Work permit queues lengthen as government dithers

Sweden sets a salary threshold for non-EU citizens to qualify for a work permit. Last year, the Swedish parliament passed a bill that intended to raise the required salary, but the exact amount is still to be determined. It will be decided by the current right-wing government. But they're taking their time...

Northvolt is suffering from the work permit situation.

Northvolt is suffering from the work permit situation.

Foto: Axel Hilleskog/SvD/TT

Skellefteå kommun2023-02-14 13:31

Processing times at the Swedish Migration Agency have increased significantly in recent months. Despite a target to handle cases from certified companies in just 10 days, in practice it can now take more than 120 days to secure work permits for highly skilled workers.

Northvolt's CEO Peter Carlsson claimed on SVT's Agenda TV show last week that these long queues have contributed to the company losing staff to foreign competitors.

It has been promised that the new legislation will come soon but it is still not yet clear when that will happen.

The outgoing Social Democrat-led government proposed the salary threshold should increase from the current 13,000 kronor, but now it is up to the new government, led by Ulf Kristersson, the prime minister, to set the figure. The government has suggested setting the salary threshold at 33,000 kronor a month, the median Swedish salary. 

If set at this level, the new salary threshold could accelerate the work of the Migration Agency and reduce the waiting time for work permits.

However, there have been no recent announcements about the new threshold, which has induced the Swedish media to press the government for answers. The Migration ministry has said that they are working on the final piece of legislation and taking the time to ensure a well-functioning system. Other authorities will also have a say before it is presented to parliament.

Ulf Kristersson (right), the Swedish prime minister, seems to be in thrall to the anti-immigrant demands of the Sweden Democrats' Jimmie Åkesson (left).

The current obstacle is whether it should be allowed to make exceptions for certain work permit applicants. The government parties and the far-right Sweden Democrats, led by Jimmie Åkesson, cannot agree on this matter. Some centrists argue that a 33,000 kronor threshold would exclude highly qualified workers who are needed in Sweden.

Public sector leaders are also worried about the salary threshold leading to a skills shortage, such as a shortage of assistant nurses.

Crucially, for those who are facilitating the green energy transition in northern Sweden, large numbers of people are needed in a variety of sectors. It has been suggested that certain "protected" professions or niche sectors could potentially be exempt from the salary threshold.

But the government parties' proposals seem to adhere to the Sweden Democrats' strict anti-immigration policy, which is very restrictive and not in favour of exceptions.

The salary threshold increase has sparked debate in Sweden. While some argue that it will lead to a skills shortage, especially in northern Sweden, others believe that it is necessary to protect Swedish jobs. It remains to be seen when the new legislation will be introduced and what the exact salary threshold will be. For now, Sweden will continue to use the old threshold.

And the work permit queues? Until the new salary threshold is set, there will be no sign of them getting any shorter.