• Matt

Matt's op-ed in Dagens Nyheter (in English)

My perspective on kompetensutvisning limited to that of an outsider, or ‘arbetskraftsinvandrar.’ Although I completed my Master’s on a Swedish scholarship here, have worked and paid taxes for 9 years, and voted in the local elections in 2018 – I’m not a Swedish citizen.

My perspective on kompetensutvisning limited to that of an outsider, or ‘arbetskraftsinvandrar.’ Although I completed my Master’s on a Swedish scholarship here, have worked and paid taxes for 9 years, and voted in the local elections in 2018 – I’m not a Swedish citizen. Like many foreign talent still in Sweden who survived kompetensutvisning, I don’t even have permanent residency. However, as an American maybe I have a unique perspective? I am a citizen of a country where Swedes have migrated for centuries. When I discuss this issue with Swedes with experience in the US one common reply is: “Yeah, but your country is no better with visas.” They may be right.

But in the US, President Trump has advocated for restrictive migration openly to say the least, including kompetensutvisning. In 2016, the ‘Buy American / Hire American’ Executive Order' was released to increase the scrutinization of visas for foreign, skilled professions, clampdown on outsourcing companies, and prevent wage dumping. It was announced at a factory in Wisconsin, where the President won the traditionally ‘blue’ with a narrow margin. The order received tacit support from labor unions. Over the next 2 years, extension denial rates for the skilled-labor, H1B visa more than tripled. In April, another Proclamation was released: ‘Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak,’ freezing new green cards and skilled labor visas until the end of the year. This has brought significant critique from IT companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, along with civil liberties NGOs alike. The companies need the labor, and advocacy groups questions its legality. This month, proposed changes demanding foreign students leave the US if their courses were online were successfully fought back by universities like Harvard and MIT, at least for now.


Meanwhile in Sweden kompetensutvisning continues to drag on as part of the greater debate on the 2008 ‘demand’ model migration reform. Specifically, this abolished the labor market-testing requirement, and greatly diminished the role of labor unions in the visa process. Unlike the US, Sweden would have one work permit for high and low-skilled labor along with universal access to welfare. This meant that anyone who comes from outside the EU to work, whether as a dishwasher or a rocket scientist would be on the same visa. As an American this seemed a bit extreme. Sweden may be one of the least religious countries in the world, but we foreigners learn quickly that labor law, welfare, semester, fika, are ‘holy’ here. During this reform, and perhaps without even knowing it, Migrationsverket replaced unions as the ‘gatekeeper’ to the Swedish labor market. They would now be responsible for monitoring that ‘kollektivatal or better’ was adhered to. As in all countries, some ‘non-serious employers’ in mostly low-skilled industries abused this system to get immigrants to simply do the a job for cheaper, or worse. To counter such abuse, extreme changes were introduced. Unlike in the US, these were not very publicly announced, but rather silently implemented through state institutions. Regardless, in 2017 official figures show that the denial rate of work permit extensions more than doubled in Sweden. New rulings for a ‘helhetsbedomning,’ a very common term in Swedish law helped, but the deportations continued.

I learned Swedish by following this issue in the press, and noticed a pattern. A (skilled) worker was deported, the Borgerlig parties attack, the Social Democrats defer to kollektivavtal, the 2008 law or like labor unions - say nothing. A Swedish ledarskribent then writes a piece about the story with a theoretical argument, while holding up a political boundary.

I learned Swedish by following this issue in the press, and noticed a pattern. A (skilled) worker was deported, the Borgerlig parties attack, the Social Democrats defer to kollektivavtal, the 2008 law or like labor unions - say nothing. A Swedish ledarskribent then writes a piece about the story with a theoretical argument, while holding up a political boundary. The actual worker getting deported gets a few quotes, a surge of social media support, and then are left alone to wait out an appeal. Usually, they are deported. This is why I launched a survey for foreign workers. Not only to understand what ‘helhetsbedomning’ means, but what it means to immigrants. I see kompetensutvisning as a potential risk to the Swedish Model: the creation of a sub-class based on nationality, a commodity in a political battle by proxy, with no agency. Well over the original 571 respondents that have been published over 30x in Sweden and abroad. Migrationsverket now sends out a surprisingly similar survey. My hope is that by including more perspectives, entrenched arguments for protectionism and free markets alike would perhaps realize, these are real people. As a 2nd generation Mexican-American, I know how immigration can be polarizing. But I learned in Sweden, that inclusion is the key ingredient to rights-based policy. By including foreign workers, Sweden can have both: Swedish labor standards and foreign talent. Diversity & Inclusion can be more than a corporate product, but a national brand:

1. Give more time for foreign workers who have lost their job, to find one. 3 months is not enough. Rather than use the pandemic as a subtle ‘Purge’ of foreign workers, Sweden should follow Portugal, France, and other EU countries that have extended visas.

2. Those who have paid taxes for four years in a seven-year period, according Sweden's agreement with the EU Circular Migration Law should be allowed to apply for permanent residency immediately, independent of visa extensions, and including those who have left. As per the law, time in application should be counted, regardless if it is a new application or extension - not from the day Migrationsverket handles it. Time ‘revoked’ for PUT due to kompetensutvisning should not be subtracted, as this is obviously a political issue.

3. Immediately allow foreign workers already in Sweden who have committed no crime and are facing deportation and ‘caught in the system,’ a temporary extension status pending the official investigation on kompetensutvisning. This should also include non-criminals who were denied a work permit, switched to asylum, and denied the transition back work permit.

4. Stop polarizing this issue. Instead, engage directly and include foreign workers in the Swedish Model. We are part of this country, have paid into its welfare, built lives here, and often have a great affection for our adopted homeland.

5. Acknowledge positive examples of foreign talent. Start with Ali Omumi’s fearless demand for dignity, as a new leader of Civil Liberties in Sweden. Foreign workers are the best resource for creating a positive culture of legal, labor migration, and the absolute best resource for attracting foreign talent Sweden will need as the economy recovers.

6. It seems that some, low-skilled labor unions are desperate and without any shame of sacrificing their own values of workers’ rights and dignity for control of low-skilled labor. So, let them have a say in future low-skilled labor migration, not those already here. They can reform the unemployment policy when low-skilled labor in the country becomes scarce, and companies leave.

7. Make room for civil society initiatives lead by actual foreign talent to be part of the solution. Our unions have definitively left us behind. The inclusion of vanlig, (foreign) folk, with bottom-up organizations has proven very successful in Finland and others.

I hope politicians see that fixing kompetensutvisning helps everyone, including Sweden. Regardless, I will continue giving foreign workers a voice, from abroad. Like many Swedes in the US who lost their jobs and have to leave, my 3 months in Sweden is over.


Matt Kriteman is the founder of Real People, the Dearly Deported and the fmr. COO of the Diversify foundation. He has worked for the US Congress (Democrats), the UN and with Swedish international assistance. He is currently working as a long-term election observer in Ukraine for an American non-partisan NGO.

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