MPs to vote on residency rights for international doctoral students

The Swedish parliament is to vote imminently on a plan that will make it easier for doctoral students from outside Europe to settle in Sweden after graduation, by offering permanent residence permits.

The proposal was developed by the independent parliamentary Committee for Circular Migration and Development, which was established to make it easier for migrants to move between Sweden and their countries.

Karin Granbom Ellison of the People’s Party (FP-Liberals), who will put the plan to MPs, said: “The rules in Sweden need to be more flexible to attract the best students from abroad who could target a life in Sweden from the outset of their doctoral training.

“Today, it is unnecessarily complicated for doctoral candidates from outside Europe to stay on in Sweden after graduation. This is a great waste, not only of their competence, but also of the large amount of Swedish taxpayers’ money invested in their training.”

Currently, international doctoral candidates’ temporary residence permits do not lead to a permanent residence permit after graduation. The restrictions can also create problems when students travel outside Sweden during their doctoral studies.

Last year the committee proposed a new form of residence permit that would give doctoral candidates from outside the European Union and European Economic Area the same rights as those from within Europe.

The proposal, which will go to the vote on 30 May, was developed in collaboration with the Student Unions of Sweden, the Swedish Association of Doctoral Candidates and the Swedish Union of University Teachers. It has been endorsed by several Swedish student and working organisations.

Karin Markides, rector of Chalmers University of Technology, wrote in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter: “Foreign doctoral candidates can be the leaders of the future. A large proportion of our doctoral students are born outside Sweden. Often, they have received their doctorate position in strong competition with Swedish applicants.

“It should be a goal that many of them should stay on in Sweden, to the benefit of Swedish society.”

The committee established that 14% of the population in 2009 – 1.3 million people – was born outside Sweden. Of these, 283,400 are considered ‘circular migrants’, having moved across a border to or from Sweden more than once.

Kåre Bremer, rector of Stockholm University, said: “Sweden should absolutely be able to enable those who have received their research training and doctoral examination [in Sweden] to stay in Sweden.”

Professor Anders Flodström, of KTH Stockholm and a previous university chancellor of Sweden, welcomed the motion but doubted it would succeed, due to lack of parliamentary support.

“It would be of value for Swedish industry to be able to recruit qualified employees in many important areas. It also shows that there are people in the liberal party who are liberals in the context of internationalisation.”

A group of doctoral students at the Royal Institute of Technology at KTH in Stockholm has drawn up a petition calling on Swedish MPs to ensure doctoral candidates are given permanent residence on completion of their degrees – after four years – in common with migrant workers.

Ricardo Rosado, vice-president of the Brussels-based European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers, or Eurodoc, urged all its members to sign the petition.

He said: “Equal rights as professionals is one of the basic principles established by the charter and code for researchers, and an important step towards fulfilling the goals set in the Europe 2020 flagship initiative.

“Eurodoc hopes other countries will follow in Sweden's steps to address this issue.”