Foreign PhD graduates denied citizenship

Numerous foreign PhD students who apply for Swedish citizenship face years of delay or rejection, because they originally said on their application form when applying for a study visa that they did not intend to stay in Sweden.

Under legislation on “circular migration” enacted last July, it was made easier for doctoral students from outside Europe to seek permanent residency in Sweden and settle in Sweden upon graduation.

“A person who during the last seven years has had a visa for studies at doctorate level for at least four years can receive permanent residency,” the law stipulates. But, in an odd twist, those who want to become Swedish citizens might experience delays, depending on what they wrote on the application form when applying for a visa to study in Sweden.

Whether the Migration Agency will take into account in an application all of the time a PhD student has spent in Sweden depends on what type of residence permit the student has and what they originally stated was the intention of their stay.

The agency has decided that time spent with a temporary residence permit on the basis of doing doctoral studies may be included, but only if it was stated by the student when applying for a visa that their intention was to stay in Sweden after completing their studies.

This has created a catch-22 situation because many doctoral students from outside Europe, notably those admitted before the new legislation, in 2006-14, had to mention in their application that they intended to leave Sweden after graduation as this was a requirement to be granted a visa for studies.

Campaign group objects

A campaign group which goes by the name of “Equality for foreign PhDs in Sweden” told University World News that this was an issue of “discrimination against one minority group while privileging others”.

The group cited the example of an unnamed student who received permanent residency based on the 2014 law. He had already been in the country for nine years and paid taxes for seven years. But his application for citizenship was rejected because when he applied for a PhD student visa he hadn’t shown his intention to stay.

The group says that on 18 November 2014, the Migration Agency posted on its website that the PhD period can be counted as the time of residence only if the student mentioned in his application that he would like to settle in Sweden after studies.

“However, for the PhD student group between 2006 and 2014, this requirement is unfair since this group of students had to mention in their applications that they intended to leave Sweden after studies in order to be granted a residence permit for PhD studies.”

An expert on citizenship in the Swedish Migration Agency, or MV, Helena Cidh told University World News: “A doctoral candidate is always evaluated [for citizenship] from the date of application for permanent residence. If the person shall have the time before receiving permanent residence included, this has to be examined using criteria that includes 'whether he or she stated that they are planning to return home after the stay’.”

“If the student has crossed for the option of returning home after graduation and there is no other good reasons that the plan of the student originally was to stay in Sweden, then the application will be rejected.”

The “Equality for foreign PhDs in Sweden” group said the Migration Agency’s approach did not take into account, in some recently rejected cases, the fact that since graduation people have taken on permanent jobs, bought apartments and have started families in Sweden.

Doctoral student trends

There is a growing trend for doctoral students to become employees at universities, not living on student grants. On average 61% of doctoral students today are employees at Swedish universities, and most institutions are changing the status of doctoral candidates from 'student’ to 'employee’.

Of 19,000 active doctoral students, almost 5,000 are foreign citizens today. Some 40% of the 3,700 new entrants each year are foreign born. About 50% of foreign doctoral students stay on in Sweden after graduation.

They are six years younger on average than Swedish doctoral students and only 18% are living at home with a child compared with 47% of their Swedish peers.