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Half of those blocked by Sweden's work permit salary threshold will be graduates

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Half of those blocked by Sweden's work permit salary threshold will be graduates
Karin Johansson, Deputy Director General of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. Photo: Kate Gabor/Confederation of Swedish Enterprise

A new analysis by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise has found that 51 percent of the labour migrants likely to be blocked by a new higher salary threshold will be graduates. Karin Johansson, the organisation's Deputy Director General, told The Local how this will hurt businesses.


When Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard received the results of a government inquiry into setting the median salary as the threshold for new work permits, she said that highly qualified foreign workers would not be affected. 

"This is an important step in our work to tighten requirements for low-qualified labour migrants and at the same time to liberalise and improve the rules for highly qualified labour migration," she said. "Sweden should be an attractive country for highly qualified workers." 

But according to the confederation's new analysis, published last week, graduates will in fact make up the majority of those blocked from coming to Sweden, if the government increases the minimum salary to be eligible for a work permit to 34,200 kronor a month from the 27,400 kronor a month threshold which came into force last November. 

"The politicians' argument does not hold up," Johansson told The Local. "More than 50 percent of those who have this kind of salary are skilled workers with a graduate background. These are the people that that the government has said that they really want to have in Sweden. So we are a little bit surprised that they are still going to implement this higher salary threshold." 


Of those earning between 80 percent of the median salary (27,360 kronor) and the median salary (34,200 kronor), the study found that 30 percent were working in jobs that required "extended, university-level competence", and a further 21 percent in jobs requiring "university-level education or higher". 

"They are technicians and engineers, and many of the others are also really skilled workers that are hard to find on the Swedish labour market at the moment," Johansson said. 

The proposals made by inquiry were put out for consultation in February, with the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise planning to submit its response later this week. 

Johansson said that further raising the threshold risked exacerbating the serious labour shortage already suffered by Swedish companies. 

"In our recruitment survey, we have discovered that 30 percent of all planned hires never get made because companies cannot find the right people," she said. "Many companies are simply having to say 'no' to businesses. They can't expand. So, of course, it will have an impact on the Swedish economy if they now increase the salary threshold. We know that there will be fewer people coming from abroad to work in Sweden." 

Johansson said she had little faith in the exemption system proposed by the inquiry, under which the the Swedish Public Employment Service will draw up a list of proposed job descriptions or professions to be exempted, with the Migration Agency then vetting the list before sending it on to the government for a final decision. 

"The decision of who will be exempted will be in some way a political one, and in our experience, it's the companies that know best what kind of people they need," she said. "So we are not in favour of that kind of solution. But, of course, it's better than nothing." 

She said that companies were already starting to lobby politicians to ensure that the skills and professions they need to source internationally will be on the list of exemptions, a lobbying effort she predicted would get only more intense if and when the new higher salary requirement comes into force next June.  

"If you have a regulation, not every company can have an exemption. You need to say 'no' sometimes, and that will be hard for companies to accept," she predicted. "And then they will lobby against the government, so it will be messy. Certainly, it will be messy." 


Although there are as yet no statistics showing the impact of raising the minimum salary for a work permit to 80 percent of the median salary last November, Johansson said that her members were already reporting that some of their foreign employees were not having their work permits renewed. 

"What we are hearing is that many of the contracts companies have with labour from third countries have not been prolonged and the workers have left," she said. 

Rather than hiring replacements in Sweden, as the government has hoped, many companies were instead reducing the scale of their operations, she said. 

"The final solution is to say 'no' to business and many companies are doing that," she said. "If you take restaurants, for example, you might have noticed that many have shortened their opening hours, they have changed the menus so it's easier with fewer people in the kitchen. And also shops, the service sector, they have fewer staff."

To give a specific example, she said that Woolpower, a company based in Östersund that makes thermal underwear, supplying the Swedish Armed Forces, had been struggling to recruit internationally. 

"They have seamstresses from more than 20 different countries and it's more or less impossible to find a seamstress in Sweden today," she said. "It's really hard for them to manage the situation at the moment and they are a huge supplier to Swedish defence." 

She said that the new restrictions on hiring internationally were also forcing existing employees and also company owners to work harder.  

"Current employees need to work longer hours than they have done and if you're a small business, you, as an owner, will work more than you have done before," she said. 


The best solution, she said, would be to abolish the salary thresholds and return to Sweden's former work permit system, which required that international hires receive the salary and other benefits required under collective bargaining agreements with unions. 

But she said that the government's reliance on the support of the Sweden Democrats party, enshrined in the Tidö Agreement, meant this was unlikely to happen. 

"This is the result of the Tidö Agreement, and you if you take away one single piece of this agreement, I think maybe everything will fall apart. So I think it's hard. When we discuss this with the different parties, they all agree that they want to push ahead with it. But it's the Sweden Democrats who put this on the table when they made their agreement." 


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