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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 interview with Maria Malmar Stenergard was published in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper on Sunday. Photo: Stefan Jerrevång/TT

“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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IMMIGRATION

Swedish EU presidency pushes for greater returns of migrants denied asylum

Sweden's migration minister argued at a meeting of EU interior ministers that member states should push third countries to accept returning citizens who've been denied asylum in the EU.

Swedish EU presidency pushes for greater returns of migrants denied asylum

“Returning those who have been denied asylum in Europe is a really important issue,” said Maria Malmer Stenergard, migration minister for Sweden, which hosted the meeting as current holder of the EU presidency.

European Commission statistics show that in 2021, out of 340,500 orders for migrants to be returned to their countries of origin, only 21 percent were carried out.

“We have a very low return rate,” noted EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

“We can do significant progress here to increase the numbers of returns and have it more effective and quicker,” she said.

The Swedish EU presidency believes cooperation could be improved with countries outside the EU whose citizens make up significant numbers of irregular migrants.

Malmer Stenergard said it was “crucial” that EU member states use the full weight of their governments – including leveraging development aid – to press third countries on the returns issue.

The EU funds various reintegration programmes in countries that readmit their citizens who have been denied asylum in Europe.

These are separate from deportations or forced returns based on a court or administrative order, which are often carried out under escort and typically do not include in-country assistance.

The EU has had a mechanism in place since 2020 to use visa issuance as a lever against countries that refuse to take back their nationals or decline to issue them with the necessary travel papers.

But so far that measure has only been applied to Gambia, for whose citizens getting a Schengen visa is more difficult and costly.

The commission in 2021 proposed the mechanism be extended to Bangladesh and Iraq, but that has not happened.

Johansson said after a November visit to Bangladesh that the threat of the visa sanction has prompted Dhaka to become more “politically open” to accepting irregular migrants back from Europe.

France backed a carrot-and-stick approach, with its junior minister for citizen affairs, Sonia Backes, saying in Stockholm that first “constructive dialogue” should be used.

That “should then be hardened by restrictive measures if results aren’t met,” she said. Germany however has reservations about that approach.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said accords signed, especially with countries in north Africa, “on one hand allowed legal paths (for migration), and on the other, effective returns”.

The overall tone on migration has hardened in Europe since 2015-2016, when it took in over a million asylum-seekers, most of them Syrians fleeing the war in their country. The bloc in 2016 struck a deal with Turkey for it to prevent much of the onward passage of irregular migrants into Europe.

Austria is backing the construction of a fence along the border of EU member Bulgaria with Turkey to further reduce the flow of asylum-seekers. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Monday, during a visit to that border region, that the fence would cost around two billion euros and he called on the European Commission to fund it.

The commission has been reluctant to do that, emphasising instead the role of Frontex, the bloc’s border patrol agency, that EU member states can call on.

Juan Fernando Lopez, the chair of the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs committee said as he went in to attend the Stockholm meeting that “a fence might be part of an extraordinary measure… but never the solution itself”.

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