Sweden's skilled foreign workers face deportation over technicalities

Sweden depends on skilled foreign professionals, yet thousands of them have been deported over minor errors by their employers. A case from this week shows why the issue deserves attention. 

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards NewsMavens, Sweden
Sweden's skilled foreign workers face deportation over technicalities - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

Sweden's Migration Agency has faced severe criticism over the past two years for the refusal of work permits (resulting in deportation) to thousands of foreign workers, many of them employed in highly skilled and in-demand sectors. 

A landmark court ruling in December was supposed to provide clarification, mandating the Migration Agency base its permit decisions on "an overall assessment" of each case, so that one minor error wouldn't jeopardize the entire application. Just this week, sales engineer Ali Omumi lost his appeal in the country's Migration Court -- despite the court noting in its ruling that he had been the victim of "a clear administrative error by the employer."

It's unclear exactly how many people were deported over minor errors in their paperwork.

The number of rejected permit applications more than doubled in 2017 compared to the previous four years. 

The fact that the problem has been allowed to drag on for so long is likely to dissuade many workers from relocating to the country, while managers in the tech sector -- which relies heavily on international expertise -- have said they spend significant time and energy on the permit process, and the uncertainty has an impact on morale. 

The government has said December's ruling removed any need for a new law to assist foreign workers, and public interest law firm Centre for Justice says the Migration Agency has indeed been taking a more nuanced approach in many cases since then, but the ruling in Omumi's case shows the situation is not yet fully resolved and requires continued attention.

Details from the story:

  •  Ali Omumi is the latest of thousands to lose his right to live and work in Sweden due to small technicalities such as payroll errors and missed insurance payments. Although the Swedish economy relies on skilled foreign workers and puts major effort and investment into attracting them, the government has been slow to address this problem in labour migration policy.
  • Like many of the others who have been affected by the rigid interpretation of the rules, Omumi is highly qualified and has job offers from companies in several countries. But he also has ties to Sweden, where his wife's family live and his four-year-old daughter has settled in.
  • Omumi's case shows that skilled workers are still being refused permits over technicalities. The Iranian's former employer failed to complete documents for his mandatory insurance policies, an error not picked up until he changed jobs.
  • Following a court ruling in 2015, Sweden's Migration Agency tightened the rules on work permit renewals for non-EU employees, meaning people could lose their permits for errors such as a missed insurance payment, payroll error, or if their job had not been properly advertised beforehand.
  • The biggest criticism was that these errors were grounds for deportation even if they had been spotted and fixed quickly by employers, and even if the worker had since changed jobs or companies. They were also seen by campaign groups as frequently punishing an employee for their employee's mistake.
  • Some workers have had victories since last December's ruling which stated small errors should not automatically lead to expulsion: Also this week, a Migration Court ruled that a mechanic could not be deported simply because he chose not to take optional unpaid leave.
  • Days after the initial report, a Swedish MP said he would be submitting a formal parliamentary question to the immigration minister to ask why the expulsions due to minor administrative mistakes were still happening.  
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