Operation Maple Syrup - A Canadian Chef, Mother, and International Professional needs some help.
Brianne was a sambo, but her separation from her Swedish partner has complicated not only her work permit status, but also her ability to stay with her daughter. Or maybe it was just because she moved from Norway.
Hi there, my name is Brianne. I am a professional chef and a traveler. My hometown in Canada is called Steeltown. As you can imagine, it’s pretty industrial. My upbringing was great, but we were definitely working class.
One summer my parents took me and my sister on a cross country trip. This trip had been my mother’s dream trip for many years and here we went. I was 19, and during the roadtrip we saw the magical Fairmont Banffsprings Hotel in the Canadian Rocky Mountain. It changed me forever: “I want to work here!”
The next year I left my hometown behind for this dream. I also left my high school boyfriend, who had very much been trying to get me to move into the house he had bought and settle down. I got a job as an entry level chef there and it was amazing. After a few months I was one of the 3 chosen chefs, out of more than 100, for a sponsored apprenticeship. This was the beginning of me living my dream of being a travelling chef, which I have been for 20 years. I have a Red Seal certification from the Canadian government, qualifying me as top-tier chef worldwide.
I’ve travelled and cooked from Canada to America, from the Bahamas to Australia, moving on to Norway; where I met a Swede, fell in love and had my daughter with him. During my pregnancy, the restaurant I was working at in Norway, went bankrupt. We decided to move to Sweden after the baby was born. I’ve been here in Sweden in a small town, south of Stockholm, for nearly 4 years.
When I asked about my visa I was told that since Norway and Sweden have a freedom of movement agreement, and I had a Swedish sambo as well as a Swedish child, I did not need a visa.
Before moving from Norway to Sweden, my partner and I called Skatteverket, the Swedish tax agency, to sort everything out. Since we were a couple and had a 6 month old Swedish/Canadian citizen together, we were told to simply come to the local tax office and register, which we did. They asked for proof of us being partners (sambo) in Norway, and I presented them my Norwegian residency permit. When I asked about my visa, I was told that since Norway and Sweden have a freedom of movement agreement, and I had a Swedish sambo as well as a Swedish child, I did not need a visa. I supplied all the documentation and shortly thereafter got my Swedish personal number. I notified the Norwegian authorities who continued to pay my Norwegian mammaledighet (parental leave) to my Swedish bank account.
Skatteverket, the Swedish tax authority, literally telling me all was ok.
In a new country, a new language and with a soon-to-be 1 year old daughter, finding a job was not as easy as it had been in the past.
My parental leave ended and thus it was time to return to work. In a new country, a new language and a soon-to-be 1 year old daughter, finding a job was not as easy as it had been in the past. The small city, where we are living, was nothing like international Oslo. People were not comfortable speaking English, creating quite a gap in communication. Nonetheless, I pushed on. Working in the restuarant industry, with the extended hours also presented conflicts as many jobs were in the evening, over weekends and on holidays. Those rare, golden daytime jobs required a level of Swedish I just didn’t have after 6 months in Sweden. As a trained chef I had to take an entry level cooking position working evenings, weekends and holidays. Not ideal, but it was going to help pay the bills.
Not long after, without going into details, my relationship with my sambo dissolved. I was forced to changed jobs as my working hours wouldn’t allow me to care for my daughter on my own. Luckily I was able to take over for friend when she went on parental leave. This was going to buy me a year of full time work.
Finding an apartment was not so easy. First of all, I wasn’t aware when we moved to Sweden that there was a queue system, unlike any place I had lived before. Living out in the countryside, so as to stay close by my daughters school, made it even more difficult. There are not so many rentals available as it is mostly farms and houses. It took 4 moves, (1 house was in no way up to liveable standards and was a very brief stay) and 1.5 years to finally get my long term, first hand apartment rental. I started a new job at a very interesting restaurant, in a quickly expanding company really making a name for itself around Sweden, (and later beyond) worked really hard, moving my way up from cook to kitchen supervisor, head chef and than as restaurant manager.
I thought the worst of times were over, but man was I wrong.
I had my own long term apartment rental, in a quiet area in the countryside near my daughter's preschool. I had a job that was going really well. Finally I was going to rebuild my life, stand on my own two feet and be free. I thought the worst of times were over, but man was I wrong!
It started at the end of September 2019 when my daughter’s father finally approved of me to take her to Canada on vacation. I decided I best check in with Skatteverket before leaving the country to make sure that everything was in order. When I moved here and registered everything, I was told that I have the right of residence based on my Swedish daughter. But now, they were unsure and told me to check with Migrationsverket. Surprisingly, this was the first time Migrationsverket was ever mentioned to me in two years. During all this time no questions of residency permits arose. I worked, paid taxes and lived life much like every other Swedish person.
It didn’t matter what Skatteverket told me: “You should have known better.”
I called Migrationsverket the next day. They told me that they could not see my status in Sweden and I should come into the nearest office, which I did. Upon telling my story to the girl behind the counter at Migrationsverket, she said she wasn't exactly sure what’s going on and got her supervisor. The supervisor told me that I did not have a residence permit in Sweden, and therefore have been in the country illegally. I explained what I had been told by Skatteverket for years now, only to be shut down and told it was my fault. It didn’t matter what Skatteverket told me: “You should have known better.”
I was shocked. Since the beginning, I was told that having a Swedish sambo, a Swedish child, and having already legally lived in Norway was sufficient. I had openly confirmed all registration with the Swedish authorities for myself, and my daughter.
On all my paperwork they checked off the box "right of residence." Each time I asked what more I needed to do, the only answer I received was proving my sambo status in Norway, which I did. I already had a Swedish a personal number and Swedish ID card, was receiving barnbidrag (child benefit) and paying taxes.
The supervisor at Migrationsverket gave me an application form for a residence permit, based on family connection to my daughter, and told me to fill it in. I did so on the spot and later paid the fee. I was told the processing time was around 17 months. Migrationsverket sent me a letter a few months later asking for more information. I replied and again a few months later they required more info. No problem, I gave them what they were after.
I received a letter in the mail from Migrationsverket. It was a bit confusing: the letter was addressed to my daughter, but sent to me “Regarding her asylum case” to go for a meeting. What?
12 months after the initial application, in October 2020, I received a letter in the mail from Migrationsverket. It was a bit confusing: the letter was addressed to my daughter, but sent to me “Regarding her asylum case” to go for a meeting. What?! I called my case officer to ask him if indeed my 4 year old daughter is meant to go for this meeting at Migrationsverket and why is there mention of an asylum case when I have not sought asylum? He assured me both are mistakes and held no value in my decision. I didn't feel confident, but said ok and agreed to the meeting time provided.
I was read the decision, 8 pages and a verdict of deportation with 4 weeks to leave the country. Further, I was told that I was not allowed to work... I have no income.
2 weeks later I went to Migrationsverket thinking I’m finally getting this residence permit and can move on with my life. I was read the decision and, to my shock and awe, 8 pages with a verdict of deportation and 4 weeks to leave the country. Reading the verdict, I understood quite clearly there was a big gap that I fell through, since I came from Norway, where there is freedom of travel with Sweden. The connection to my partner was gone, and while Migrationsverket understands I am connected to my daughter, they want me to go back and apply from Canada, along with a 17-24 month waiting time.
But what was even more surprising was the phrase from the decision:
"Even taking into account your daughter's best interests and the consequences of a separation for her health and development, the Swedish Migration Board finds in a balanced assessment of all circumstances in this case that the interest in maintaining Swedish immigration legislation outweighs the child's best interests."
Further, I was told that I was not allowed to work. Even though I have a senior position at my job, and they not only want to keep me, but need me, I am not allowed to work. This means, I have no income.
And this is where my story ends, for now. I have filed an appeal with my lawyer at the migration court.
My Recommendations are:
1. I really hope the Swedish system can get ahold of the fact that people are given information by what they think and expect to be credible, truthful and helpful branches of the Swedish system.
2. All important documents are given in either English or Swedish so we can understand what is happening. Please give us a chance and give us the right info.
3. Do not treat us all the same. We all have a different story, a different experience and different circumstances. But we are real people, with real lives, real families and real problems.
Brianne is a mom, Head Chef, international professional and a Kompetensutvisning Survivor. She is sharing her story, in the hope that other foreign mothers can avoid this situation.
If you want to get involved to help, please see "Operation Maple Syrup." Without the ability to legally work or provide for herself or her daughter in Sweden, and with significant concerns of reunification if she returns to Canada, we are grateful for any contribution that goes directly to her.
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