Academics protest against ‘fatal’ changes to Aliens Act

Changes to the Aliens Act in Sweden, which impose onerous self-sufficiency requirements on international doctoral students and researchers and require them to leave the country to apply for Swedish residence permits for family members – even those born in Sweden – have been denounced by academic stakeholders.

The legislation was enacted after a heated discussion in parliament in June 2021.

Online magazine Universitetsläraren has identified several researchers that have had to travel as far afield as Asia to apply for visas to travel with their families to neighbouring countries such as Denmark or Germany. “With the COVID situation the travel can be very lengthy,” said researchers who did not want to disclose their identity.


Erik Kvist, who is international coordinator at Lund University, said he and colleagues have been involved in similar cases where families have been uprooted from their work in Sweden to travel abroad, a process that can create problems at their workplaces and disrupts their lives.

Kvist said that in these cases the parents of the children are in Sweden on a valid residence permit.

“The expulsion [out of the country] of a lone baby [without a permit] would be morally unacceptable, lead to great personal suffering and I am questioning how his can be related to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the right to private and family life according to the European Convention on Human Rights,” Kvist said.

“The contention that one should make an application before the newborn baby came to Sweden is an unjust demand when the child is born in Sweden,” he said.

According to the press officer for the Swedish Migration Agency, Annica Dahlqvist, no exemptions to the rules will be offered.

Pil Maria Saugmann, Swedish National Union of Students (SFS) representative and chairperson of the Doctoral Students’ Committee at SFS, told University World News that roughly 20% of doctoral students in Sweden are affected by the new legislation. “But it is maybe also important to mention that the issue digs deeper and affects post-docs and other early career researchers as well,” she said.

The legislation’s impact goes beyond having to travel outside the country to apply for permit applications.

Financial self-sufficiency

Since 2014, international doctoral students have been able to secure permanent residency after four years of doctoral studies. However, last year’s changes – introduced without a transition period – also make it necessary for international students and researchers to show they are financially self-sufficient, in other words, have a job, for a period of time, a period interpreted by the Swedish Migration Agency to be at least 18 months.

A petition by the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers (SULF), the Swedish National Union of Students’ Doctoral Students’ Committee (SFS-DK) and trade union Fackförbundet ST calling for a reversal of the legislation, notes that doctoral students and other early career researchers are very rarely offered such long-term contracts, whether employed by universities, private companies or the state.

At the same time, those who hold a PhD degree are rarely unemployed and, if they are unemployed, it is usually only for a short time.

“While the demand for their skills and expertise is high, their chances of being given a long-term contract are low during the first few years after graduation. The new permanent residency rules will create additional hurdles in their pursuit of long-term career development in Sweden. Hence, the new rules will also create a lose-lose situation for Sweden as a knowledge-based nation,” the petition, signed by almost 5,000 people, states.

‘Fatal consequences’

Adding her voice to criticisms of the legislation, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, president of Stockholm University, wrote in her blog on 23 September 2021 that the consequences of changes in the Aliens Act “risk becoming fatal for international doctoral students and junior researchers” and “threaten Sweden’s position as a prominent knowledge nation”.

She said the Swedish Migration Agency’s insistence on fixed-term employment for at least 18 months meant that doctoral students “can no longer count on completing their doctoral education in Sweden under reasonable conditions, while those with a newly earned doctor’s degree no longer have the opportunity to secure a multi-year post-doc or equivalent with the help of ‘bridge funding’ after the completion of their PhD”.

She called on parliament to introduce an exemption for doctoral students and junior researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient in the narrow sense defined by the agency, saying: “All of Sweden’s higher education institutions agree.”

Speaking to University World News on behalf of the European Migration Network, migration expert Bernd Parusel said that for some time the main focus of migration policy in Sweden has been to limit the immigration of people seeking asylum and their family members.

“It seems that this restrictive approach in Swedish migration policy has spilled over and affected other groups as well, even those that Sweden wants to attract and retain,” he said.

The call for changes to the new legislation continues, with the establishment of a Facebook page, “Intl PhD students in Sweden call for changes in permanent residency law”, which has so far attracted 2,300 members.

SULF is also keeping the issue alive by arranging webinars on the topic and has set up a webpage hosting question-and-answer sessions and other information.