The Woman Behind the Case Number
Kriti, a skilled and experienced finance professional who speaks Swedish fluently, waited 23 months to get a negative decision from the migration agency, with no help from her union. This is her story of resilience and strength, of how she managed the exceptionally long waiting time.
After completing my MBA in Finance at a leading university in India, I kick-started my career in finance. My first job was with a leading automobile company in India. It was a demanding role requiring a lot of traveling, sometimes to remote locations, to meet the tractor dealers and work out their finances. Being the only woman among 40 men in my department, there was a lot of doubt that I could manage the job, not to mention the stressful profile.
Since that time, at the age of 23, I have been employed as a finance professional and never relied on anyone for money. Not even my parents. My career remains a very important part of my identity.
Fast forward 6 years. I met a material scientist online who was pursuing his doctoral studies in Oulu, Finland. At the time he had been in Finland for six years and loved his life there. Passionate about research, he wanted to pursue his Postdoc there.
After one and a half years of dating, we discussed the practical arrangements of taking our lives forward together and I made the decision to join him in Finland after marriage.
Leaving behind my thriving career in finance, I joined my husband in Finland, just in time for his PhD defence. In no time we had another reason to celebrate; my husband had been offered a Postdoc at one of the leading technical universities of Sweden. He loved Finland, but the Postdoc he had dreamed of was now a reality. We thought I would have greater career opportunities in Sweden, so we decided to relocate.
On a cold evening in January, 2019, we landed in Stockholm. Hopeful and ambitious, we were keen and excited to build our lives, our home and our future together in this beautiful city.
My husband had received a job offer in Stockholm and had been granted a work permit before we left Finland. He was the main applicant and I was the dependent on his permit. This permit would allow me to work, and I was looking forward to building my career again.
After some applications and interviews, I realised it would be beneficial for me to learn Swedish. The language would help me to understand Swedish culture, expedite my integration into Sweden, specifically in the job market. I signed up for a full-time intensive Swedish class at SIFA and went on to study for eight months. As I practised my Swedish, I familiarised myself with the Swedish job market, applying for hundreds of jobs. An intense period!
Even with seven years as a Senior Financial expert, finding a job in Sweden was challenging. I was willing to start from the bottom and work my way up again. I did not like being dependent on anyone, financially or otherwise, not even my husband. There was no way I was going to let my career disappear.
Finally, in February, 2020, I secured a job with a Swedish consulting company, Linserv Consulting AB. I had joined a union and applied for A-kassa and by the end of March 2020, I had paid my first union fee. I was all set to be fully integrated in Sweden and very excited to have started working! In August 2020, my probation was confirmed and I got a permanent contract.
In December 2020, my permit was due for renewal. In November 2020, after getting all the necessary and specific information on the process from the migration agency, Linserv Consulting AB initiated the renewal application. When the link from the migration agency arrived, I was the main applicant this time. My husband was the dependent. I completed and submitted our part of the application. I was pleased; it felt like it was my opportunity to own my independence on my own work permit.
We have no children yet and I count it as a blessing, considering what we have gone through and are going through now, after the decision by the migration agency. We have fought anxiety and depression, constantly evaluating our decision of coming to Sweden in the last 2 years.
And so began the endless wait. The first 3-4 months I did not think about the waiting time much. Countries were in lockdown and we all were dealing with a very real and unknown threat to our lives, the Coronavirus, which was already declared a worldwide pandemic by then. It was exceptional circumstances for all of us.
Being asthmatic, I was being very cautious. My employer made it possible for us to work from home, thereby ensuring we were not exposed to undue risk in any way.
The threat of the virus and our situation became very real; my husband lost his own father to Corona in May 2021 in the deadly Delta variant wave in India. I became increasingly anxious and lived in fear of not being able to make it home to India if I needed to. We could not attend his funeral because we were still waiting to be vaccinated in Sweden. We grieved alone, feeling helpless at the situation.
My emotional state began to deteriorate. I started contacting the migration agency more regularly. In June 2021, I filed a request to conclude my case. It was at this time, more than six months after the application, that more information was requested by the migration authority.
With this request came information which revealed that I was supposed to have applied from India for the work permit as this was not considered a renewal, but instead our application was seen as a new application.
This critical information had not been raised by the migration agency when my employer contacted them before filing the permit application, even though they knew I was already employed. Having had no reason at the time to double check the information my employer had been given by the migration agency, I was now in a very difficult situation.
As a union member for more than a year at this point, I contacted them. I thought they would be best for help and advice as the situation was pointing towards deportation. I was told that when it comes to immigration issues they cannot help me. I felt disappointed.
Even if I had been aware of the requirement for me to travel to India to apply for my permit at the time of my application in November 2020, normal travel had not been possible. Across the world, restrictions and lockdowns had become regular news items, with India becoming known as a country with one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.
In the midst of the life threatening pandemic in India, our home country had closed its borders. The government had issued a travel advisory banning regular air traffic from the EU, USA, China, etc. which included a ban on scheduled international flights in March 2020 and had extended that ban under Unlock 6 stage until January 31, 2021. The only way to travel at the time of my application, as an Indian citizen, was to make it onto a repatriation list.
Life was not the same 'new normal' in all other countries across the world. I would not have been able to return to India in November 2020 to apply for a work permit; we could not even be with family when my father-in-law passed away months later. More than that, by this time the Delta variant had caused unprecedented loss of life in India and was considered a threat to the whole world according to the World Health Organisation.
An additional aspect was my severe asthma which meant I was in the high risk group according to the Swedish public health agency and it would have been a life threatening risk for me to have travelled to India unvaccinated.
That is, if travel had been allowed.
The person from the migration agency who sent me the questions insisted she was not my case officer. She never replied to my queries and could not be reached by phone. My employer wrote too, but never received any response.
By July 2021 I was fully vaccinated, but now we had discovered that we could not travel as we did not have valid residence permits. We were always free to leave Sweden, but we would not be able to return to our home and jobs. Both my husband and I were struggling. We felt a deep sense of hopelessness. When I contacted the migration agency, they sent me standard replies, which did not help.
Finally, I then wrote directly to the senior management of the migration agency, explaining our situation and asking for a case officer for my case.
The reply arrived after a week, but not in any way I had hoped. I could sense the frustration in the mail and I understood I was not going to get any specific information, coming to terms with copy-and-paste answers as the standard response. I kept writing to the migration agency off and on, following up on my application, with the replies being various versions of ‘every case is unique and time to a decision may not necessarily apply to every case’.
I was trying to get help and guidance from people who were clearly under pressure themselves, unable to in any way provide a way forward for me.
Finally! In June 2022, a full eighteen months after submitting the application, a case officer was assigned to my case. I was hopeful that things would finally fall into place. Then the case officer quit her job at the migration authority and I was back to nothing.
Four weary months on, in October 2022, someone inherited my case, a full twenty three months after my application had been submitted.
And after the long 23-month wait, my work permit application was rapidly rejected. It took twenty three months to advise me that my application should have been made from my home country, India, and the Covid-19 pandemic will not be considered an exceptional circumstance, even though I had been legally employed in a professional capacity as a finance business analyst for more than eight months at the time of my permit application.
I should have resigned and walked away from the job I had persevered to get and where I had worked hard to prove myself. I should have walked away from the life we had built here.
My ‘mistake’ was that I should have remained dependent on my husband’s permit application. The migration agency took 23-months to tell me this. Twenty three agonising months, waiting for a permit which in itself has a 24-month duration.
As a woman, I do not want to depend on my husband for a permit. Why do I need to leave Sweden, or divorce my husband, to get my own permit?
I was raised to believe that women can do everything that men can, and sometimes better. That is why I am appreciative of the gender-equal Swedish society. For me, it was very natural to accept applying for my own work permit when I had my own permanent job.
Now it feels that I am being punished for changing from a dependent visa to my own visa while legally living and working in Sweden as a professional career woman. It seems discriminatory that the law says a woman on dependent visa can apply without leaving Sweden if she is divorced from her husband i.e. she is left with no choice. Why can’t she do so of her own free will?
Linserv Consulting AB has been my constant support helping me navigate this maze of Swedish bureaucracy and paying all the legal bills for my appeal. Of course, now I could apply again from India. That would mean that after working almost three years, I am forced to quit my job, wait for my job to be advertised and apply for the position again. If I am successful, then I can apply for a residence permit and wait in India for a decision, which my experience shows could take a very long time to be made.
Not only does this affect me. My employer is obliged to accept my resignation and begin a new recruitment process, placing enormous pressure on everyone, not to mention the financial costs to all of us involved.
I was so sure that if I worked hard, I would get my dues. Now I am forced to resign, my career halted in its tracks and, as a paying union member, I cannot even rely on their intervention to save the situation as a labour issue. We were given only four weeks to go back to wherever we came from. To wrap up not only our lives, but also our dreams and plans for our future and to start all over again from scratch, somewhere else.
I have Swedes as friends who are as confused as me at this decision. We have all heard how Sweden needs immigrants who want to integrate and want to work. I am a finance professional and ERP consultant, fluent in Swedish with a Swedish driver's licence. My husband is a forest based material scientist who is developing a replacement for petroleum based plastics. We are such skilled immigrants, yet we feel like criminals.
People say this is not personal, yet it feels very, very personal. I often say that I love Sweden, but my last 2 years have made me doubtful; this feels like an abusive relationship where one is constantly waiting for things to get better, never knowing whether to walk away or to stay.
What I want to see changed in the immigration law:
A woman, who is a dependent on a visa, and who has a stable employment history in Sweden, should be allowed to apply for her own visa at any point without having to leave the country.
Better and clearer information should be provided by the migration authority. The laws should be clear, preferably as bulleted points, so that they are accessible for all, including employers, big or small.
The waiting time for decisions should be much shorter. A que system could eliminate some cases being processed faster than others.
There should be more consistency among case officers. Some people, in a similar situation as mine, have been told by their case officers to return to their country of origin and wait for the decision, which then comes within weeks.
There is a temporary visa issued for business travel today (D-visa), but only for business travel and only if approved by the migration authority. This visa should be available for personal reasons/emergencies also.
Events beyond the control of the immigrant and the migration authority, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, should be taken into account with situation specific information considered.