Friday, April 24, 2009

Loopholes in the Swedish Immigration System

All countries in the world have conditions that are enforced in order to control the tide emigrants that want to immigrate into yours. Generally these policies work quite well having been developed over many years and the list of loopholes is for the most part nonexistent. One interesting development I have noticed here in Sweden is that the system has one major and glaring loophole.

The red line is people coming into Sweden, and the blue is people leaving over the past 150 years. Click for larger Image.

The loophole involves giving people from any country in the world outside the EU to apply as an international masters student in Sweden thereby being granted an automatic 2 year uppehållstillstånd or Residence Permit on the grounds of studying in Sweden. Now this in itself is nothing exciting, many countries such as mine (Canada) have similar programs in place so that there can be some knowledge sharing occurring between those countries which would be classified as developed to those that are perhaps not classified as such.

The breakdown is not due to migrationsverket (The Migration Authority), but due to the schools in Sweden and how the Social system funds the same. For each international masters student and local students that successfully complete a course in Sweden the University or Högskolan where that students graduates from receives a bidrag (benefit payment) from the government. Think about that for a second: If a course has a 95% pass rate and you have the opportunity to enrol an extra 100 students in the class, this means that the educators will receive payment from the Swedish government for an additional 95 students passing the class.

Ok, what does this all mean?

*All higher education centers in Sweden will want to enrol as many students as possible*

Now, with this permit to study the student can now enter Sweden legally and stay for the duration of their studies but what if the goal of this student is not so much to study but to emigrate away from their home land where opportunities are limited?

They say it’s quite difficult to get a job in Sweden, firstly it’s costly for a company to hire a worker, and secondly there is generally a requirement for fluent conversational Swedish skills. If one has learned English as their second language already, interacting and communicating in yet another language fluently takes quite a bit of work BUT, there are companies here in Sweden that work only in English.

One such company is Marcus Evans, an Events company. They will hire anyone that speaks even a glimmer of English. And unless you make any sales, your guaranteed minimum wage is less than the cost of a student room in Stockholm which means that the company pretty much gets your services for free. Even I was employed by this company for exactly 1 week. I couldn’t morally agree with their modus operandi to which I was exposed during their 3 day training and left but, I do remember someone in my training group. He was an international master’s student from India. He had claimed that he completed his master’s course and was now looking for work in Sweden after having only been in Sweden 6 months. Of course any master’s course in Sweden runs for a minimum of 18 months so this person was lying.

(BACKGROUND: A person NOT from the EU is granted a visa to stay in Sweden for 1 year at a time, to receive the student study extension they must demonstrate the ability to further provide for themselves for the continuing year as well as having shown progress in their studies. Of course there is another type of visa one can obtain once this expires, a worker visa which is granted 2 years at a time and the receiver is bound to the company the visa is issued to.)

And finally we get to the end of the loophole. International student gets into Sweden, start classes, quits said classes and are able to find a job with an 'English speaking' company who vouches for them and enables the person to get a permit based on work.

What is not talked about is that typically, to afford the high cost of living in Sweden, these people must share cramped accommodations and live far from the city all but still earning more for their time then they might be able to do in their home countries. Generally, these people find difficulty integrating into the Swedish culture, learning the language, and therefore are segregated from society as a whole.

Making Friends in Sweden

So you have moved to Sweden or thinking about moving here.

The most common reasons one moves to this country are either due to a relationship or studies. In gereral i have found that it is quite rare for people to move here to work as the taxes are high compared to other countries and wages are gernally lower then what one could make for instance from where i hail Canada. However once you get here, whether or not you have a partner to 'show you the ropes' how do you start to make friends and meet people?

Swedes are gernerally quite a reserved people and on top of that, most foreigners coming here will not be speaking to the Swedes in their native language. Although Swedes are quite good at speaking english in my experience, some are not confident in their speaking abilities (when more often then not they are excellent anyways!). For both of these reasons and maybe more, it might be hard to get to know

Out and About
Speaking to someone on the street is something that I personally have never tried and from my experience its not really done unless copious amounts of alcohol have been consumed beforehand. Although generally speaking this is the case, its certainly not the rule. I was quite surprised the other day while at the gym an older Swede first said something to me in Swedish and then after the typical questions I always receive proceeded to continue talking to me. I was aghast to say the least, in my 20 months here, this has never happened. I think part of my problem is that I am somewhat disapponted in my own abilities to speak Swedish after being here for a while and i feel somewhat like a broken record (LP) when speaking in english and repeating what I have repeated my story like so many times before.

Well of all the places to meet people, this has been the one where i have to say my social circle has expanded the most. People are in a good mood -hey its the weekend- and Swedes have a work hard play hard mentality about work life. Alochol is flowing, the music is playing and the former contributes not only to my Swedish getting better but also to Swedes english-language confidence improving. If you manage to get some contact details gererally you have someone that you will be able to call up again and get to know better.

Private Dinners
Generally a great way to get to know a group better and a more intimate setting where you can actually here whats being said by everyone. the problem here is that you have to know someone to get invited to one of these in the first place.

If you come here as an Exchange or Masters Student there is the possiblity to meet Swedes in your class however, generally there are very few Swedes that take the classes your taking and they also generally stick together as a group making it hard to get to know them. From my experience, your generally hanging out with your fellow foreign students and most of these events you rarely see any Swedes participating.

This all depends on the industry your in, if your in a professional industry my experience has been that a lot of your co workers will be older, married, have kids, and their own lives outside the office. A recent 'After Work' event at my place was planned 2 months in advance, VERY spontanious.

The silver lining here is that once you do make some friends here, generally they will be fast and true. You can count on them and bond with them. But until then, Sweden can be a very lonely place.