I took a visit to Swedish Migration Agency, or Migrationsverket, earlier this week.
This is unusual, as I not only moved here ten years ago but also have Swedish citizenship, and this is an agency Swedish citizens would not usually have any dealings with. However the joys of Brexit mean that both me and my son are temporarily registered in Sweden’s system as “British” rather than “Swedish”, so we can register for some cute little ID cards with Article 50 [the article signalling the UK’s wish to leave the EU] emblazoned upon them. Thanks Boris.
Holding one of these Brexit cards actually holds a tiny advantage over Swedish citizenship, which I won’t go into here.
The Migration Agency has been a government department in chaos for the best part of ten years. Sweden took in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria back in 2015 and overloaded the department, and frankly, it hasn’t come close to recovering.
The agency has its own timescale calculator for cases: applying to work in Sweden in the building industry comes with a twelve-month wait for 75 percent of cases; if an Albanian (to pick a random non-EU country beginning with A) wants to move to Sweden after living together in a relationship with a Swedish woman for over two years, 75 percent of cases are settled within 17 months; if you want to be a Swedish citizen, regardless of whether you meet the criteria or not, 75 percent of cases are settled within 39 months.
That is three years and three months.
For those thinking this is a worldwide problem, think again. The United Kingdom estimates that you should expect a wait of “around six months” for citizenship after applying. The average processing time in the United States is 14.5 months and it’s “up to two years” in France. In Denmark, it’s around 14 months, and in Norway 16 months. Finland keeps it vague at between eight and 23 months.
Nowhere that is as slow as Sweden is today.
The country tried to solve this politically by bringing in a law that meant that if your case had been dragging on for more than six months you could request it to be heard by the Migration Agency. A queue jump effectively. Except that soon almost every applicant tried to jump the queue in this way, and was then automatically rejected, meaning a huge amount of of administration was created for nothing. Slow hand clap there, Sweden.
As we come into an election it is easy to shout the virtues of democracy, but this is an example where democracy has failed. Migrationsverket as an issue is completely absent from the election.
When it comes to migration policy, politicians may speak about the need to bring in language tests, or ensure that Sweden remains or doesn’t remain a country open to refugees, but not one is discussing the crumbling framework of the Migration Agency.
And perhaps isn’t so surprising that it is mentioned in none of the party manifestos, as the people it affects are people who can’t vote.
So back to my visit to the Migration Agency’s Sundbyberg office to get photographs and fingerprints done. I was lucky to find an available booking (when I first looked, Stockholm had zero availability, and I was recommended to go to Västerås instead). Booking time slots at the agency works better than trying to ring them. It is common knowledge among immigrants that if you aren’t on the phone at 8am sharp, you can forget about speaking to anybody at the Migration Agency call centre.
On arrival, you come to a busy customer service point. I had a a pre booked time and apparently I needed to put my code in somewhere, but the only people I could find to point me in the right direction were the security guards.
With a little help, though, I eventually found the little machine, but it’s little surprise to me that several people were so befuddled by the need to punch in numbers that they got in the long snaking queue around the room to speak to an adviser, and as a result missing their pre-booked time
I had my (sometimes) adorable three year old in tow, and I don’t think I’ve seen a sadder children’s room in all of Sweden. Most toys were broken, the number of books were in single digits and the walls had been scribbled all over.
When I finally got to the desk to get my photos and fingerprints taken from the Migrationsverket member of staff, it was easy. Once we’d not-smiled for the photos and checked the information, the last piece of information we received was that it would take between two to four weeks to receive our shiny cards confirming our rights as former EU citizens. That’s not a problem, but the letter beforehand suggested this would be a one week wait, so it was yet another Migration Agency delay.
Given the agency’s poor service, you might be surprised to find out that it has actually decreased staffing 9 percent in the last year, and since 2019 the amount spent on salaries has dropped by 11 percent.
When faced with backlogs, cutting staffing seems the opposite of what you should do, and, like clockwork, the wave of refugees from Ukraine resulted in a department unable to cope, with multi-day queues and unnecessary conflicts.
In the elections coming up, the majority of people voting have never and never will have to deal with the Migration Agency. It is a crying shame that this issue will never be one a government can win or lose an election over.