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IMMIGRATION

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

WORK PERMITS

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.

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