Immigration Challenges In Sweden For Startups and Emerging Businesses


photo of computer, globe charts and coffee: Immigration challenges in Sweden for start ups

Tech startups and emerging businesses in Sweden often publicly complain about the lengthy immigration process and its challenges when they are sourcing talent outside Europe. They believe the Swedish immigration process hinders their growth. Why?

Why the immigration frustration?

Many find it extremely unfair that they cannot fast track new hire applications. While the fast track options have widened, most companies engage experts with the goal of speeding up the process and reducing the risk of costly mistakes.

Many are clearly upset with the Migration Agency’s lack of consistency in decision making as well as the unacceptably lengthy timelines. There is a reason behind all this that should be mentioned in order to be fair.

Immigration applications are processed by the Swedish Migration Agency, whose main aim is to ensure that a person moving to Sweden to work will get the salary promised and decent terms of employment. The agency also investigates to ensure that companies inviting global talent to Sweden will also provide new transfers with the means of enjoying a Swedish standard of living.

In recent years, there has been a rash of dishonest individuals and companies selling work permits. Well-known companies and law firms have been involved, and now the term “crimmigration” is widely used. The result is that the bar has been raised and serious companies, with the best of intentions, now have to jump through hoops to prove their good standing.

What are the challenges to getting your new recruits’ applications approved?

  • First, the time lines. A challenge for startups and any company sourcing talent outside Sweden is the time it takes for someone who also needs a work permit is very long. Not only does it delay projects, but companies run the risk of losing the candidate to other companies that either benefit from the fat track in Sweden or other countries altogether due to a less cumbersome and time-consuming migration practices. It is important to know the proper ways to acquire work permit approvals.
  • The demands on startups. Companies that are less than one year old are considered to be startups by the Migration Agency, are subjected to much more comprehensive review than for well established companies.
  • Few startups have a collective agreement with a union and many companies operate in industries with a low level of union engagement.  As has recently been written about in the papers, some unions routinely will deny the offer of employment terms due to the company not being a member of a union, even though the terms meet the requirements. We wish that the unions would take the opportunity to help companies know that they are in fact offering an appropriate salary level and  insurance cover. Hopefully recent media coverage may change their procedures for the better.
  • A complete application. To put together a complete application requires skill and is very time consuming for the inexperienced. It is essential that everything be filled in properly and even seemingly minor details such as SSYK codes not being filled will further delay the turnaround by many months.
  • Documented financial standing. While established companies face far less stringent demands to demonstrate their financial standing, newbies have to prove themselves and supporting documentation of all kinds has to be provided. Many, many years ago we sent in pictures of our office and they worked as proof of having an established office. I’m not sure that would be acceptable today.
  • Tax registrations. Documentation is required to show the company’s registration. All tax registrations and certifications must be activated and made available in public records.
  • Insurance coverage must be set up and when an application for renewal is filed, coverage must have been in place for the entire duration of the employment in Sweden. There are four insurances and setting up insurance coverage takes both time and knowledge and not all startups have an HR function.
  • Paperwork. Startups often operate with a lean staff. A few people that are passionate about developing new products and solutions may not be as passionate about insurances, labor law, authorities and all the reporting to different authorities that normal people have never heard of. While there is a mantra amongst the chamber of commerce and start up networks that “it should be easy to do things right” it clearly isn’t. Anyone that that has the misfortune of filling in government applications or forms knows that it isn’t straightforward at all. 
  • Salary systems may not be in place in a startup so this is a time to consider outsourcing payroll capabilities to a third party who can do all the necessary business reporting.
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The demand for skills

The skills gaps that we are currently experiencing in Sweden are severe and startups often depend on finding software engineers to quickly move forward. This means recruiting outside Sweden, and most often also outside the EU. Not only does the recruitment process need to be adjusted for remote interviews and getting to know one another on Skype, the cost for recruitment soars when a company also has to add new skills to a team that only meets the demands of government authorities. Finding talent outside Sweden is far from new though. In 2002 we were invited to go to India and the Eastern European countries to source talent not available in Europe. While it is not new, the need is increasing by the day.

What is in the crystal ball on the government’s side? There is currently political talk about talent VISAs and making it easier for foreign talent to start companies in Sweden. While these are commendable efforts, these things tend to take a very long time so this is currently not an option to be expected to go live in 2018.  

If you would like more info on Swedish immigration, sign up for our webinars. 

Three options

So what is the answer? You have three options but no completely satisfactory solution to address immigration challenges in Sweden as a tech startup or emerging business.

  1. Hire a skilled HR person with in-depth knowledge of work permit processing as well as the requirements to get a renewal approved.
  2. Gain knowledge by calling the migration agency and ask them to guide you every step of the way. This is time consuming and risky, but for companies without funds to pay an expert, it is the only way. Always ask for staff names and emails. The main issue with this route is that public officials aren’t required to provide correct information. (It is currently being discussed to reinstate the “tjänstemannaansvaret,” or civil servant responsibility. This would greatly help the trustworthiness of government officials and authorities.) We are not there yet though, so there’s an element of risk.
  3. Engage a company that is certified by the Sweden Migration Agency to benefit from the fast track. The reason why some companies earn that standing — NIM.MERSION was the first company to earn certification and proud of it — is that their vast experience and attention to detail facilitates the work of the migration agency so the applications are handled correctly.

Immigration may be challenging, but it can also be a lot of fun to meet and help a diverse group of people. Anyone spending some time with immigration will view society (and politics) with new eyes.

If you’re planning to bring foreign talent to Sweden, navigating an unfamiliar culture and immigration process can slow you down. Thankfully, Nimmersion’s Immigration Guide to Bringing Foreign Talent to Sweden is here to help. Let’s get your new talent down to business!

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