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New Aliens Act - Detrimental to International Competence

PhD Chapter Chairman, Mohammad Abuasbeh -

Carl Housten -

In Sweden there are today around 17,000 doctoral students, of which 23% are non EU/EEA citizens. Here at KTH, out of 1600 doctoral students, 40% are non EU/EEA- citizens.

When choosing where to pursue a PhD, many factors play in - in addition to seeking a high quality education and research environment, potential doctoral students also consider financial and social stability. Just as you would if you chose to pursue a non academic career. A PhD is a long-term commitment, and most doctoral students will be in their late 20s or 30s,an age where planning to settle down or start a family is not unusual.

What has been unique about Sweden is that it has provided a balance between having a high-quality education and research environment, and stability for its international doctoral students - the latter in the form of the ability to obtain permanent residency. This gave Sweden a competitive edge to attract doctoral students - for the majority, this was a decisive factor.

Doctoral education is not cheap and Sweden has invested tens of billions. Sweden desperately needs doctoral graduates both in academia and in the industry, hence, it is in Sweden's interest that many of its international PhD graduates remain in Sweden; something that the Swedish Parliament, as recently asDecember 2020, acknowledged in its Research and Innovation proposition (Prop. 2020/21:60). This has long been a wish and it finally seems that the trend of international doctoral students leaving Sweden has been broken. A recent study by UKÄ (Universitetskanslersämbetet) shows that since 2014, there has been an increase in foreign doctoral students choosing to stay after graduation.

The shift in 2014 occured after a lengthy process, lead by student organizations (like SFS and THS),the trade unions like SULF, and others. The Swedish migration legislation was changed such that doctoral students were given the same access to obtaining permanent residency as if they had chosen a non-academic career. This was done to improve not only the conditions for doctoral students, but also to increase Sweden's attractiveness as an innovative nation. This decision was also aimed at increasing the number of international doctoral graduates who remain in Sweden - and it worked!

The new Aliens Act

During the spring of 2021, the parliament voted to replace the temporary law of the Aliens Act (2005:716). Here, the new requirement is that the applicant, in order to obtain permanent residency, must be able to support themselves financially - however, this has in practice turned out to mean that the applicant must have an employment for at least the 18 upcoming months from the date that the Swedish Migration Agency makes their decision about a case. Depending on how long it takes to assess an application, it can result in very different outcomes. This has very serious implications for doctoral students.

As a doctoral student, you qualify to apply for permanent residence when you have had a doctoral studies residence permit for four years - hence, usually you will have less than 12 months left of your studies - and the university can of course not grant you an employment contract long enough. But even after graduation, it is unlikely that you will land a permanent position immediately. For those who continue in academia, they are often employed with short term contracts which are often renewed from project to project. This might even be the case if you leave academia and you are no better off than if you had stayed.

The previous minister of migration, Morgan Johansson, said that it is the universities’ responsibility to provide longer contracts for doctoral students if they want them to obtain permanent residency. His reply indicated that he lacks the knowledge of how academia works. The new migration law makes it practically impossible for a doctoral student to obtain permanent residency. This has major consequences on both the individuals currently in Sweden, but also risks “brain drain” in the form of highly qualified researchers leaving Sweden at unprecedented rates - in fields Sweden desperately needs in order to maintain and improve Sweden’s position as a knowledge and innovation hub. Given they are a very small minority of less than 1% of total immigrants, it is clear that the implications of this law on doctoral students and researchers were not considered when the law was passed and implemented. Therefore, an exemption from the new financial requirements for doctoral students and researchers is urgently needed.

Since early August, the KTH PhD Chapter has been working diligently on this issue together with KTH management, the Swedish national union of students SFS, and its doctoral students committee SFS-DK, the trade unions SULF (Sveriges universitetslärare och forskare), Fackförbundet ST, and the umbrella organizations SACO (Sveriges akademikers centralorganisation)and TCO (Tjänstemännens centralorganisation). The chapter even co-started a grass root campaign, formed by doctoral students in Sweden demanding an exemption, which was expressed in their joint petition and statement sent to politicians.

Furthermore, The Confederation of Swedish Enterprises (Svenskt näringsliv), Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (Kungliga Ingenjörsvetenskapsakademin) and The Young Academy of Sweden (Sveriges Unga Akademi) have all joined the call to demand an exemption for doctoral students and researchers from the new permanent residence requirements in more recent articles in Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet.

This means that not only is there an increasing sector-wide consensus on the urgent need for an exemption, but also virtually every labour market organization (high and low level) representing both employees and employers are united in this call. This is not something we see every day, in fact, it is hard to recall any other issue where there has been such a strong, united opposition from actors that otherwise quite naturally often hold conflicting views of policies.

While KTH through SUHF (Sveriges universitets- och högskoleförbund) has initially raised the issue in SUHF, which resulted in two statements to the government, the most recent of which addressing all issues in detail, asking for exemption. (2021-12-07, Dnr SU-850-0064-21)

We, in the PhD Chapter at KTH, cannot help but wonder why the KTH management has not addressed the issue further. Given that the President of KTH sees it as the core mission to promote internationalization at KTH, we cannot help but wonder why KTH is not taking a more active role in this. Stockholm University, Lund University, Göteborg University, Umeå University, Luleå Technical University, Chalmers University of Technology, Karolinska Institute and the Research Institute in Gävle have all taken a stance.

The trade unions, the business community, the research funders, the student organizations and the federation of Swedish universities have all gathered behind a call for introducing an exemption for doctoral students and other early career researchers. It is astonishing that we have not received a better response from the Minister of Migration. Now a new Minister of Migration, Anders Ygeman, has taken over.

So let us all work together to bring his attention to the topic, because an exemption is needed and it is needed quickly!

Publicerad: 2021-12-16

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Ansvarig utgivare: Cornelia Thane
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