Erin Cory is a senior lecturer at the Department of Art, Culture and Communication at Malmö University. She was living and working in Denmark when she applied for a postdoc at Malmö University in 2016.
“I got the job and asked the university if I needed to do anything more,” says Cory, “like fill in any extra forms because I am an American citizen. They said ‘it’s no problem, because you have a residence permit in Denmark. We have many staff who live in Denmark and work here.’ So everything seemed okay.”
Two years later, she applied for funding from the Riksbank Jubilee Fund for a project and received SEK 2.18 million for her project ”Performativity and Integration – Participating Arts Practitioners and New Public Spaces in Malmö”.
“I then applied for a promotion to the position of senior lecturer, which I got. In January 2019, I went to the Swedish Migration Agency to change my residence. I thought it was time for me to move to Sweden because I planned to work at Malmö University for the rest of my career. I was very excited and happy.”
Requested her work permit
So Erin Cory moved from Denmark to Sweden and started her new job. Then came the shocking news.
“When I got to the Swedish Migration Agency, they wanted to see my work permit. ‘I have my employment contract; I’ve been working here for two years,’ I said. The Migration Agency replied that it is up to the employer to apply for a work permit.
“So I went to the HR department at the university, and they said that I should have known about it,” continues Cory. “‘We obviously made a mistake, but you should have known.’ ‘That’s crazy,’ I replied. ‘I come from another country as an immigrant and you can’t expect me to know exactly what to do. I trusted the people who should know.’”
As Erin Cory explains to Universitetsläraren, “My job is to research and teach, their job is to make sure I can do it.”
Three months later, in May 2019, Cory received a letter from the Swedish Migration Board requiring her to show that she was not in Sweden. Otherwise, she would be deported for four years.
“So I got a letter from my daughter’s kindergarten in Denmark and a copy of a bus ticket that showed that I had left Sweden. Then I received a residence permit and was able to move back to Sweden.”
Two court cases
In the summer of 2019, Erin Cory was questioned by the police and in November 2020, she was summoned to testify in court about the Malmö University’s responsibility. The university was sentenced to a fine of SEK 93 000 for breaches of the Aliens Act.
In February 2021, a trial against Erin Cory was opened in the district court. “The university did not allow me any support from the university’s own lawyers, so I had to pay for my legal representation myself. I was so disappointed and confused.”
University Director Susanne Wallmark gives the university’s version.
“The university is not allowed to help her in such a case, even if there is a connection to her employment here. The Office of the Chancellor of Justice (JK) has examined what we can do as a state agency when an individual employee has a prosecution against them. Here, the judiciary distinguishes between us as an employer and an individual employee.”
University expresses regret
With regard to the ruling on work permits, the university has admitted that it made a mistake and has also changed its policy regarding how it handles international recruitment. “We of course regret that this happened and have changed our routines to avoid something similar happening again,” says Wallmark.
“The university prides itself on being an international university,” says Erin Cory, “but how international can you be when you can’t protect your international employees?”
Outside the scope of labour law
She is also disappointed with Saco-S and SULF.
“The union also refused to help me with the financial burden caused by my employer’s mistake. I find that strange, because I am a member and I assume that a trade union will support its members in such a situation.”
SULF national officer Micke Svedemar explains the union’s position. “I understand that Erin Cory is disappointed that SULF does not have more muscle in this matter,” he says, “but this case is not a matter of labour law. Our legal support policy and our statutes govern when we are to act. When it comes to civil law cases, which this is, we are not allowed to get involved.”
Afraid of being forced to leave Sweden
The result of the trial was that Erin Cory was sentenced to a fine of SEK 20 000 and had to pay the same amount to cover the cost of her legal representation. The verdict says that even though Cory was misled by her employer, she should have realised that she should herself have investigated what rules applied.
“This has been a terrible time,” she says, “but my colleagues have been so supportive and helpful. They even started a fundraiser, which has covered all my expenses. That’s fantastic.”
All this means that Erin Cory is now well acquainted with the problem of kompetensutvisningar, the expulsion due to administrative error of people who have skills required in the labour market. And now she’s concerned about the future.
“I’m worried about what this verdict will mean for me. This autumn, I have to apply for an extension to my work permit and I want to apply for permanent residence in 2024.”
Cory has a six-year-old daughter who lives in Denmark with her father. “If things go wrong this autumn and my application for a work permit extension is rejected, I will lose my job and lose the opportunity to be with my daughter. Being separated from my daughter is the worst scenario I can imagine,” she says.
“Never take someone’s word for it”
Micke Svedemar at SULF believes that there is a lesson to be learned from Erin Cory’s bitter experience. “It is very important to get this message across: never just take someone’s word for it. Always get in touch with the decision-making authority to make sure. Contact the Swedish Migration Agency, contact the unemployment insurance fund, contact the Social Insurance Agency. Even if, as in this case, you think that the employer should know what they are doing.”