirements for a temporary residence permit, in many cases you will be able to renew your temporary residence.

That should be the case, for example, if you are in Sweden on a family visa, and your partner can meet the maintenance requirement which is a condition of the temporary residence permit, but you are not able to meet the requirement for permanent residence of proving you can support yourself. There is no limit on how long you can live in Sweden on temporary residence permits in total, as long as you meet the requirements each time you renew.

There will also be some exceptions, so that certain people will be able to get a permanent residence permit without meeting the requirement to support themselves. This will primarily apply to retired people, children, or those with special circumstances. 

What if I’ve already applied for a residence permit?

You could still be affected by the new laws.

The new migration law comes into effect from July 20th, so if you have not received a decision on your application before then, it will be judged based on the new laws regardless of when you submitted it, according to the Migration Agency. 

We’ll be talking about the new migration law on The Local’s Sweden in Focus podcast on Saturday. Click HERE to listen.

Member comments

  1. Hi, I have a question, because it seems like when you talk about close family member it sounds specific for spouses or partners, but would that also be legible for a EU citizens’ parent, for exemple?

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For members


Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

What's Sweden talking about this week? In The Local's Sweden Elects newsletter, editor Emma Löfgren rounds up some of the main talking points ahead of the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

In an interview that could have jeopardised his job a decade ago, Social Democrat Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman’s suggestion in DN that there should be a 50 percent cap on non-Nordic immigrants in troubled areas of Swedish cities showed how the debate has shifted in recent years.

That said, his comments did not go without criticism. The Left Party slammed them as “racist”, the Greens and the Centre Party also criticised them, and so did the Moderates and some within the Social Democrats.

Ygeman himself said that he had been misunderstood, that he had never meant it as an actual proposal, and that factors such as crime and unemployment were far more important in terms of integration.

“But of course segregation is not just class-based, it also has an ethnic dimension. If you have areas where almost everyone is from other countries, it’s harder to learn Swedish, and if it’s harder to learn Swedish, it’s harder to get a job,” he told public broadcaster SVT.

What do you think? Email me if you want to share your thoughts.

Campaign posters and a new poll

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Moderates, the largest right-wing opposition party, both unveiled their campaign posters last week, which I guess means that the summer holiday lull is officially over and the election campaign is now definitely under way. Just over a month to go.

It’s interesting that the Social Democrats are clearly trying to turn this into a “presidential” style campaign, taking advantage of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s overwhelming popularity compared to the Moderates’ Ulf Kristersson, whose reception among voters is lukewarm.

A poll by the DN newspaper and Ipsos a month ago suggested that 37 percent of voters want to see Andersson as prime minister, compared to 22 percent who preferred Kristersson (12 percent preferred the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson, and the other party leaders did not get more than four percent each).

Andersson is in the unique position where voters like her way more than they like her party – a new opinion poll by Demoskop suggests that 28.7 percent would vote for the Social Democrats if the election was held today (the Moderates would get 20.3 percent). The same poll has all the right-wing parties with a slight majority compared to the left-wing parties.

Anyway, the Social Democrats’ campaign posters cover pensions, schools (specifically, limiting profit-making free schools), crime and law and order. Climate change is conspicuously absent, but a party spokesperson told reporters it will be more prominent in its social media campaigns.

When Kristersson, on the other hand, spoke at his party’s event to kick off their election campaign, he emphasised how he’s got a viable coalition on his side – a jibe at the Social Democrats, who will struggle to get their partners (specifically the Centre and Left parties) to collaborate.

He also reiterated his praise for the Sweden Democrats, and The Local asked several experts if the Moderates are the same party that fought the 2018 election, when Kristersson promised Holocaust survivor Hédi Fried he would not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats after the election.

Election pledges

The Local’s Becky Waterton has looked at the election pledges of Sweden’s four main parties, the Social Democrats, Moderates, Sweden Democrats and Centre Party. Click here to read her guide, it’s a really useful roundup.

And what about Covid? Is Sweden’s handling of the pandemic not going to be a talking point in this election? No, at least not if the parties have their way. The Social Democrats run the government, but most of the regions (who are in charge of healthcare) are run by right-wing coalitions. So from a strictly realpolitik perspective, no party is able to attack another without putting themselves at risk of becoming a target. Best forget about it.

In other political news…

… a Sweden Democrat member of parliament has been accused of sending unsolicited dick pics to women, the Moderates want to legalise altruistic surrogacy in Sweden, the Christian Democrats want a national scheme to improve maternity care, the Liberals want to make it harder for people with a criminal record to become Swedish citizens, and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf hit the campaign trail just before the weekend by pledging to reject any proposal for raised taxes after the election.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.