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WORKING IN SWEDEN

EXPLAINED: Sweden’s new work permit law and the ‘seven year rule’

Sweden's new work permit law, which comes into force in June, will allow people to apply for an unlimited number of work permits, and scrap the 'seven-year rule' which has in recent years seen many skilled IT workers in Sweden deported. We explain the change.

EXPLAINED:  Sweden's new work permit law and the 'seven year rule'
Office workers in Sweden. Photo: Simon Paulin/Imagebank Sweden

In a change that was not highlighted when the bill was published last month, from June 1st, those who have already received two two-year work permits in Sweden will be able to apply for a third, fourth, or even more, without having to instead apply for permanent residency. 

At the same time, the so-called “seven-year rule” will cease to apply, meaning that the Migration Agency will no longer look back seven years from the date of application and see if there are any issues with prior work permits. 

“The abolishment of the limit on permits is very much welcomed and will solve part of the problem with talent deportations,” the immigration lawyer Pia Lind told The Local. “In my opinion, it would not have been possible without those who made their voices heard regarding talent deportations.”

Lind estimates that fully a third of her cases relate to the seven-year rule, meaning the change will make an enormous difference. 

READ ALSO: How will the new work permit law in Sweden affect foreigners? 

What was the work permit limit and why was it a problem? 

Under the current rules, it is only possible to extend a two-year work permit to a maximum of four years, or six years under “special circumstances”. 

Many IT consultants recruited from India and other non-EU countries are granted two-year work permits to come to Sweden for time-limited projects. Very often the projects are delayed, meaning the work permit holder arrives later than planned, and they quite frequently end up finishing the project earlier than planned and long before the two-year work permit expires. An IT consultant might then be used for another project, for which they secure a two-year extension to their original two-year work permit.

The problem comes at the end of that four-year period.

Under the current rules, a further two-year extension to a work permit can only be granted if there are “special circumstances”, or särskilda skäl. Otherwise, if you have had a work permit for four out of the preceding seven years, the Migration Agency will instead automatically assess whether you are eligible for permanent residency. 

It’s worth noting that an application for an extension can be rejected if you have entered Sweden and started working later than four months after the permit was granted. 
 
Employers also often forget to cancel work permits if a project ends earlier than expected and the work permit holder leaves Sweden, which can cause trouble later on. 

The permanent residency Catch 22 

To be granted permanent residency, however, the consultant needs to demonstrate a “strong connection to the Swedish labour market”, not only over the preceding two-year work permit period, but also under previous permits going back seven years.

If they have spent less than three years working out of four years with a work permit in Sweden they are likely to be rejected. 

According to Lind, the number of cases where this happens has been rising. 

“The Migration Agency and the courts have been increasingly strict when it comes to assessing if special reasons to extend an application are at hand,” she said. “It’s not enough to prove that the applicant now is employed in Sweden and that she/he couldn’t prevail over the limited time spent in Sweden during the first period with a work permit.” 

When the Migration Agency makes its assessment, it’s the total time in Sweden that is considered, so all the time spent outside of Sweden during the first permit and the second permit will be counted together when the agency reviews whether requirements for permanent residency are fulfilled.  

The ghosts of past permits

One other problem with the seven-year rule is that when the Migration Agency is considering an application for a work permit extension, the agency does not just assess how well the employee and employer adhered to the terms of the previous work permit, but also to those of any work permits granted in the preceding seven years. 

“I think all lawyers that work on these issues have struggled with the fact that there’s case history, with previous problems that have existed previously, and there’s nothing you can do. I mean, you can’t correct the missing insurance from four years back, right, and it can still haunt you.” 

A long wait outside Sweden before you get a reset 

The third big problem with the seven-year rule has been that if you end up having to leave Sweden and reapply, under the current rules, you sometimes have to wait years before you are eligible. 

Until recently, the Migration Agency tended to see only a few months spent outside the European Union as long enough away to allow a new fresh work permit application. 
 
“When I first started working, if you had problems with your work permit and could not be granted an extension, you could go away for six months, and then you could apply for a new permit, and the old history of your permit was erased,” Lind says.
 
This had no basis in law, but it was the common practice. 
 
However, in recent years, a series of court rulings have changed the way the law is applied so that even if the applicant has left Sweden, any work permits they have received over the preceding seven years will still be considered when assessing their most recent application. 
 
Once they return to their home country they are now not eligible for a new work permit until the first work permit was granted more than seven years ago. It could be years before they can be granted a new work permit,” Lind says. “In my opinion completely unacceptable and in conflict with the intention of the law.” 

So what will the situation be after the new rules come in on June 1st? 

It will remain the case that to be eligible for permanent residency, an applicant needs to have had four years of work permits over the preceding seven years. 

What will be different is that it is no longer obligatory to apply for permanent residency after four years of holding work permits. It is now possible to instead apply for additional two-year work permits.  

If you have broken the terms of your work permit, by, for instance, not receiving the correct insurance or by being paid too little, this will still cause problems with getting it extended. 

“An overall assessment will still be made for the permit that you’ve had, and you may still get a rejection,” Lind says. “But the big difference is that by leaving Sweden and applying for a new permit after the problem permit has expired, you can start afresh and that history will never come back.” 

In addition, if you then get a work permit for two years and extend it to four years, you can then apply for permanent residency without the mistakes made in the first work permit leading to your application being rejected.  

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WORK PERMITS

What do we know about labour market tests for Swedish work permits?

Sweden's government has called for a reintroduction of labour market tests for work permits, a system where labour migration from non-EU countries is limited to jobs where there a a recognised shortage of labour. Here's what we know about the proposal so far.

What do we know about labour market tests for Swedish work permits?

What is a labour market test?

A labour market test is, essentially, a test to make sure that companies wishing to hire non-EU citizens in Sweden can only do so if there is a lack of domestic labour to fill the position.

Neighbouring Denmark has had a similar system, dubbed the Positive List, for a number of years, which is updated twice a year and comprises two lists: one for people with a higher education and one for other skilled workers.

What kind of jobs will be covered?

Jobs where there is a labour shortage will be covered. This will most likely include a range of jobs, such as healthcare roles like doctors, nurses, and midwives, as well as IT positions like system developers and computer programmers, alongside positions which don’t require university studies such as CNC operators, mechanics and roles in the construction industry.

This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it confirmed that these jobs will definitely be eligible for work permits under the new system, but more an idea of illustrating the range of positions which could be covered under this new system.

Who will be affected?

This will affect non-EU, non-Nordic migrants wanting to move to Sweden on a work permit. EU migrants and Nordic migrants are subject to different work permit laws, which will be unaffected.

It will also not affect non-EU, non-Nordic migrants who move to Sweden for other reasons, such as those who have residency in Sweden as family members of an EU, Nordic or Swedish citizen. Again, these migrants are subject to different work permit laws.

When will this come into effect?

It’s hard to say.

It is likely that it will take at least a year, perhaps longer, for the new work permit proposal to come into force.

This is due to the length of the process a proposal must go through before it is formally introduced.

The proposal is currently in the first stage, where the government launches an inquiry, or utredning, into how to introduce a labour shortage test for work permits in Sweden and what that possible system could look like. The deadline for this stage is July 31st 2023.

After the results of this inquiry are announced, the government will send the proposal out for consultation from the relevant authorities. A bill, taking these responses into account, will then be submitted to parliament. This could take months or even years, meaning that the proposal would not become law until at least a year from now, at the earliest.

Who decides which jobs will be available under the system?

Again, it’s not clear, as the proposal hasn’t been written yet. The utredning will shed more light on this, but politicians have suggested in the past that the system could be dependent on unions, employers, and other authorities confirming that they lack staff in the profession in question.

This means that it’s unlikely individual employers will be able to hire whoever they want, unless unions and other authorities also agree that there’s a shortage of labour for the position in question.

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