For members


KEY POINTS: Sweden’s latest proposals to revamp the work permit system

A new Swedish inquiry has presented a series of proposals to crack down on dishonest employers who exploit work permit holders.

KEY POINTS: Sweden's latest proposals to revamp the work permit system
A new inquiry proposes blacklisting dishonest employers of foreign workers. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

The inquiry, which was launched after several reports of exploitation of immigrant workers in Sweden, was handed over to Justice Minister Morgan Johansson this week.

It confirmed that although everything usually looks good on paper – which makes it harder for authorities to discover individual problems – many workers are ruthlessly exploited by dishonest employers, who often force them to pay some of their salary back to the employer.

In 2019, as many as 40 cases of exploitation of immigrant workers were investigated by police, of which two led to employers being prosecuted in court and only one led to a conviction.

Industries that require a lower level of education, such as the construction, cleaning, hotel and restaurant sectors, are among the worst offenders, report author Anita Linder told the TT newswire. She said the inquiry did not find any cases of work permit holders being exploited in, for example, the engineering or IT industries.

The inquiry proposes several measures, including introducing two new criminal offences.

One of these would include jail of up to two years for anyone who exploits a foreigner at work under “obviously unreasonable conditions” – even if the worker agrees to them, for example because they think they are acceptable or they don’t want to lose their permit.

The other one would ban “selling” a work permit to an employee by making them pay for the job offer. The employer could if found guilty be locked up for up to two years.

Particularly serious offences could in both cases lead to jail sentences of up to four years.

The inquiry also proposes blacklisting dishonest employers, by making it easier for the Migration Agency to check their criminal and tax records and refuse to grant work permits if the employer has previously exploited or committed crimes against immigrant workers.

If the employer provides housing, the inquiry proposes they must also ensure that the living conditions are adequate, to prevent situations where the employees are forced to pay rent to the employer and get no more than a mattress at the workplace to sleep on in return.

The proposals will now be sent out for consultation, which means that relevant agencies and authorities will give their feedback. During this process, the agencies can warn of any risks for unintended consequences or negative effects of the changes, and to give input on how feasible they would be to carry out. After any edits as a result, the next stage is to put the proposals to a parliamentary vote.

This was the second out of two reports into the Swedish work permit system. The last one was released in February 2021, with one of the proposals being to introduce a talent visa for highly qualified foreign workers. This is still being debated by decision-makers.

In fact, labour migration is expected to become a talking point ahead of Sweden’s general election in September next year, with several political parties calling for stricter rules – although they have different ideas as to how best to do this. This article by The Local gives you a rundown of what some of the main parties have been saying lately.

Member comments

  1. A talent visa sounds like a good idea – so long as the measure of talent isn’t simply about having a Ph.D. (which can be totally useless depending on the field of study), and as long as the talent visas only apply to fields where there is an identified shortage or workers. But it seems like a good idea as long as it is written properly.

  2. More importantly something that is always ignored in the proposal is a family of talent workers!

    You can not promote Sweden as a place to work for talent and at the end do not give permanent residency to his wife and just expecting someone to just ignore his family and just be a headless talent without emotion!

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For members


EXPLAINED: What do we know about Sweden’s new work permit bill?

Sweden's parliament has voted through a new bill empowering the government to increase the minimum salary for a work permit. This is what we know so far.

EXPLAINED: What do we know about Sweden's new work permit bill?

What is the new bill and where does it come from? 

The new bill, called “A higher subsistence requirement for labour migrants” (Ett höjt försörjningskrav för arbetskraftsinvandrare), was formally proposed by the former Social Democrat government on September 6th after discussions in the social insurance committee. 

The Social Democrat government on February 6th appointed the judge Anita Linder to carry out an inquiry into “improved labour migration”, which was then sent out for consultation and discussed in the parliament’s social affairs committee, before the government submitted the proposal to parliament. 

What does the bill say? 

The bill empowers the government to raise the maintenance requirement for work permit applicants from outside the EU, the Nordic countries and Switzerland above the current 13,000 kronor a month. 

The bill does not specifically state how much higher the maintenance requirement should be, or propose a date for when the changes should come into force.

In the proposal, it states that the new law can be implemented on “the day the government decides”. The new threshold, meanwhile, is to be set by a government directive which is supposed to be issued at the same time the law comes into force. 

How high is the new maintenance threshold likely to be? 

It’s not yet clear. However, the government may choose to follow the Tidö Agreement through which the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties (the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals) agreed to back Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister. 

In this agreement the parties agreed to set the minimum salary for work permits to be awarded at the median salary in Sweden, which is about 33,000 kronor a month.

This is a compromise between the 35,000 kronor minimum salary put forward by the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats, and the proposals from the Moderates and Social Democrats, who wanted to set the rate at 85 percent of the median salary (about 27,540 a month) and the Social Democrats, who have floated a minimum salary of about 27,000 kronor. 

In an interview with Radio Sweden on December 3rd, Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard stated that the 33,000 kronor a month limit was not yet set, and that the government would “look into the exact amount”. She also stated that the government “will also be able to make exceptions for some individual professional groups,” although she did not go into detail on which groups this would include.

The Centre Party and the Liberal Party were both against the proposal in the run-up to September’s general election, arguing that Sweden’s existing liberal labour migration laws have been economically beneficial.

The Liberals are likely to respect the Tidö Agreement now they are part of the government. 

 READ ALSO: How do Sweden’s political parties want to reform work permits?

Who is against raising the salary threshold? 

The Centre Party has been the biggest opponent in parliament, arguing that the hotel, restaurant and retail industries in particular will struggle to find staff if they are not able to hire workers internationally. 

Martin Ådahl, the party’s economics and business spokesperson, told The Local his party was opposed on both practical and principled grounds to the proposal.

“It is clear in practical terms that many businesses rely on persons from abroad that have qualifications which lead to more growth and jobs in Sweden,” he said. “This is dependent on people starting with reasonable wages because they are new and don’t speak the language. It’s a loss for both Sweden and the individuals.” 

But he said the party’s liberal ideology also made supporting the proposal impossible. 

“On principle, it is wrong that authorities and boards staffed by public officials should tell businesses which talents they should hire at what wages,” he said. “This kind of wage regulation and minimum wages is something Sweden is opposed to otherwise.”

A lot of criticism has also come from business. Ann Öberg, the chief executive of Almega, a trade body representing businesses in the IT, telecoms, engineering, architecture, media, private healthcare, train operations, and security industries, wrote an opinion piece in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper at the end of October criticising the move. 

She argued that it was unrealistic to expect unemployed people already living in Sweden to fill the gap created when low-skilled labour migrants can no longer come to the country. 

READ ALSO: Swedish businesses attack work permit threshold

This article was originally published in November 2022 and updated following Malmer Stenergard’s comments in December 2022.