Ombudsman to examine expulsion of doctoral students

The Swedish Association for University Teachers and Researchers (SULF) has reported the Swedish Migration Agency to the Parliamentary Ombudsman for misconduct in breach of the rules when expelling international doctoral students who have graduated within a shorter study time than the allocated four years.

“The argument that you should be expelled because you have managed to graduate in less time than applied for when starting is so stupid that it cannot be compared to anything,” Robert Andersson, head negotiator of SULF, said in a statement to the press.

In 2014 a new rule was entered into the foreign citizen law aimed at helping Sweden retain highly educated people in the country after graduation, which enables any non-Swedish citizen who has had a residence permit in Sweden for four years within a seven-year period to have the right to permanent residence in Sweden, according to SULF.

“SULF does not lightly refer cases to the Ombudsman,” Andersson said. “But we have tried to establish a dialogue with the Migration Agency without any results over many years,” he said.

The reasons SULF gave for reporting the agency to the Parliamentary Ombudsman include using the wrong reason for decisions and not having changed their standard letter for expelling doctoral students since the law changed in 2014. “We have most recently seen this standard formulation in a decision in a letter dated January 2019,” Andersson said.

The decision to expel students who have finished their doctoral degree before the residence time given when applying is counterproductive to the lawmakers’ intentions in the documents prepared for the 2014 law change, which was to make it easier to keep highly qualified personnel in Sweden upon graduation, SULF said.

Andersson said the Migration Agency’s use of a reason for expulsion that has been refuted several times already by the courts suggests it is just “searching for an excuse to expel people”.

A second reason SULF gave for reporting this case to the Parliamentary Ombudsman was that the Migration Agency is not following the practice established by the ruling of the courts over the past four years. Yet it has not challenged or referred the decisions of the migrant courts to a higher court. This suggests it does not want a decision in the higher court that might contradict its view, Andersson argues.

“Our view is that the Parliamentary Ombudsmen should look into why the Migration Agency is continuing to ignore the rulings of the courts,” Andersson said.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has not decided how it will respond to the reporting from SULF.

Exodus of graduates

On her blog page, Professor Sigbritt Karlsson, president of KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, addressed the issue of why so many international graduate students are leaving Sweden upon graduation.

“In 2016, over one in three doctoral students came from countries outside Sweden, according to a Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) report published last year. Around 81% of women and 86% of men respectively [of all graduates] had become established three years after completing their PhD within technology. But foreign doctoral graduates mostly leave Stockholm and Sweden.”

After two years, approximately 80% of foreign PhD graduates at KTH had left the city, for example.

Karlsson said: “This is a massive loss of know-how, a competence that we naturally ought to use in the Swedish job market.

“In recent years, we have noticed declining interest from Swedish students in continuing third-cycle education. To devote at least another four years of in-depth study might appear less appealing if the Swedish job market does not set much store by a doctoral degree.

“This is something KTH needs to discuss more with society and the enterprise sector, because it may be that the answer to it also coincides with why international students who complete a Swedish PhD also leave Sweden.”

She believes difficulties in obtaining a residence permit and somewhere to live, not least in Stockholm, are critical factors. “If we then add lukewarm interest from the Swedish job market for third-cycle graduates, we won’t see more third-cycle graduates in the Swedish job market.”

University World News asked for the opinion of Agneta Bladh, the special investigator for internationalisation in 2017-18, whose report on the practices of the Swedish Migration Agency is out for consultation and will be examined by parliament next year.

She said the Swedish Migration Agency had done a lot to improve its decisions on granting residence permits, especially at undergraduate and graduate level. However, doctoral level improvements remain to be achieved.

“I do not know the details in this case, but there seems to be room for a more mutual dialogue in understanding higher education institutions’ objectives and operations as well as the existing rules for regulated immigration. I believe that the parties involved have a joint responsibility to create constructive cooperation.”

Jacob Adamowicz, the president of the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS), told University World News: “It’s a bit ironic when the government, student and doctoral student organisations, SULF and higher education institutions want and are working towards more people staying and this is the way the migration agency handles cases. It seems that everyone thinks this is wrong, but it still continues to happen. We are grateful for the work SULF does.”