Restricted migration as a panacea: Who will be affected by Sweden’s new government plan?
GVANTSA GATENADZE | 26 MARCH 2023
A month after the government elections in Sweden on 14th October, the ruling coalition presented the Tidö Agreement (Tidöavtalet), a proposal of priority reforms, which the new government will focus on over the next four years. The document covers six different topics: health and healthcare, climate and energy, criminality, migration and integration, schooling, growth, and household economy. The sections on migration and integration take up the most space: over 18 pages are dedicated to the coalition’s plans on how to ‘have a responsible migration policy in line with binding international rules’, on how to encourage individuals to become ‘part of Swedish society’, and on introducing a ‘requirement-based integration policy’. In his speech addressing the Swedish Parliament, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson mentioned that this is a ‘paradigm switch in Swedish migration policy’ which so far has been ‘unsustainable’ and has caused the social exclusion of migrants and their Sweden-born descendants. In his words, these processes have had a negative effect on all social issues, such as criminality, housing, segregation, unemployment, child and social benefits, etc.
Sweden, which for some years was regarded as a safe haven for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, has steadily tightened its immigration laws and closed its borders. The Tidö Agreement is the next drastic step in the process of increasingly restricting migration that began in 2015. Despite the fact that the ruling majority views the document to be applicable to everyone in Sweden, the Prime Minister’s words present a contradiction. He views these proposals as necessary to integrate people who come from ‘completely different laws, rules, and culture’. Based on the previous exclusionary and racist comments shared by the members of the majority coalition, there is a concern that the changes will primarily affect already vulnerable populations of asylum seekers/refugees and migrants from non-EU/EEA countries. This thought is further perpetuated by the areas prioritised in the agreement, such as asylum seeking, return migration, work permits, citizenship and permanent residence.
Asylum and return migration
The coalition proposes to lower the admissions of asylum seekers and refugees to the minimum requirements under international and EU laws. This means lowering the official quota of people that Sweden accepts from refugee camps and from in-country applications. Additionally, Sweden will follow the lead of Denmark, the UK and Australia, and will seek ways to introduce refugee transit zones away from the mainland. This practice has had detrimental effects on asylum seekers in Australia and the inhumane treatment present in the centres has attracted international criticism.
An inquiry will be made into how the state can encourage return migration and incentivise refugees to go back. Sweden will also be looking into opportunities to withdraw residence from asylum seekers whose original grounds for asylum have changed. This would mean that individuals who have escaped conflicts might be forced to return, if the situation in their country of origin is now deemed safe.
Lastly, the coalition proposes to further decrease opportunities for family reunification. It will be limited to immediate family, excluding parents, adult children, grandparents, etc. Abdul, who is a refugee from a middle-eastern country, views this as a ‘further step to tear more families apart’, as he has already been struggling to bring a parent to Sweden. Despite the fact that he is already a citizen, the state denies him the opportunity over and over again.
Citizenship and permanent residence
The coalition proposes an inquiry into the possibility of abolishing permanent residence and instead maintaining a process of temporary residence permit renewal (every 2 years in most cases). This would apply to those who qualify for permanent residence in the coming years, but there is also an intention to withdraw already granted permits retrospectively. The coalition also plans to introduce longer time frames to qualify for citizenship and a citizenship test, which will cover the language, history, and culture of Sweden. Although an inquiry into a similar reform was launched in 2019, the ruling parties’ narrative has created an increased sense of concern, as permanent residence is now considered to ‘clash with citizenship’ and diminish its value.
Permanent residence allows non-EU/EEA citizens an opportunity for stability and mobility within Sweden and the EU, while maintaining their citizenship in the country of origin. This is especially important for individuals who come from countries that do not permit dual citizenship. If Sweden moves to abolish permanent residence in favour of temporary residence, it will inevitably affect the stability and precariousness of refugees and asylum seekers, who may also be forced to give up their original citizenship eventually. Additionally, the coalition is looking into limiting social and welfare benefits currently available to residents. Non-EU citizens would no longer be eligible for child benefits, public healthcare, disability benefits, etc.
The agreement proposes to further limit migration by increasing the salary requirement for work permits. Currently, this is set by the market in which the migrant is employed, therefore the salary varies between cases. Going forward, the proposal would increase the amount to a national average of 33,200 kroner (approximately 3,300 euros). Such an increase would drastically limit the scope of workers coming into the country. It would only allow already privileged groups to seek employment in Sweden. Yana, a migrant from Eastern Europe, views this as a ‘scary change’ which will increase the precariousness of those living in Sweden and those who thought of the country as a place to improve their lives: ‘I am already struggling to find a job as a university graduate, but this change will make it impossible’.
The overview of proposed changes makes it clear that Sweden is heading towards not only restricting immigration, but excluding individuals already within the country. A large part of the agreement will have a direct effect only on the lives of non-EU/EEA citizens. Despite the attempt to frame it as a universal proposal, it is clear that the primarily affected group will be refugees, asylum seekers, and individuals in precarious working conditions. The reform will limit their mobility and their sense of belonging, and will increase their vulnerability to economic and social instability.
Gvantsa Gatenadze is originally from Georgia, South Caucasus, and is currently completing a Master of Arts in Ethnic and Migration Studies at Linköping University, Sweden. She is interested in social borders, ethnic identity building, and understanding decoloniality in post-Soviet spaces.