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Doctoral candidate’s residence permit expired one week before thesis defence

The residence permit expired one week before thesis defence due to the Migration Agency's slow processing of her application. “My case shows that the system is unfair and pretty crazy,” says Kateryna Zorya, a doctoral candidate at Södertörn University.

Per-Olof Eliasson
Kateryna Zorya
Kateryna Zorya defended her dissertation at Södertörn University on 15 June. However, her residence permit expired on 8 June, a week earlier. She applied for an extension in November 2022 and the Swedish Migration Agency issued its decision on 11 May 2023.

Kateryna Zorya is from Ukraine. She has been living in Sweden for almost six years and is doing a doctorate in history at Södertörn University. On 14 November 2022, she applied for an extended residence permit. The Swedish Migration Agency’s decision was signed on 11 May 2023, almost six months after the application was submitted. This despite the fact that the Migration Agency is to make decisions on residence permits for doctoral candidates within a maximum of 90 days.

In accordance with the Swedish Migration Agency’s procedures, Zorya has had her residence permit extended until two weeks after her employment contract at Södertörn University ends. This means that her residence permit expired just one week before her thesis defence, which took place on 15 June.

Ukraine not an option
“I have also had to wait several months for an extended residence permit previously, but it always worked out because I had already been given a new employment contract by the university,” says Zorya.

But because of the Migration Agency’s long processing time, her situation is now different. Her doctoral employment has ended. Moving back to Ukraine during the war is, for perfectly understandable reasons, not an option. In order to remain in Sweden, she needs to apply for a new residence permit.

“If I’d known that the Migration Agency would take so long to process the application, I would have applied for permanent residence in November.”

Stuck in Sweden
She has now been left in limbo. “People tell me that an application for a permanent residence permit takes much longer than an application for an extended residence permit.”

Kateryna Zorya cannot  leave Sweden while her application is being processed by the Swedish Migration Agency. “I’ve not been to Ukraine for a year and need to go back, for family reasons, for medical treatment and to sort out some legal matters.”

Furthermore, as a newly qualified PhD, she would have to travel a lot in te next steps of her career. “If I apply for a permanent residence permit, it will immediately harm my career and my job opportunities. I’ve already written off international conferences this summer. As academics, we often work in several different countries, especially at postdoc level. It’s a time when you take employment at various universities for short projects.”

Impossible situation
She thinks it’s a crazy situation.

“Swedish universities invest millions to bring in the best students and colleagues from all over the world. Then you make it almost impossible for them to stay without being trapped within the country’s borders. If it weren’t for my colleagues and their support, it would almost feel better to go back to a besieged Ukraine than to stay somewhere where I’m regarded as a burden.”

One of the most important things for Kateryna Zorya is that people can maintain their dignity and their ability to move freely. “If people don’t have those two things…how can you expect them to be able or willing to stay in the country?”

She believes that the system is unfair. “people are not treated equally. It’s not fair and it’s pretty crazy.”

Waiting for a new decision
She believes that the Swedish Migration Agency should have done one of two things in her case: “Either have shorter processing times so that people don’t have just three weeks to replan their lives after receiving their decision; or give people more time after the decision has been made, so they have time to process the consequences and deal with the situation. This should apply to doctoral candidates especially. We are not here as temporary guests. We are here for a lengthy period and we have built up our lives and our work in Sweden.”

She does not know what will happen now.

“I’ve written to the Migration Agency. They say they are discussing my letter and my situation. So right now I’m waiting to see what they say.”

SULF: Very strange
SULF has expressed harsh criticism both regarding the Swedish Migration Agency for its long processing times and regarding the government because doctoral candidates and researchers are not covered by the new rules that are supposed to make things easier for highly qualified labour.

Robert Andersson, SULF:s förhandlingschef
Robert Andersson.

“It’s very strange that the new rules do not apply to the most highly qualified people,” says Robert Andersson, SULF’s head of negotiations.

Universitetsläraren has contacted the Swedish Migration Agency about the issue, but it says that it does not comment on processing times, citing that our article applies to an individual case.

Footnote: After Universitetslärarens interview with Kateryna Zorya she received a residence permit valid for one year.

Per-Olof Eliasson

Universitetsläraren conforms strictly to journalistic principles and follows the media industry’s rules on publication and professional ethics. The magazine is free and independent of its owner, SULF – the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers.
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