High court eases restriction for foreign PhD students

The Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers, or SULF, has won a high court ruling that will put an end to a bureaucratic catch-22 implemented by the Swedish Tax Agency that ultimately has made it more difficult for foreign PhD students to live and study in the country.

Many foreign non-European Union or European Economic Area, or non-EU/EEA, doctoral candidates and their family members had faced difficulties registering to receive a personal number at the Swedish Tax Agency because their residency permits were shorter than one year at the time of application. This denial of a personal number had caused a lot of trouble for students, preventing them from opening a bank account and receiving social services, for instance.

In a ruling by the Swedish high court in Stockholm on 5 June, the Swedish Tax Agency lost an appeal against a lower court verdict in favour of the Iranian student ‘AA’.

“We are very happy to announce that SULF through our chief negotiator, Robert Andersson, just won a case in the Supreme Administrative Court, Högsta förvaltningsdomstolen, in favour of foreign doctoral candidates who had trouble registering at the Swedish Tax Agency,” SULF announced in a message on Facebook.

The Swedish Tax Agency had continued – despite three verdicts against them in the administrative court of appeal or Kammarrätten and a large number of verdicts in administrative courts or förvaltningsrätten – to claim that a residence permit of at least one year was required to join the public register.

“However, the latest verdict now rules that having a valid residence permit and an intention to stay for more than one year would be enough for registration at the Tax Agency. Since the decision was made by the Supreme Administrative Court, from now on all similar cases will be referred to the same verdict, which is in favour of doctoral candidates,” SULF said.

Foreign students face difficulties because when they move to Sweden they are required to obtain a residence permit for staying for more than three months.

The practice by the tax authorities and the migration agency has been to demand a one-year residence permit for the right to be registered in the national population register and hence qualify for a personal number. Those having a shorter duration in their residence permit upon applying would later have to re-apply for another full-year residence, not recognising the time already spent in Sweden, as reported in University World News.

Iranian student AA moved to Sweden from Iran on 29 April 2015 and applied to be registered. She stated that she would live permanently in Sweden together with her husband – who was a doctoral candidate at Luleå University of Technology and who had been registered in the population registry since 1 September 2009.

Student AA possessed a residence permit that was valid from 1 April 2015 until 3 January 2016. But the tax authorities declined the application because the time left on the permit was less than a year.

Student AA appealed the decision in the local court, which rescinded the decision of the tax authorities and said that AA should be included in the population register from the time of application, that is, from 29 April 2015.

No legal provision

The lower court did not find any legal provision that explicitly specified that the condition for being registered was holding a one-year residency permit. The court also said that there were no grounds to believe that AA would not stay in Sweden until her husband had finished his doctoral studies, which he was due to complete on 8 June this year.

The court of appeal rejected the Swedish Tax Agency’s appeal and said that it was beyond doubt that AA had intended to stay in Sweden for more than a year.

The tax agency then appealed the case in the Swedish high court, asking it to affirm their decision not to give a personal number to student AA.

Student AA, with the assistance of SULF, argued that the one-year claim for issuing a personal number is not explicitly mentioned in the law, stating that the intention of the lawmakers was to make room for flexibility on this point when handling applications for residence permits.

The high court examined in detail all laws related to this issue, and all preparative law texts that had been worked out, and found that such a claim for a one-year planned residence upon applying was not explicitly mentioned in the law, and was not the intention of the lawmakers.

Doctoral student Behbood Borghei of Linköping University and a member of the SULF doctoral association, told University World News that the positive ruling was achieved largely as a result of the work of SULF negotiator Robert Andersson on this issue over a long period of time.