Calls in Sweden and Denmark to slash red tape for foreigners

There have been simultaneous calls in Sweden and Denmark to reduce bureaucracy that is bogging down the recruitment by universities of international students and academics.

Nine prominent members of the advisory council of the Swedish Institute wrote an op-ed in the major newspaper Dagens Nyheter on 6 September, calling for the following changes to the regulations and practice governing receiving international academics and students:
  • • The rules for entry visas have to be changed.
  • • Quotas for students outside Europe must be more flexible.
  • • The rules for foreigners setting up a bank account in Sweden must be made easier.
  • • It must be easier for foreign students who have graduated in Sweden to access work.
  • • More grants for foreign students must be found.
  • • Integrated study programmes with other European countries must be developed.
  • • Recruitment to tenured positions of scientists from abroad must be facilitated.
  • • Tax regulations for researchers must be made more flexible.
  • • Permanent visas for scientists and students must be made easier.
Meanwhile, on 24 August the Danish rectors’ conference, Universities Denmark, published a policy note saying its proposal to strengthen the conditions for international recruitment to universities required the following changes:
  • • Reduction of the application fees for student and researcher residence permits, which are much higher in Denmark than in other countries.
  • • Improving the payment system for such applications, which does not function optionally due to bank charges and exchange fees.
  • • PhD candidates in Denmark on a research visa cannot stay on for six months while applying for work, while masters graduates can. This should be changed.
    [o[ More flexibility is needed when a researcher is transferring from one work category to another, which currently leads to an extra fee. Changes in scientific positions are a necessary part of a university career.
  • • The introduction of biometric identification cards with photo and fingerprint means that many foreign citizens must travel to a Danish embassy, which will lead to many dropping Denmark as a potential host country. Applicants from countries without a visa requirement should be allowed to apply for a biometric identification card after arriving in Denmark.
  • • The tax arrangements for international researchers in Denmark should be extended.
  • • Young researchers bringing a grant from abroad are taxed in Denmark when staying more than six months. Many other countries do not practise this. The net grant after tax deductions often becomes too small to allow for a PhD study or research stay. If Denmark wants more international personnel at universities, this has to change.
  • • Mobility of pension rights from Denmark to another country either is not possible or triggers large transaction fees. More attractive and flexible pension rights for internationally mobile researchers are needed.
  • • Public authorities provide digital self-serving systems in the Danish language only. English language systems will enhance the service for international staff and students.
  • • The 91 municipal Work-in-Denmark centres should have a focus on international students’ transferring into the Danish workforce. And services should be extended to assist in finding work for family members of students and researchers.
The Dagens Nyheter article led to another one, by Kerstin Nyquist, a tax lawyer for the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, who argued that Swedish expert tax law does not work well for researchers, since it only applies to a monthly salary above SEK88,000 (US$13,400).

Today only 15% of the 1,000 or so foreign experts in Sweden – or some 150 people – receive tax reductions; the others do not earn beyond that monthly salary level.

“In Denmark, there is no such floor for tax reductions”, Nyquist wrote, “which means that 40% of the foreign experts in Denmark in 2010 were researchers, that is 1,635 people, meaning that Denmark at present has more than 10 times the number of tax-reduced foreign researchers compared to Sweden.

“The Swedish economy is double the size of Denmark’s and very dependent on advanced technological knowledge, and therefore an improvement in the tax law should be the highest priority for making Sweden attractive in research and education”, she wrote.