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‘We’re Losing the Life We Built in Sweden’: Work Permit Holders Dread Uncertain Future

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Hundreds of work permit holders have told The Local they fear for their futures and those of their children as they risk being forced out by Sweden’s new salary requirement.

When, in three weeks’ time, Sweden more than doubles the required salary to be eligible for a work permit, thousands of non-EU residents will see their futures upended.

“I’m a single mum who came to Sweden to work as a nanny with the dream of a better future for me and my daughter. I have been here for three years, working and paying my taxes. Me and thousands of people will be forced to leave Sweden, losing the lives that we built here. Start at zero. This is so unfair,” said Leizel from the Philippines, who works in Stockholm.

She was one of more than 200 people who told The Local in a reader survey that they would be directly affected by Sweden’s new salary requirement for work permit holders, which will be set at 80 percent of the national median salary. 

This means that from the start of November 1st, anyone applying to renew their work permit will need to be able to show they will earn a monthly salary of 27,360 kronor or more, even if their current work permit was approved on the old rules of at least 13,000 kronor a month.

“I won’t meet the new salary and it’s causing a lot of anxiety, stress and demotivation,” said Vanessa from Central America, who has held a work permit for four years. “Now a month away from being eligible for permanent residency, they decide to change the rules. It is not fair.”

The new salary threshold will also apply to people who submitted their application before November 1st but haven’t yet received a decision (if they applied before June 20th they will be assessed based on the median salary at the time, so they will have to earn more than 26,560 kronor). Several readers said they had been waiting for months for a decision, and some of them had been waiting for well over a year.

“I applied for a new work visa in October 2022, but still have not received a decision. If my application would have been considered before, I would have met the salary requirements,” said Philip Ellison, a US citizen working at an international Bible school in Småland.

He and many others said their employer would not be able to give them a raise. One of the reasons behind the raised threshold is to prevent dishonest employers from underpaying and exploiting foreign workers, but many readers stressed that they had salaries that were in line with industry standards and Swedish union collective bargaining agreements but missed the target by only a few thousand kronor.

Studies have shown that foreigners to a larger extent than Swedes have jobs that they’re overqualified for, and many of the readers who responded to The Local’s survey said they had degrees in fields such as engineering, IT, medicine and finance, but had been unable to get a job in their preferred career. Instead, they got a work permit for a job that didn’t require training or Swedish skills, such as a job in cleaning, news distribution or the fast-food industry, and had used that time to learn Swedish and become familiar with Swedish society.

The inflexibility of the work permit system means that it is complicated to change professions in the first few years of your permit, so even readers who have now lived in Sweden long enough to qualify for a higher-paying job, would then have to apply for a new permit. Instead, many had planned to work out their temporary permits, then apply for permanent residency and move on to a higher-paid profession.

“I came to Sweden in 2018 on a student visa. I finished my studies but could not manage any job in my sector due to the language barrier,” said a Bangladeshi woman in her early 30s. Instead, she found a job with Hemfrid – one of Sweden’s biggest cleaning companies and one of the main employers mentioned by respondents to the survey – which allowed her to receive a work permit and stay in the country.

She has since extended her permit once and is now close to applying for permanent residency. 

“I have a plan after permanent residency I will move to better Swedish jobs as now I can read, write and speak Swedish. I am pregnant now but I am very worried about my future and my baby’s future due to this salary threshold,” she said. 

Ahsan, a barista at a five-star hotel in Stockholm, said he felt his plan had been “ruined”.

“I came to Sweden with a plan for my career and for my family,” he said. “Living here for the past two years was a waste. I have been paying tax to this society for its well-being but now I feel like I am being ignored.”

Several of The Local’s survey respondents said they initially came to Sweden on a student permit and invested a lot of money into getting a degree, as non-EU student permit holders have to pay tuition fees to be able to study at university.

“Me and my wife have been here for the last seven years and my wife completed her two-year master’s degree from Uppsala University, for which she paid 240,000 kronor in total. To bear her educational expenses I sold all my properties back home, started my job and got a work permit visa,” said Monirul Islam Khan, a Bangladeshi man in his 40s, who lives in Uppsala.

“I have always been a tax payer and my extension decision has been pending for the last 30 months. At the same time my wife has completed Swedish as a second language, and education in pedagogy, natural sciences and civic sciences, but because our visa status is pending she’s not able to work because she cannot register herself as a job seeker with the Public Employment Service.

“Now we are worried, stressed, suffocated. Because of these uncertain situations for the last few years, my wife is suffering from high blood pressure and has become a hypertension patient which has caused several miscarriages. If the new rule will be applied to my case then our whole seven years of hardship will go in vain and both of our futures will definitely be destroyed.”

Readers said they had not just been trying to build a career during their time in Sweden, but they had also built a life. Some had children who moved to Sweden at a young age, or who were born in Sweden, and were worried about uprooting them from the life they knew.

“I live in Sweden with my family. My daughter doesn’t know anything about her home country. I respect the government’s decision and they have the right to change the rules. But those people who have lived here a long time with legal papers and never did any illegal things, why are they at fault? Why will they have to leave Sweden? Please think about us,” urged a restaurant worker in Malmö.

A small number of readers said that the changes had affected them so badly they had experienced suicidal thoughts, and many attested to an overall negative impact on their mental health (here’s more information for anyone seeking support about mental health).

“Three years ago, I came to Sweden as a dependent and gave birth to my daughter here. My husband has been working in Sweden for five years. Recently, I was accepted to an AI course and was enthusiastic about entering this field. However, due to the new law, it’s been challenging to focus on my studies as I’m uncertain about the future,” said a student in Stockholm.

“This regulation seems to imply that the Swedish government is indifferent to individuals like us – thousands of taxpayers raising hundreds of children who could contribute to a brighter future. (…) Unfortunately, this rule has already led to depression and disappointment in the lives of thousands of residents, and it seems to go unnoticed by the government,” she added.

Out of more than 300 readers who replied to the survey, which also includes people who said they would not be directly affected, more than four out of five said the new salary requirement was a bad decision. Out of those who thought it was a good decision, nearly all still argued that it was unfair to change the rules for people already in Sweden, especially those who apply before the new law comes into force.

A Cameroonian reader said that she thought raising the threshold was a good decision, but added that the government also needed to do more to encourage employers to hire non-Swedish people.

“No matter how much we try to say Sweden is an equal country, there’s still that discrimination when it comes to employment at the individual level,” she said.

“We come here to study and try to give back to the country, but find ourselves doing cleaning jobs, because when we try to work in a study-related field, employers still prefer Swedes. It’s all good to make the standard of living good, but the government doesn’t understand what we face at the individual level.”

Many thanks to everyone who replied to our survey. We were not able to include all responses, but tried to pick a representative sample. If you have any questions about how the new salary threshold will affect you, or about life in Sweden in general, you’re always welcome to contact our editorial team at news@thelocal.se. We read all emails but can only reply if we’re able to help.

Readers in Sweden seeking support about mental health about can contact mental health awareness organization Mind or call Sweden’s national health hotline 1177 for help in English.

Source : The Local

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