International students face residency clampdown

The Swedish Migration Agency has rejected more than 10 residence permits for international students admitted for a study place and grants at Swedish universities, claiming they have not adequately demonstrated that their primary aim for coming to Sweden is to study, according to reports by Radio Sweden or SR.

The rejection is due to the migration agency’s interpretation of the wording in the motivational letter sent by applicants for a student visa and the impression that they give when interviewed at a Swedish embassy abroad.

The fact that the wording of some students in expressing their motivation is Googled from the universities’ web pages is deemed to show they have not sufficiently demonstrated their own conviction.

Staff member of the American International University-Bangladesh in Dhaka, Mamunur Rashid, applied for the world-renowned masters degree studies at Lund University faculty of engineering in electronics, where several of his colleagues have studied.

“I wrote in the application that I wanted to study at Lund University, having the possibility to work in the laboratories that are world-class,” he said to the Swedish newspaper, Sydsvenskan.

Rashid was awarded the Lund University Jubilee Scholarship covering much of the tuition fees of SEK290,000 (US$35,900) as one of two recipients out of 500 applicants.

Both he, and the other student selected for this scholarship from Pakistan, Neelam Peerzada, said that they had used the university web pages to write their motivational letter in the application.

Rashid said that he had Googled the name of the laboratory from the university web page and that he also had used some other facts in his application and repeated these in an interview in Dhaka in July.

The migration agency in both cases found that their motivation for studying in Sweden was not sufficiently convincing and rejected their study visa application.

Harmful for Swedish reputation

Viktor Öwall, the dean of the faculty of engineering at Lund University, said the grounds on which the migration agency was making its decisions was “strongly dubious”. He criticised the agency for preventing the arrival of students admitted to the faculty of engineering, who in addition have received big grants.

Richard Stenelo, international director and deputy executive director, Division of External Relations at Lund University, told SR: “This is harmful for the Swedish reputation abroad as a destination for world top students and doctoral candidates.”

He added: “If the migration agency does not think that the main motivation for these students selected is to study in Sweden, they ought to consult with us. We are using a lot of resources to recruit top candidates from abroad.”

Joel Martinsson of the Swedish Migration Agency said: “We are the first to regret any wrong decision when rejecting international students. The universities have the competence to examine if the students are qualified to be admitted, but it is the Swedish Migration Agency that is authorised to decide if their motivation for coming here is to study. This is explicitly stated in the law.”

When pressed by the SR reporter to say on what grounds the migration agency could decide this, Martinsson said that the agency had developed a methodology for screening the motivational aspects in the application, and then asks the embassies to follow up with a series of basic questions on why students want to come to Sweden.

The consequences for the rejected students are probably that they will be unable to go and study in Sweden. There is an option to take the Swedish Migration Agency’s decision to the appeal court. But that is a time-consuming process, and even if they won the appeal, the agency needed at least six weeks to process the visa. If the study place is not taken within the first week of the term, the student loses the option.

This means these places are left unfilled, Stenelo told SR.

Migration agency too rigid

Robert Andersson, head of negotiations at the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers or SULF, told University World News that the migration agency was taking a “very hard and in some cases a curious interpretation” of the law.

He said SULF is pursuing a number of cases in the courts challenging Swedish Migration Agency decisions with the objective of sending “clear signals to the lawmakers that the rules and regulations are unreasonable” and that the agency is “counteracting the intentions of the lawmakers”.

Concern is rising that foreign talent is being deterred from staying in Sweden by overzealous migration officials. One case highlighted is that of Tayyab Shabab who came from Pakistan in 2013 to study for a masters degree in computer science at Linnaeus University.

In 2014 he was offered a position in an IT company in Växjö and worked there with a work permit until 2016 when he was recruited by the Stockholm company Dynamo, a leading Swedish company on mobile applications.

Due to his previous employer not having registered him with the Swedish pension fund, the migration agency decided that he had violated the law and rejected his application for a residence permit.

With the help from the Centre for Justice, the case was appealed in the Swedish high court. But Shabab decided doubts over how he would be treated in future made his position in the country insecure and he decided to leave for Germany where he was offered another expert job.

Rigid interpretation

“This is the consequence of the migration agency’s exaggerated and rigid interpretation of the regulations,” Fredrik Bergman, chief lawyer at the Centre for Justice stated in a press release.

“People who are working and contributing to the development of society are being expelled due to minor details in the handling of their personal data in relation to public registries with almost negligent economic consequences. This is stressful for the person affected and a drawback for Sweden,” Bergman said.

Charlotta Tjärdahl, vice-chairperson of the Swedish National Union of Students or SFS, told University World News: “Each student who has the will to study and is accepted to an education should have the right to do so. We want an open society based on knowledge, and shutting out students is not the way to go.”

Stenelo said Lund University is now working with the Association of Swedish Higher Education or SUHF to persuade the migration agency to improve the treatment of international students.
He said the question of study motivation has to be clarified. “We would prefer a situation where the universities are more involved in this work, like for instance in the Netherlands,” Stenelo said.

Agneta Bladh, the special investigator for increased internationalisation of Swedish universities for 2017-18, told University World News that the inquiry she is leading will propose a new national strategy to the Swedish government during the next year and this will include steps to ease procedures for foreign students from outside of the European Union taking up study places.

She also said that there is a question of whether universities could take a bigger role in all types of assessments before enrolment and issuing of residence permits. “The inquiry will discuss this with the parties concerned,” she said.