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Swedish work permits granted to top international talent drop 20 percent

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
Swedish work permits granted to top international talent drop 20 percent
Sweden's stated aim is to attract more high-skilled foreign workers. Photo: Sara Winsnes/Scandinav/imagebank.sweden.se

Despite Sweden’s goal to attract international talent, approved work permits for highly qualified workers plummeted in the first five months of the year.

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Sweden approved 20 percent fewer work permits for highly qualified workers in January-May 2024 compared to the same period last year.

That includes both first-time applications and extensions, but the decrease can be seen in both categories, according to the Migration Agency’s statistics, seen by The Local.

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Sweden defines highly qualified workers as people in managerial positions, occupations with a requirement for higher education qualifications or equivalent, and occupations that require advanced higher education qualifications.

The number of first-time work permits handed to these groups of applicants fell from 4,583 in the first five months of 2023 to 3,415 in the same period of 2024.

In the same category, a total of 6,209 permits were renewed in the first five months of 2024, down almost a fifth from 7,626 in the same period last year.

Among IT architects, system developers and test leaders – the profession with the highest number of work permit holders – the number of granted first-time permits dropped from 1,876 to 1,137, and extensions dropped from 3,636 to 2,661. That's a decrease of 39 and 26 percent, respectively.

Sweden’s right-wing government has repeatedly stated that it wants to tighten low-skilled and asylum migration, but attract and retain international talent.

In November it raised the minimum salary threshold for work permits from 13,000 kronor to 80 percent of the median salary (meaning applicants have to earn 28,480 kronor a month to be eligible for a work permit), arguing that low-paid jobs should go to unemployed people in Sweden rather than bringing in labour from abroad.

There are plans in the pipeline to raise the threshold even further, to 100 percent of the median salary. But an analysis by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which has been highly critical of the salary threshold, suggests that more than half of those affected by the move will in fact be graduates.

The statistics The Local looked at for this article also show a clear difference before and after the 80 percent threshold came into force, with the number of work permit extensions granted to highly qualified workers dropping from 10,634 in the seven months before November 1st, to 8,765 in the seven following months.

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First-time permits for highly qualified workers fell from 5,552 in the seven months before November 1st, to 4,697 in the seven following months.

Although it’s impossible to say how much of the decrease is caused by the higher work permit salary threshold and how much is due to other factors, data previously reported by The Local show that the rejection rate of work permits due to the applicant’s salary not meeting the requirement has skyrocketed.

Swedish Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard has in several interviews brushed off criticism from business leaders that a higher salary threshold could harm Sweden’s ability to retain international talent, insisting that the government is working hard to make the country more attractive to high-skilled workers.

This includes, for example, plans to expand Sweden’s so-called “expert tax” – a tax relief for certain foreign citizens – to more people, cutting permit waiting times for highly qualified workers, and ordering a new inquiry to pave the way for foreign researchers to move to Sweden.

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