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What’s the current status of Sweden’s planned migration laws?

There are a number of migration-related laws and policies in the pipeline in Sweden, including changes to work permits, citizenship and permanent residency requirements, and plans to tighten up permanent residency and asylum applications. Here's a quick overview.

What's the current status of Sweden's planned migration laws?
A Swedish MP votes on a law in parliament. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

New work permit system for high-skilled labour

What will the proposal do?

Sweden’s Migration Agency will by the start of 2024 launch a new work permit model, aiming to speed up waiting times for international talent.

The new system will among other things scrap the current fast-track for certified companies, with an aim to slash processing times for highly-educated applicants to just 30 days.

Instead, all work permit applications to bring highly qualified labour to Sweden, regardless of whether the company is certified or not, will be handled by new “international recruitment units”, or enheter för internationell rekrytering.

These will not only process cases but will also include “service teams”, who will work closely with employers and businesses in the run-up to applications being submitted, so that they are complete.

You can read more about it in The Local’s explainer.

What’s the status of the proposal?

The new model is expected to come into effect at the start of 2024.

Language and culture tests for citizenship

What will the proposal do?

It would introduce a language and culture test for citizenship applications, which would apply to those aged between 16 and 66.

An inquiry into bringing in the language requirement concluded in January 2021 that applicants for citizenship should be able to listen to and read Swedish at B1, the second of the six levels in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), equivalent to having completed level D, the fourth-highest level in the Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) course. 

This is a fairly high level of Swedish. It’s enough to get the gist of what’s in Swedish newspapers, listen to the radio, or to follow a lecture without too much difficulty.

When it comes to speaking or writing Swedish, the inquiry suggested requiring a lower level, A2. This is equivalent to SFI level C.

This is the same level which the government has suggested for those applying for permanent residency for reading and listening as well as speaking and writing.

With regards to the culture test, the law proposes a digital test of “basic knowledge needed to live and function in Swedish society focusing on democracy and the democratic process”, which would be based off the contents of a book produced specifically for test purposes.

What’s the status of the proposal?

The consultation stage (remiss) of this proposal concluded in April 2021. This is the stage where the inquiry report and its proposals are sent for consultation to the relevant government agencies or organisations, municipalities and other stakeholders, who can submit their comments.

The next step is for the government to decide whether or not to push ahead with the law, then draft a bill which would first be sent to Sweden’s Council on Legislation.

If it does go ahead, the law at the time of writing has a proposed introduction date of January 1st 2025.

Language and culture tests for permanent residency

What will the proposal do?

This would, similarly to the law on citizenship above, introduce a language and culture knowledge requirement for permanent residency applications.

In a press conference on May 29th, it was announced that the language test would consist of two 50 minute listening tests with a ten minute break, at CEFR level A2, and the culture test would be the same length and would test applicants on a range of topics related to living in Sweden.

More information on what we know about the content of the tests and who will have to take them here.

What’s the status of the proposal?

The consultation stage (remiss) of this proposal concluded in September 2023. The next step is for the government to decide whether or not to push ahead with the law, then draft a bill which would first be sent to Sweden’s Council on Legislation.

The suggested date of implementation according to the proposal is July 1st, 2027.

Extending residency requirement for citizenship and other changes to citizenship

What will the proposals do?

They would extend the time it takes to qualify for Swedish citizenship from the current limit of five years (three years for spouses or cohabiting partners of Swedish citizens) to eight years “in the normal case”.

It’s not clear what, if any, exceptions there will be, or whether those married to a Swedish citizen or with Swedish children will have a reduced wait. 

On top of this, the government and Sweden Democrats want to introduce a demand that anyone applying for Swedish citizenship can support themselves financially, investigate the possibility of introducing a new obligatory ceremony, such as an oath of loyalty or a citizenship interview which would act as the final stage in citizenship process, and look into the possibility of withdrawing citizenship from dual citizens who carry out “system-threatening crimes”, or whose citizenship was granted on false premises. 

What’s the status of these proposals?

The government has launched an inquiry into tightening up citizenship, proposing an extension to the residency requirement, as well as a civics test and self-sufficiency requirement.

In the inquiry directive, judge Kirsi Laakso Utvik has been tasked with providing suggestions for future policy on a number of different citizenship-related points.

These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • propose extending the residency requirement for citizenship
  • propose what knowledge about Swedish society and culture should be required to be eligible for membership
  • propose extra requirements that applicants have a heder­ligt levnadssätt, or “upstanding way of life”
  • propose what requirements for self-sufficiency prospective citizens should have to meet
  • take a position on whether a citizenship interview, oath of loyalty, or other ceremony should be instituted as the final point in the citizenship process
  • decide on whether the procedure for considering the release of children from Swedish citizenship should be changed and submit the necessary constitutional proposals.

You can read more about the proposed changes to citizenship here.

Utvik has been assigned just over a year to work on her proposal, which has a deadline of September 30th, 2024. After that, she will publish her slutbetänkande or final report, then the proposed law will be set out for consultation to relevant organisations or individuals.

After this step a draft bill will be sent to the Council on Legislation, which will analyse the law from a legal standpoint, then it will be sent to parliament for scrutiny before finally being put to a vote. It’s hard to say exactly when it could become law, but the government will almost certainly make it a priority that it is complete before their mandate period ends in 2026.

Raising the salary threshold for work permits

What is this proposal about?

The proposal, which came into force on November 1st, set a new salary threshold of 27,360 kronor, 80 percent of Sweden’s median salary, meaning that anyone earning below this figure no longer qualifies for a work permit or work permit extension.

Valid work permits issued before the law change to people earning below the new limit will not be affected, meaning people on these permits can stay in Sweden until their permits expire. They will, however, need to earn above the new threshold when they apply for a work permit extension or permanent residency, or if their application submitted before November 1st was not approved before the new law came into effect.

The new limit is 80 percent of the median salary, as calculated each year by Statistics Sweden. This means that the limit will change every year as the median salary changes.

Under rules prior to November 1st, the minimum salary was set at the lowest level at which the Migration Agency estimated it was possible to survive in Sweden without welfare support, just 13,000 kronor a month. 

What’s the status of the proposal?

The new rules came into force on November 1st, 2023.

Going forward, the salary requirement will be based on Statistics Sweden’s last published median salary at the time a work permit application is submitted. This is updated every year, most recently June 20th, and can be found here.

Further reforms of the system are being planned, with an inquiry set to present its conclusions by the end of January 2024.

Tighten asylum legislation to ‘minimum level’ allowed in EU

What will the policy do?

The government wants to tighten asylum legislation to the “minimum level” allowed under European Union law or other international treaties to which Sweden is a signatory.

It could withdraw residency from asylum seekers “if the original grounds for asylum no longer apply”, abolish permanent residency for asylum seekers in favour of temporary residency permits, and reduce the scope for family reunion for those with residency in Sweden to the minimum circle of relatives allowed under EU law: a spouse or domestic partner and any children under 18 years.

It could also establish transit centres either in Sweden or overseas, if possible under the Swedish constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

It could also enable residence permits for asylum seekers to be recalled if the situation in the home countries of those granted asylum changes so that they are no longer at risk, and restrict access to translators so they are only offered in situations where they are necessary for a fair legal process.

What’s the status of this policy?

One part of this policy is a proposal to raise the age limit at which a residency permit based on family reunification may be rejected to 21, which was approved by parliament on November 9th and will come into force on December 1st, 2023.

This proposal will also limit the opportunity for family reunification permit applicants to be exempt from the maintenance requirement if the person they are moving to Sweden to join is an asylum seeker, as well as removing the possibility for a residence permit to be granted due to “particularly distressing circumstances” be removed. It will also allow children to be granted residence permits due to “exceptionally distressing circumstances”, even if these circumstances would not be considered as serious or distressing if the applicant were an adult.

A broader inquiry into changes to asylum and immigration law was launched in February 2023, and the Tidö agreement states that the government aims to pass new asylum laws on these topics before the mandate period comes to an end in 2026.

Strengthened system for coordination numbers

What will the proposal do?

This law makes the Swedish Tax Agency wholly responsible for awarding coordination numbers, the numbers given to people living in Sweden who are not yet eligible for a personal number, personnummer

This should make it easier to keep track of which numbers are held by real people and which are dormant. The bill also creates a new category of “supported identity” coordination numbers, where the holder goes to a Tax Agency office in person with a passport or other identity document and has their identity confirmed.

What’s the status of the proposal?

It was passed as law on November 30th 2022, and came into force on September 1st 2023 (January 1st 2023 for affected staff at foreign embassies).

Travel visas for work permit holders

What will the proposal do?

This is not yet a firm proposal, but in a sit-down interview in February, The Local asked Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard if the government is planning on introducing a travel visa which would enable work permit applicants to leave Sweden and return, as countries such as Denmark and Germany have done.

“Yes, I will consider it,” she said. “I’m well aware of this problem, which also affects people who would like to go to seminars and so on abroad who are refused [the ability] to do so. So it is truly a problem.”

For citizens of countries which Sweden demands an entry visa from, it has meant that while they are free to leave Sweden, they risk being refused entry at the border if they try to return. Thousands of workers on whom Sweden’s economy relies have as a result been effectively trapped in the country.

What’s the status of the proposal?

This has not yet been formally proposed.

Introducing labour market testing for work permits

What will the proposal do?

This was proposed by Sweden’s former centre-left government and has been scrapped by the new conservative coalition. It would have reintroduced labour market tests for work permits, meaning that work permits would only have been granted for jobs in sectors experiencing a shortage.

Denmark has had a similar system, dubbed the Positive List, for a number of years, which is updated twice a year and comprises two lists: one for people with a higher education and one for other skilled workers.

You can read more about labour market testing here.

What’s the status of the proposal?

This proposal was scrapped and was instead been replaced with a proposal to make it harder for low-skilled immigrants to move to Sweden, and easier for highly-skilled immigrants to get work permits in Sweden. See more details on the new proposal here.

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For members


IN DATA: Why have so many of Sweden’s Afghan child refugees got jobs?

A recent report from Statistics Sweden found that eight out of ten young men who came to Sweden as child refugees in 2015 now have jobs, a higher employment rate than people of their age born in Sweden. What's behind this success and has it come at a price?

IN DATA: Why have so many of Sweden's Afghan child refugees got jobs?

Some 35,000 unaccompanied child refugees came to Sweden during the refugee crisis of 2015, the overwhelming majority of whom were teenage boys from Afghanistan’s oppressed Hazara minority. Only 2,847 were girls, and 22,806 of the 32,522 boys were from Afghanistan. 

According to the Statistics Sweden report, around 13,000 of them were then given residency as unaccompanied child refugees, with a further 7,000 given residency under the so-called “Gymnasium Law” or gymnasielagen.

This was an amnesty law which gave those whose asylum claims were rejected temporary residency in Sweden to complete their studies at upper secondary school, after which they had six months to get a job. 

A poor welcome

On arrival in Sweden, the group were often dismissed as skäggbarn, or “bearded children”, with claims that many had lied about their age to take advantage of more lenient asylum rules. The Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine was tasked with carrying out controversial examinations to check their ages. 

The group were blamed for harassing girls at music festivals, and there were also reports of their being drawn into heroin use and crime.   

Most have jobs

Six years on, though, the statistics show a more positive picture. 

Of those born in 1999, the most common age for the group, 82 percent of the young men were described as sysselsatta or “employed” in November 2022, when the snapshot was taken, a number that rises to 85 percent for men who received residency under the Gymnasium Law.  

This compares to about 66 percent for young men born in Sweden in 1999, and about 74 percent for young refugees who came to Sweden with their parents in 2015. 

According to the study, 71 percent of those with residency under the Gymnasium Law and 67 percent of those with residency as unaccompanied child refugees have an income of at least 222,900 kronor year, or about 18,575 kronor a month, which was more than both young men born in Sweden (48 percent) and refugees who came with their parents (46 percent). 

In a sense, the high employment rate among those who gained residency under the Gymnasium Law is not surprising, given that they were given six months to get a job or risk being deported. 

“The explanation is usually that they are dependent on themselves for support, so they more or less have to get a job to be able to take care of themselves,” Karin Lundström, the demographer at Statistics Sweden who led work on the report, told The Local. 

Muhammed Ali, Chair of Sweden’s Association of Unaccompanied Child Refugees, told the broadcaster TV4 that the findings were expected. 

“This report is nothing that surprises us, because both we ourselves and those who support us know how well it’s going for us,” he said. 

But he said that the group’s success had come despite the often harsh treatment they have received in Sweden. 

“We’ve been struggling over these years. We’ve been treated extremely badly and brutally. We have never been a priority for the authorities, but we have also managed to create a network,” he said.   

Most work in elderly and healthcare

The study found that the most common job for the group was health and elderly care or social care, with 38 percent of men who got residency as child refugees employed in these roles and 34 percent who got residency under the Gymnasium Law. This compares to just five percent of men born in Sweden. 

“We can see that a larger share of those with [residency under] the Gymnasium Law are working in healthcare, which is a profession where there’s a lot of need for for people,” Lundström explained. “So we can see that they have chosen a profession and education which matches the jobs in demand. 

The next biggest roles were “business services” or företagstjänster, a broad term which can cover everything from high-level IT services to janitorial work, which employed 14 percent of those those given residency as unaccompanied child refugees and 12 percent of those who got residency under the Gymnasium Law, manufacturing and recycling, retail, hotel and restaurant, and the building industry – which all employed around 10 percent.

Very few are studying, and many didn’t graduate from upper secondary

The downside of the Gymnasium Law was that it forced those given residency under it to go directly into the workforce after completing upper secondary education, as going into higher education did not count as grounds for extended residency. 

Only 3 percent of men who got residency as unaccompanied child refugees were studying in November 2022, compared to 17 percent of those born in Sweden and nearly 11 percent of those who came with their parents. 

For women born in 1999 who came as child refugees, it was 7 percent, while for those born in Sweden or who arrived as refugees with their parents, the share studying was 20 percent.    

Some 55 percent of men who got residency as child refugees have studied to gymnasium level, and fully 75 percent of those who got residency under the Gymnasium Law, but only about 4 percent of male child refugees have studied to a higher level, and only 2 percent of men who received residency under the Gymnasium Law. 

Almost all of those who studied chose a vocational line: 80 percent of child refugees, and fully 94 percent of men who got residency under the Gymnasium Law.  

Only 6 percent of those who got residency under the Gymnasium Law studied a programme at upper secondary school which counts as preparation for further education.

For men who got residency as child refugees, only 15 percent studied a programme expected to lead to further education, while for women the share was 18 percent. 

Of those born in Sweden, fully 44 percent studied courses leading to further education, and for those who came with their parents, 40 percent did.

Lundström said she expected that this might change in future as more decided to improve their skills through study. 

“It’s not been that long since they finished upper secondary school and got their first jobs, so maybe if we were to look at this group in another five or 10 years, it would be a little bit different and a higher share of them would have started and finished higher studies.” 

Many have very low salaries

According to the report, more than 70 percent of men who gained residency under the Gymnasium Law have an income of at least three “income base payments” or inkomstbasbelopp.

As an income base payment was set at 71,000 kronor in 2022, this constitutes an income of 213,000 kronor, or 17,750 kronor a month. 

Around 30 percent of those with residency under the Gymnasium Law earned even less than this, and with those with residency as child refugees the number is more like 35 percent. 

There is no information in the study on how many of those earning “at least 17,750 a month” earned 26 700 kronor, which was the average salary for a care home assistant in 2022.

Lundström warned that the figures could be misleading here as many of those in the study would not have worked a full year by November 2022. 

Even in November 2022, she said, about 50 percent of those studied had an annual income corresponding to about 25,000 kronor per month.