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SWEDISH CITIZENSHIP

How long can you leave Sweden for and not risk your permanent residency?

Several respondents to a recent survey by The Local said that one of the problems they faced in Sweden was uncertainty over how long they can leave the country without losing their right to stay. Here are the rules so far as we understand them.

How long can you leave Sweden for and not risk your permanent residency?
A young holiday-maker on Mallorca's Playa Cala Major beach. Photo: Staffan Löwstedt / SvD

The length of time a foreign citizen is able to leave Sweden without jeopardising their right to stay in the country or their chances of being awarded citizenship or permanent residence depend very much on what grounds they have a right to be here.

Keep in mind that the only type of residence document which is truly permanent – as in, that cannot be revoked no matter how long you are away – is Swedish citizenship.

Every other type of residence expires if you are out of the country for long enough. 

If you have the right to stay in Sweden temporarily and want to keep it or make it permanent 

Non-EU citizens 

For this group (which also includes EU citizens in Sweden under Swedish law (uppehållstillstånd holders) rather than EU law (people with uppehållsrätt)), the amount of time you can be away from Sweden varies depending on which permit you are on while living in Sweden. 

Non-EU citizens in Sweden on work permits or as doctoral students, for example, need to provide documentation proving they have had a work permit as an employee (or have been carrying out doctoral research, in the case of doctoral students) and have lived and worked in Sweden for four years out of the past seven years when applying for permanent residency, so it is possible to leave Sweden for several years over this period and still qualify. 

But people should still check the rules very carefully and make sure they can prove they have been in Sweden long enough.

Those in Sweden on family reunification permits (often referred to as sambo permits) need to provide the Migration Agency with details of any trips abroad of more than three weeks when renewing a residence permit, as well as whether they were travelling with the partner or spouse they live with in Sweden.

There do not appear to be any official guidelines for permanent residence permit applicants in Sweden as refugees, although the agency says in general for all types of residence permit that “shorter visits overseas, for example for holidays, do not affect your residence time [when applying for a permanent residence permit]. This is the case for other journeys overseas long as you have not moved from Sweden”.

For all non-EU citizens wanting to apply for citizenship, the Migration Agency specifies that any periods where you have been outside of Sweden for more than six weeks will be removed from the period of residence that counts towards the five years in Sweden. 

This suggests that overseas trips of more than six weeks would probably be considered long enough to affect your residence time when seeking permanent residence, too.

EU citizens and non-EU family members

EU citizens who have lived in Sweden for five years or more and have either been working, studying, self-employed or self-supporting for that entire period automatically get permanent right of residence or permanent uppehållsrätt.

This also applies to non-EU family members of non-Swedish EU citizens in Sweden on an uppehållskort (residence card) due to their relationship with an EU citizen, and EU citizens who have switched from one category to another – such as originally arriving as a student and then getting a job after graduation – you just need to have been legally living in Sweden under one or more of these categories for the entire five-year period.

Under the EU Free Movement Directive, an EU citizen (or their non-EU family member) may be temporarily absent for periods not exceeding a total of six months within each year without affecting their residence status, with each year starting on the anniversary of the date when the EU citizen commenced residence in Sweden. 

So it seems that, under EU law, you can be out of Sweden for up to six months for each of the five years and still qualify for permanent uppehållsrätt. 

The Migration Agency told The Local that it “respects the commission’s statement on its judgement”, and that six months away from Sweden is “acceptable as a rule”. 

It also stressed that “it is difficult to give an exact time limit for how long a person can be outside Sweden because this is affected by individual circumstances”. 

“The assessment of every case is individual and will be handled according to the information relevant to the case”. 

To apply for citizenship as an EU citizen, you need to have fulfilled the criteria for uppehållsrätt, so it appears the six-month rule applies here too. 

UK citizens with post-Brexit residence status

The UK withdrawal agreement largely gives Britons living in Sweden with uppehållsstatus (post-Brexit residence status) the same rights when it comes to residence as when they were EU citizens. 

Brits arriving in Sweden after this date (or before this date under Swedish rules rather than EU rules) are subject to the non-EU rules listed above.

This means that British citizens with post-Brexit residence status can leave Sweden for up to six months each year and still count that year towards gaining a right of permanent residence or citizenship.  

If you have the right to stay in Sweden permanently and don’t want to lose it

EU citizens

EU citizens who have lived in Sweden for more than five years automatically gain “a permanent right of residence”. If they wish to, they can apply for a free certificate of permanent residence, which can be used to document this right, but this is not required. You can lose your permanent right of residence if you move away from Sweden for more than two years (see here).

Non-EU/EEA citizens living with a non-Swedish EU/EEA citizen

Non-EU/EEA citizens who are living with a non-Swedish EU/EEA citizen can get a permanent residence card (permanent uppehållskort) after five years in Sweden. Like their EU partners, they can lose their right to live in Sweden permanently if they move away from Sweden for more than two years

UK citizens with post-Brexit residence status

UK citizens who have a permanent residence status (permanent uppehållsstatus) in Sweden are treated more generously than EU citizens. 

According to this Q&A from the European Commission’s lawyers, “the conditions for losing the new residence status are more beneficial compared to those in EU law on free movement as United Kingdom nationals and their family members can leave the host EU state for up to five years without losing their permanent residence rights”. 

Other non-EU citizens 

Non-EU citizens who have a permanent residence permit (Permanent uppehållstillstånd or PUT), can lose their permanent residence permit if they leave Sweden for more than one year.  

If they inform the Swedish Migration Agency before they depart, however, they can be away from Sweden for up to two years without losing their residence permit.

The same rules apply for EU or UK citizens who have a permanent residency permit (Permanent uppehållstillstånd or PUT) rather than EU right of residence (uppehållsrätt) or post-Brexit residence status (uppehållsstatus) – i.e. those who live in Sweden under Swedish rules rather than EU rules or the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

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SWEDISH CITIZENSHIP

‘The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,’ Migration minister says

Sweden's Migration Minister has responded to criticism of the government's proposal to abolish permanent residency, telling an interviewer that the hope is that holders will gain full citizenship rather than get downgraded to temporary status.

'The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,' Migration minister says

“The main idea behind the [Tidö] agreement is that we should convert permanent residency to citizenship,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, from the right-wing Moderate Party, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.”You should not be here forever on a permanent residence permit. A clear path to citizenship is needed.”

I envision that you will receive individual plans for how to achieve this,” she continued. “Learn the language, earn a living, and have knowledge of Swedish society, so that you can fully become a Swedish citizen.” 

Malmer Stenergard said it was still unclear whether a planned government inquiry into the possibility of “converting…existing permanent residence permits” would also open the way for those who have been given a permanent right to live in the country to be downgraded to a temporary residency permit. 

“We’ll have to look at that,” she said. “There is a problem with positive administrative decisions and changing them, which the Migration Agency’s director general Mikael Ribbenvik has been aware of. We also state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law shall continue to apply.” 

READ ALSO: What do we know about Sweden’s plans to withdraw permanent residency?

In the Tidö Agreement, the deal between the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties, it says that “asylum-related residence permits should be temporary and the institution of permanent residence permits should be phased out to be replaced by a new system based on the immigrant’s protection status”.

It further states that “an inquiry will look into the circumstances under which existing permanent residence permits can be converted, for example through giving affected permit holders realistic possibilities to gain citizenship before a specified deadline. These changes should occur within the framework of basic legal principles.”

Malmer Stenergard stressed that the government would only retroactively reverse an administrative decision (over residency) if a way can be found to make such a move compatible with such principles. 

“This is why we state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law must apply,” she said. 

She said the government had not yet come to a conclusion on what should happen to those with permanent residency who either cannot or are unwilling to become Swedish citizens. 

“We’re not there yet, but of course we’re not going to be satisfied with people just having an existing permanent residency, which in many cases has been granted without any particularly clear demands, if they don’t then take the further steps required for citizenship.” 

This did not mean, however, that those with permanent residency permits should be worried, she stressed. 

“If your ambition is to take yourself into Swedish society, learn the language, become self-supporting, and live according to our norms and values, I think that there’s a very good chance that you will be awarded citizenship.” 

She said that even if people couldn’t meet the requirements for citizenship, everyone with permanent residency should at least have “an individual plan for how they are going to become citizens”, if they want to stay in Sweden. 

When it comes to other asylum seekers, however, she said that the government’s aim was for residencies to be recalled more often. 

“We want to find a way to let the Migration Agency regularly reassess whether the grounds for residency remain. The aim is that more residencies should be recalled, for example, if a person who is invoking a need of asylum or other protection then goes back to their home country for a holiday.” 

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