The doctoral candidate, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a citizen of a non-European country, has lived in Sweden for 13 years and is planning to continue living here together with their partner.
“My entire university education has been in Sweden, and now I have my doctoral candidate position. My partner works here, we have learned the language and we have Swedish driving licences. We have lived longer here as adults than in our home country,” they tell Universitetsläraren.
At the beginning of April 2022, they applied for a permanent residence permit in Sweden. Their doctoral candidate employment contract then extended until April 30, 2024.
Decision took time
The doctoral candidate contacted the Swedish Migration Agency several times following the application, without receiving any response. Since applicants who have waited at least six months can request that the Agency make a decision within four weeks, the doctoral candidate applied for such a decision in October.
Four weeks later, the Migration Agency requested additional documentation, which was duly submitted. A few days later, the doctoral candidate finally received a temporary residence permit. At the same time, their application for permanent residence was denied.
In its decision, the Migration Agency wrote that the doctoral candidate has not demonstrated their ”ability to support themself financially for the duration that is required for the self-support requirement to be deemed fulfilled”.
The decision is dated November 21, which is 21 days after the doctoral candidate would have been able to fulfil the self-support requirement of 18 months – a requirement that they fulfilled at the time the application was submitted.
“In Sweden, you say that you need a qualified workforce, so this is contradictory. I feel that the effort I have put in to my job and my life here in Sweden has been undervalued.”
One in four made to wait more than a year
At the time of writing, every fourth doctoral candidate who applies for a permanent residence permit has to wait longer than 12 months for a decision, according to the Swedish Migration Agency’s website. For three out of four, the process is faster.
Since it is the circumstances that apply at the time of the Migration Agency’s decision that form the basis of its decision, the situation is made more uncertain by the Agency’s long processing times, says Robert Andersson, SULF’s head of negotiations.
“In this case, the applicant was three weeks short of fulfilling the requirement, so if the processing time had been three weeks shorter, the application would have been successful.”
The fact that the date of the decision sets the time frame for the self-support requirement of 18 months can be an advantage in some cases, he points out. In cases where the person applying for a permanent residence permit does not already have a sufficiently long employment contract confirmed, they have the opportunity to obtain it in time for the decision.
“But more often, people have a two-year employment contract when they submit their application,” says Andersson.
Several similar cases
SULF’s head of negotiations knows of at least ten similar cases where the processing time for an application has had an impact on the outcome. Most of these are for postdoc positions. If postdoc positions are based on the Saco-S postdoc agreement, the contracts must be for no less than two years and no more than three years.
“Part of the reasoning behind this is that it will be helpful in this type of process, but in practice it will be of no help at all if the processing time is longer than 6 months. By then there are less than 18 months left,” he says.
For doctoral candidate positions, as in this case, there is an option for two-year employment after the initial year.
Robert Andersson wants to see both the date of the decision and the date of the application taken into account when decisions are made regarding permanent residence permits. In a recommendation to the government, SULF proposes that a special provision for researchers and doctoral candidates be included in the migration legislation. The union also wants the self-support requirement to be reduced to six months, or probationary employment.
The doctoral student explains to Universitetsläraren that colleagues in similar situations have chosen to apply to other countries rather than Sweden. “That could be a solution in the long term, and I’m forced to admit that I’ve thought about it. But I’m 37 and have lived here for 13 years. Sweden is my adopted homeland.”
The Migration Agency responds
The Swedish Migration Agency’s assessment is that 18 months of income is to be regarded as the minimum definition of ”a certain duration”, as stated in the Aliens Ordinance.
”Since it is a legal requirement that those who are granted a permanent residence permit must be able to support themselves in the future, the 18 months are counted from the date a decision on the application is made,” writes Migration Agency press officer Nadine Sohier in an email to Universitetsläraren.
She writes that the authority is ”working actively” to shorten processing times, and that the rules have been changed so that doctoral candidates can now get a four-year residence permit instead of a two-year one. ”This means that they do not need to apply for an extension to their residence permit during their studies to the same extent as before,” writes Sohier in the email.
She writes that the reason for processing times currently being unusually long is an increased number of applications as a result of the new migration legislation that came into force last year.
JO critical of the processing times
The Parliamentary Ombudsmen, JO, have looked into the Migration Agency’s processing times on several occasions. In December 2022, they stated that the waiting times for applications for citizenship, residence permits on the basis of personal ties and asylum are unreasonably long.
In the Migration Agency’s appropriation directions for 2023, the government states that the Agency ”must shorten the processing times for open cases”, and emphasises that this applies particularly to applications for residence permits for work.
Universitetsläraren has approached to both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education for comment.