In an opinion piece in Expressen on March 20, Minister for Migration, Maria Malmer Stenergard (M) and Minister for Education, Mats Persson (L) responded to recent criticisms that changes in migration rules are deterring highly qualified researchers from coming to, or staying in, Sweden. @@Stenergard and Persson claimed in the article that the government is "very keen to get more international talent to apply to Sweden" and "that migration legislation that allows highly qualified immigrants to bring their families is a prerequisite for competing for high quality talent. "
They said that the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) has been instructed to promote highly qualified labour immigration, shorten processing times, improve accessibility and service, and streamline the process for visa-exempt persons to present their original passports when applying for a temporary residence and work permit.
However, academics remain concerned about increased resentment and animosity towards immigrants which could make Sweden less accepting of highly qualified newcomers. The government’s plans to review foreign researchers’ residence permit regulations have been criticized for sending a signal that Sweden wants researchers but not their families.
Academics suggest that the tightening of family immigration regulations could lead to researchers rejecting or leaving Sweden. Since changes to the law in 2021, universities have reported a decrease in the number of highly qualified international researchers arriving in Sweden. The Swedish Research Council's former chairperson, Agneta Bladh, told University World News , that if it doesn't change direction swiftly, Sweden will lose its competitive edge in research.
Academics fear that tightening family immigration regulations will lead to researchers disregarding Sweden. Public employees will be required to report undocumented people to the authorities under the Tidö Agreement. This, according to SACO (The Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations), runs counter to the ethics of professions such as education and health.
While the government claims that family members with temporary residence permits for research and studies are not affected, there is a risk that they may not stay in Sweden if the doctoral student or researcher later applies for, or obtains, permanent residence.
In his resignation letter to the education minister Mats Persson in February, Professor Ole Petter Ottersen, Karolinska Institute's departing rector, recommended migration for international researchers, PhDs and students as a key issue to work on, and later claimed he was "ashamed" of the new migration rules. Agneta Bladh, has also expressed concern that the government's policies appear to have made international recruitment increasingly difficult.
These concerns come as the government seeks to make changes to Sweden's immigration policy, which were presented in January 2023. The Tidö Agreement, signed by the government coalition of the Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats, the far-right Sweden Democrats, and the Liberals , allows for a "general review" of family immigration regulations, with the goal of tightening them. While the government has stated that immigration for highly qualified individuals will be "protected," there remain concerns that the changes may lead to talented researchers turning their backs on Sweden.
Also read: Our ten point guide to Swedish permanent residency