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Migration Minister in Round-Table Discussion with International Students

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Doctoral students will be able to apply for permanent residency status and students will be allowed to stay in Sweden for six months after graduating to find a job or start a business. These are some details of a migration policy agreement between the Swedish Government and the Green Party. Last Tuesday, Swedish Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy Tobias Billström visited the University of Gothenburg to present the new government bill to international students.

Swedish Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy Tobias Billström and some other people around a table.

Following the introduction of tuition fees for students from outside the EEA area, the number of international students at Swedish higher education institutions, as well as the number of international students who end up staying in Sweden after graduating, have plummeted.

Request for changes

In January this year, the vice-chancellors of the University of Gothenburg and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm published an article in the Swedish national newspaper Dagens Nyheter together with several representatives from the Swedish business sector. The authors pointed out that the changes in the higher education sector may lead to a national shortage of qualified labour. As part of the solution, they requested revised rules regarding foreign students’ possibilities to obtain a permanent resident permit in Sweden after graduating. Changes are now in sight through the government bill Circular Migration and Development, which is expected to be signed by the Government before the summer and then go into effect 1 July.

Language requirements and housing

During Tuesday’s round-table discussion arranged on request by the Government, Swedish Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy Tobias Billström met with doctoral student Gurpreet Kahlon (India) and Master’s students Natalia Munera (Colombia), Hadeel Masoudi (Jordan) and Yingjuan Mao (China).

The discussion was moderated by Pro-Vice-Chancellor Helena Lindholm Schulz, and the topics included language requirements in the labour market, the Swedish housing market and whether the proposed six months will be enough time for new graduates to find a job.

‘I think six months may be too short. If you finish your degree in June, the first three months of job searching will be wasted since the Swedish labour marked is practically closed in the summer. This is a problem. And housing is another dilemma. I know many former students who had to leave their student flats after graduating. And it’s difficult to look for a job if you don’t have a home,’ says Yingjuan Mao, a Master in Communication student at the IT Faculty, who did start out by saying that she does welcome the suggested changes.

New rules for family members

According to Hadeel Masoudi, Master’s student in Business and Entrepreneurship in Biomedicine, the new rules are crucial for students’ possibilities to find a job.

‘I just found a job in my field, but if I hadn’t, it would have been very difficult with the old rules. Six additional months to find a job will make a big difference.’

The agreement about circular migration implies a possibility for a doctoral student’s family members to apply for permanent residency in Sweden, which in turn implies permission to find employment. Gurpreet Kahlon, doctoral student in marine ecology, sees this as absolutely necessary.

‘If you are married or live together and have kids, you need two incomes to get by in Sweden. So this is a good change.’

Hard to find time for Swedish studies

Natalia Munera, Master’s student in global studies, pointed to the difficulty of finding time to learn Swedish in the middle of a demanding Master’s programme. She said that this is a problem for many international Master’s students.

‘It would be great if we could stay in Sweden and study Swedish after graduating. It’s just so hard to find time for it if you want to perform well in school. Most Swedish employers demand that you can speak Swedish at a professional level.’

Billström concluded that the issue of language training is complex, not least with respect to funding.

‘It’s an important issue, but unfortunately there’s no easy solution. The question is, who should pay for it, and how should it be arranged in practice?’ he wondered.

The taxation and welfare system in a globalised world

According to Billström, the bill on circular migration is one step to make it easier for people to move between different countries to work and study. He also addressed the issue of how the taxation and welfare system may need to be adjusted to an increasingly globalised world.

‘Today people need to be able to move easily across national boundaries. The next step may be to discuss ”portable rights”, where people can bring their rights across borders. Today we have a system where you pay taxes in a country and therefore have the right to a strong social welfare system. We need to discuss how this works in a global world,’ said Billström.

Facts: The government bill, which is expected to go into effect 1 July, will enable:

  • Doctoral students to obtain a permanent residence permit in Sweden.
  • Students to stay in Sweden for up to six months after graduating to find a job or start a business.
  • According to the bill, doctoral students who have had a temporary residence permit for doctoral studies for a total of four years in the previous seven-year period will be able to obtain a permanent residence permit.