Swedish parliament says no to residency exemptions for doctoral students

A parliamentary majority has voted no to allowing exemptions for international researchers who want to stay in Sweden permanently after their doctoral studies.

Swedish parliament says no to residency exemptions for doctoral students
Sweden's new migration act affects the rules for doctoral students who want to stay in the country after their studies. Photo: Veronica Johansson/SvD/TT

As The Local was among the first Swedish news sites to report, as of July 20th doctoral students who want to apply for permanent residency in Sweden have to show that they can support themselves for 18 months – a rule change that effectively reverses a 2014 decision which made them eligible for permanent residency more or less automatically after four years of living in Sweden with a permit for doctoral studies.

The new rules – which came into force as Sweden sought to tighten its migration legislation in general – affect everyone who has applied for permanent residency and had not received a decision by July 20th, even though the rules where different at the time of their application.

Representatives of the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers – Doctoral Candidates Association argued in an opinion piece for The Local at the time that the new rule “hampers Sweden’s research and development attractiveness and impedes the scientific excellence brought by international talents to the country”.

Several doctoral students told The Local that they believed the requirement to support yourself for 18 months from the time the application is reviewed by the Migration Agency would put their future in Sweden at risk. Many highlighted the difficulties of finding a job while finishing PhD research, and pointed out that in academia, many contracts are fixed-term and only awarded and renewed on an annual basis.

The Liberal Party attempted to raise the issue on the Swedish parliament’s committee on social insurances, but the party’s proposal to reintroduce exemptions was voted down on Thursday by the centre-left government and the conservative opposition, reports Swedish news agency TT. It writes that the Centre Party and the Left Party backed the proposal, which was not enough for a parliamentary majority.

“We very much support Sweden being an advanced research nation near or at the absolute top of the world. We won’t be able to do that if we don’t also welcome international researchers from outside the EU and provide opportunities for research careers at our Swedish universities, not only that they can come here for a short period,” Maria Nilsson, Liberal spokesperson on higher education, told TT.

Social Democrat Justice Minister Morgan Johansson’s press secretary referred to his previous statements when approached by TT: “Researchers and doctoral students must meet the requirements for a permanent residence permit, just like everyone else who is covered by the rules. If you want a doctoral student to be able to get a permanent residence permit, you have to hire him or her for 18 months from now on.”

When The Local asked the Swedish justice ministry for a comment when we first reported on the issue back in August, a spokesperson argued that the new rules struck “a reasonable balance which contributes to Sweden having sustainable legislation in the long term which does not differ significantly from other EU countries”.

Member comments

  1. Lol, they will reverse this again in 5 years time. Mark my words. There is not nearly enough homegrown talent to keep Sweden afloat.

    1. So, having a Ph.D that doesn’t get you a job no longer counts for much from an immigration perspective. And reverse this or not in five years – it is a big step towards managed, skills based immigration.

      With this, I’m wondering if readers of this paper will start looking elsewhere after their studies? Canada for example, is rather open. Happy to discuss this with anyone who is interested, and to provide some tips.

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OPINION: We should mourn the passing of Sweden’s neutrality

As Sweden prepares to join Nato, we should mourn the gradual passing of a neutral voice in global affairs, says David Crouch

OPINION: We should mourn the passing of Sweden’s neutrality

In the spring of 1999, Russia’s prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, was on a plane to Washington for talks, just as Nato announced airstrikes on Serbia. The bombing campaign, aimed at halting Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians, targeted Russia’s Slav and Orthodox ally. On receiving the news, Primakov turned his plane around in mid-air and flew back to Moscow. 

This was the first major confrontation between East and West since the end of the Cold War. Russian public opinion swung overwhelmingly behind the Serbs. Moscow liberals warned the conflict would lead swiftly to “a strongly anti-Western, Cold War-oriented regime”. Vladimir Putin became prime minister that summer. And the rest is history. 

This was “blowback” for Nato – the unintended adverse consequences of a foreign policy intervention. This week, Putin is experiencing blowback himself following his invasion of Ukraine, with Sweden rushing headlong to join Nato, whose actions helped unite Russia so suddenly against the West a quarter of a century ago. 

Joining Nato brings down the curtain on a remarkable period in Swedish and European history. The last time the country declared war was in 1810 against the British. Not a single shot was fired, and peace was declared again two years later. Since then, Sweden has pursued a policy of neutrality in all armed conflicts. 

That era ended on Monday. The government confirmed what everyone knew already – that it would apply to join Nato.  

During the Cold War, neutrality gave Sweden the freedom to manoeuvre between the two blocs led by Moscow and Washington. Sweden joined widespread condemnation of the Soviet suppression of Czechoslovakia’s democratic uprising in 1968. 

But its emblematic leader Olof Palme also backed the global movement against the Vietnam war, hosting a tribunal in Stockholm that symbolically put the USA on trial for war crimes in Indo-China. Here was a nation that had found a middle way between capitalism and communism, it seemed, with a diplomatic as well as an economic dimension. 

Sweden became a leading voice against nuclear weapons. Successive leaders pushed for a nuclear-free zone in the Nordic and Baltic regions. Sweden’s self-image was of a “humanitarian superpower”, its independence on the world stage spilling over into anti-colonialism and feminism.

Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Sweden sought to make the most of the “peace dividend” offered by the end of the Cold War, closing military bases, ending conscription and slashing defence spending. By 2012 the head of the armed forces admitted Sweden could withstand a limited attack for only about a week

All this is now behind us. The middle way is to become the Nato way. Sweden may continue to object to nuclear weapons, but it has opted for the US nuclear umbrella to ensure its security. It may continue to champion liberal causes, but it will have to bite its tongue as its allies with conservative Nato states such as Hungary and Turkey, not to mention the possibility of a second Trump presidency in the US. 

Beyond the immediate concerns about Russian intentions in Ukraine, Sweden is contributing to the return of a polarised world. The optimism and hope heralded by the collapse of communism 30 years ago have turned out to be a chimera. New generations will grow up in fear of the enemy and in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. In these bleak circumstances, we should mourn the passing of Sweden’s neutrality in global affairs. 

It is unfortunate that Sweden’s historic pivot is taking place with unseemly haste. While public opinion has clearly shifted in favour of Nato since the invasion of Ukraine, the majority in favour is still relatively slim and is based on fear rather than thoughtful and thorough debate. In a poll at the end of April, 55 percent of Swedish men but only 41 percent of women said yes to Nato. There are signs that opposition to Nato among the young may actually be growing.

But the decision to join Nato is a minor tremor rather than an earthquake. While Sweden may have been non-aligned, it has not been neutral for a long time. 

Sweden’s pro-Western orientation during the Cold War was an open secret on both sides. As early as 1954, Sweden signed a top secret agreement with the US regarding collaboration and intelligence sharing, including spying on Russia, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed. Sweden already makes “particularly significant contributions” to the alliance, Nato says. Accession to the European Union in 1995 came at the cost of the abolition of neutrality as a principle. 

In this sense, joining Nato means Sweden is now shedding its mask of neutrality, rather than adopting a radically new stance.

Sweden in Nato means the post-Cold War era is emphatically over. The world is entering a new and unsettling phase. “Peace, love, Woodstock, Kumbaya, let’s dramatically slash defence spending and enjoy the peace dividend — that’s all over,” said Estonia’s president after Russia annexed Crimea. 

The point of any nation’s defence policy should be to provide its population with a secure space for peace, love and Kumbaya. There is an almost giddy excitement in much of the Swedish media about Nato membership. As we progress towards our armour-plated future, let’s not forget what we have lost.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.