NIMMERSION IMMIGRATION HISTORY
Nimmersion was founded in 1995 by Lena Rekdal, who is still involved in the day-to-day business. Working with immigration has never been more difficult than today. Yet finding a good structure, and helping clients plan and execute the deployment of foreign talent is just as exciting as always and who doesn’t like a challenge?
I’m incredibly fortunate to have an amazing team around me that share the passion for this niche profession. While we wish things would be easier and faster for our clients, we love the breakthroughs, wins, conversations, and connections with our clients while working towards the same goals.
We get as excited as the applicant when they are finally granted a permanent residency permit! To get the news of a new little family member that needs a residence permit makes us smile and this year, simply when regular approvals are granted is cause for celebration.
SWEDISH IMMIGRATION HISTORY FROM THE DESK OF A PRACTITIONER
Back in the 90s, processing a work permit application seemed like an easy formality really; we picked up application forms, filled them in by hand, had the client sign them, and sent them to the Migration Agency by post.
We were in close contact with the Employment office (Arbetsförmedlingen), who would attest to whether it was a profession where there was a labor shortage or not. Then the Migration Agency would make a decision and in a leisurely way send it back by post. The rest was up to the embassies.
The hack we did at that time to cut down the response time was to send our applications straight to the Migration Agency, at that time called (Invandrarverket) instead of using the recommended route to the Swedish Embassies around the world. We could thereby shorten the processing time when the embassies sent the application by diplomatic post back to Sweden. After a while, we had figured out which days the trucks went from Stockholm with all the applications that were handled in another town, Norrköping.
In hindsight, I remember it as straightforward and predictable. We never had reason to worry about the permits being approved, the biggest fear was that an application might be lost and it could take months before it was found at the Agency. The process was lengthy, but things were slower overall in those days.
2000 – 2007
Invandrarverket changed its name to Migrationsverket and for years the official translation was Migration Board. That changed a few years ago now, resulting in a slew of changes in our website, forms, and templates. Turns out this was good practice for what was to come.
For immigration nerds, the WILMA and STAMM databases are of interest, and the sharing of data between government authorities started to be discussed. Those of us that prepared work permits back then will remember that the decision maker on the approval letters was always Siv Stamm. It took us a while to realize that there wasn’t a real person behind that name. And it turns out that the Migration Agency is actually responsible for a lot of statistics, which explains some of the odder requests for data.
The union’s default response to a Union opinion was a NO unless the company was connected to a union, and even then it was hard to get approvals. It was also clearly more difficult to get approval outside the metropolitan areas. Many unions, such as Unionen, will still say no to assessing the terms unless a company has a collective agreement.
2008 – 2010
A new government was installed in 2006 and one of the major changes they implemented was to remove the labor market test, allowing companies and corporations to decide whether they wanted to recruit resources from other countries to fill a skills gap in their organization.
Rather quickly, a request to advertise the position on Eures was put in place, in order to make the position available to all EU nationals first. Sadly, a number of permit holders have been evicted when their employers advertised on LinkedIn instead. These days the EU has given counsel to Sweden that Eures isn’t required and that LinkedIn, which provides a wider reach, is accepted. Few dare to test this since the stakes are high and it can lead to a denial of a work permit.
The online system is now up and running, while payments are still done through the bank. It did cut down the processing times until 2010 when, yet again, the Migration Agency’s timeline gets very long. Between 2008-2010 application periods were around 4-6 weeks, but now it collapses. In 2010 the Migration Agency’s new phone system was down for close to a month, later the IT system had major problems and consequently, the application processing time periods got longer and longer.
We had hundreds of applications that weren’t moving at all. We spent our days trying to get through the Migration Agency’s switchboard without success. Meanwhile, our receptionist was tearing her hair out due to calls from angry, frustrated clients who had major local engagements at a standstill in Sweden, costing them loads of money every day.
The spring of 2010 goes on the books as one of the most cumbersome periods in our history, not least due to the Migration Board’s timelines being excruciatingly long, while their official communication posted on their website didn’t correspond to reality by any stretch of the imagination. Throughout this period we did what we could and we succeeded in maintaining our professionalism and customer care in spite of the challenging times.
We usually placed a request for a speedy process and we followed protocol for what the Migration Agency wanted down to a T in order for the case officer to be able to make a decision once the application was picked up. We were in close contact with the Migration Agency in regard to technical solutions and how to be able to get the online applications to flow better. This was before a scanner was downloadable to a smartphone and our clients often faxed or scanned the applications in a variety of formats, including some which got rejected by the Agency’s online system.
Computer hard drives were not as robust back then and once, an email with many pictures was sent 38 times which caused our entire IT function to collapse at the height of summer. It was good that many of our clients were techies themselves, so they were aware of how volatile systems can be and how difficult it can be to get back up and running again.
The Migration Agency goes through a LEAN project. This year all our hard work validating all the supporting documentation thoroughly and meeting the Migration Agency’s needs was rewarded and Newcomer’s (former name of Nimmersion) is the first immigration provider in Sweden to get certified by the Migration Agency to benefit from the fast track. This meant we were promised to have a decision in 7 days. There were some heavy demands on our client’s status and on us, in order to continue to deliver quality.
Here’s the Newsletter we sent out to our clients!
Hundreds of emails like this came from partners around the globe!
This is absolutely fantastic news…. CONGRATULATIONS!!!! We are very happy for you – what a tremendous achievement this is, and the marketing effect must be massive. We are proud of you!
Congratulations! Looks like a huge leap in your service delivery – great news.
Have a great weekend.
Thank you for the update and I wanted to wish you huge congratulations on this selection, this is fantastic news! I will send a communication to my colleagues across Europe.
Since the Employment Agency was no longer involved, the unions had a big say in the matter. Two days later the union announced that they would no longer validate employment terms, thereby essentially undermining the whole certification setup.
That was a showstopper.
The Migration Agency and the union had discussions, disagreements, and finally an understanding. Meanwhile, the certification is at a standstill.
It took about a month for us to negotiate an agreement with the main union in Stockholm, in order for the cases of our clients who had a collective agreement to have blanket approval for applications. In the meantime, our clients had gotten even more impatient and worried about their projects that had come to a full stop.
A few weeks later the new system actually worked and not long thereafter we had an application approved within 8 minutes!
Life is great and congratulations are coming from people from all corners of the world. That is, life is great for companies with collective agreements with a Swedish union. Many client companies were essentially barred from having a smooth immigration and deployment time since they didn’t have collective agreements. Especially in the tech industry, where there was a huge need for software engineers and only a few companies were organized with a union. We couldn’t officially represent them, while their needs were still urgent.
We needed a workaround; we could still put together perfect applications but we couldn’t send them in with our Power of Attorney or via our email addresses, as Certified providers could only work within a very strict protocol. Fortunately, the Migration Agency soon had a solution and soon after, all companies with a certain volume of cases could benefit from the fast track, even without a collective agreement.
Oops! With short notice from a decision to the implementation came the “Foreign posting reporting to the Swedish Authority of Work Environment.” This was a huge project for companies to adhere to, not the least because the implementation date was July 1st, the day many traditionally start their summer holidays.
It had to be posted retroactively for all resources in the country and there were penalties for companies that failed to report a foreign worker to the agency. While the information came late, I have to say that this is one of the setups that worked well, and not a great deal of amendments have been needed since. The customer support was impeccable and they were there to help us.
Some larger Swedish companies just refused to do this reporting; with 35 000 employees, business travelers, and guests they just couldn’t see how it could possibly be done. Their discussions with the government achieved nothing and a year later they too had to comply.
Many of our clients were on vacation when this happened, so we got all hands on deck in the office and came in super early every morning to do the reporting of thousands of workers already here. Along with a company needing 80 work permits filed in one week, let’s just say we were very busy and hot that July. It was a lot of fun to see that we were able to, on short notice, serve our clients well so they could go on holiday with a free mind.
One of our clients actually said about us, “it’s not a big team and I don’t know how they can handle everything so well, it’s like magic!” It isn’t magic actually, it’s pretty hard work, and what has carried us through all these years has always been structure. We keep track of things and we have processes in place. That is extraordinarily helpful when we have a lot to do.
The EU Blue card is introduced. Sweden is one of the last countries in Europe to implement this visa type that has been used around Europe for several years. It offers no benefits compared to other visas and the application period exceeds the regular work permit, so in the first couple of years, only 5-6 permits were sought.
Little did anyone know that it would become the Plan B for companies when something in the employment terms wasn’t exactly as required, after a decision in the highest migration court in December 2015. It takes until late 2017, when two cases in the migration high court produce a decision that states the pattern of denials being given for seeming clerical errors and small deviances is no longer necessary. Yet, Luciadomarna will not carry the weight they were meant to.
This is the second period in our history of being immigration experts that is really tough. Far more clients than we could ever dream of had missed something in the terms of employment, in spite of having stated everything as it should be in the offer of employment and in the assignment letter, which the employee had also signed off on. The signed assignment letter was a requirement set by the unions to ensure that the employee knew what was promised and could put pressure on the employer in case they failed to provide it.
It took quite some time for us to realize how many companies had this problem and how the Migration Agency would interpret the new court cases. A very uncomfortable period ensued and I think all immigration companies were called by each other’s clients to validate the information and to see if another expert had the magic sauce. I don’t know how many times I said
“With Xxxx you are in good hands”
about one of our competitors as the outcome would not have changed if we took over the case. While from a business perspective that might have been nice, in reality, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome for the individual.
Now, everyone was scrambling to find solutions, and discussions with insurance companies and unions became part of our everyday tasks. Large global companies were at the most risk where a routine change in an insurance policy in the US could result in all workers in Sweden having their renewal applications denied. It was a period of great uncertainty, highly publicized cases, discussions within the government, and in 2017 there was a public outcry made by corporations saying this has got to stop. We had a labor shortage and a skills gap in many industries, particularly software engineers who were essential for tech-heavy Swedish companies in the midst of digitization and in dire need of help to develop their companies further.
Now the long processing times for renewals actually became an asset to companies as a workaround. While the paper applications took 12-18 months of processing, the company and employee could create future plans and have options to set up shop in other countries as a base for the employee. Many employees were victims of travel bans and if they had a Nordic or Northern European role they had a problem, personal restrictions also applied and births, weddings, and funerals were missed in the home countries.
It was, and continued to be, a very difficult situation for Swedish HR and employers and of course mostly for the individuals living with such uncertainties. In 2016 a Swedish tech company moved its operations to Pakistan due to the Migration Agency’s hard line on employment terms. They were to be followed by many companies that couldn’t trust the process and there was also the continuing issue of lack of housing when the employee finally landed in Sweden.
While the discussion at the government level had been ongoing since 2014, little change has been implemented. After the well-documented Lucia verdicts in December 2017, later in the winter of 2018 it was decided that the Migration Agency didn’t HAVE to evict a person who didn’t have exactly the right terms fulfilled, so it became possible to view the application holistically instead. We still see both outcomes, however, hardline evictions and practical decisions.
Fast forward to 2022, we are now possibly moving backward when there’s currently talk about a new government agency to review all trades and professions in order to determine where there’s a shortage and if talent recruitment from outside Sweden/the EU should be allowed. Then it would no longer be the decision of the company that wants the talent to come to Sweden. It will be argued that companies should have the possibility to recruit top talent regardless of where they are originally from. It will be a lively debate and one worth following.
In 2018 and 2019 Brexit
Brexit was of course at the top of the mind of all immigration experts around the world. All the back and forth created a situation where no one wanted to continue speculation and preparations were left to the last minute. This is likely to be the biggest upheaval in my lifetime, after the Berlin Wall was torn down. The consequences are far-reaching, way beyond our trade, and will affect generations to come in ways we can’t yet imagine.
European countries seem to have taken a smooth approach and tried to accommodate the UK nationals already in mainland Europe with as little disruption as possible.
2020 & 2021 Pandemic
We were excited for a new decade. At our annual Management review in January, we had the theme “the Roaring twenties” but it didn’t take long before a global pandemic was announced. We spent the next two years staying abreast with the opening and closing of borders, Covid-19 restrictions, and figuring out remote work for both ourselves and our clients.
Sweden’s borders were completely closed for four months, meaning that no permitholders could enter. This meant that everyone with a valid permit wasn’t able to enter and report to work within 4 months. The companies had the difficult choice of either reapplying or not counting on staying beyond 20 months.
For companies, Nimmersion included, this was a perfect time for immigration. The Migration Agency was highly digitized, the case officers worked really well from home and we didn’t have any delays at all. The only hiccup was the change to the Permanent Residency requirements which took a long time for the Migration Agency to analyze, implement, and even now the online application forms are still not fully updated. Permanent residency applications take a very long time, it’s not unusual to see timelines from 6-12-20 months and many are still pending. (Nov 2022)
As the world slowly opened up a new Swedish Immigration law was introduced.
2022 – A new immigration law is implemented
The former government equated criminal activity, human trafficking, salary dumping, and other societal problems with immigration. However, employment-based immigration is highly regulated, employers have more demands and requirements for foreign talents than for any other group on the Swedish labor market and the level of control is high.
The new work permit law was implemented on June 1st and started causing delays immediately, with the Migration Agency’s system experiencing frequent breakdowns and the case officers were unprepared for the effects of the new law when handling cases.
It takes until October before any movement is happening and again companies are very upset. Recruited talents haven’t been able to come to Sweden and report to work. A heated discussion on whether employment contracts need to be sent out around the globe for a wet signature by both employer and employee becomes necessary but luckily, after only a few weeks, common sense prevails.
In 2022, several times per week, new process steps are added, buggy technical issues at the Migration Agency’s online system happen, and unexpected questions or demands for documentation not previously included in a regular application pop up.
In November, two Nimmersion team members spend an entire day updating templates for our clients, this has signified the year. Retroactive demands, new process steps and additional questions have created an incredible amount of unexpected and urgent work for immigration experts, companies and individuals alike, just as it has for the Migration Agency case officers. We have collaborated on this together.
On November 1st, an additional step is added to the process; applicants have to visit a Swedish Embassy before a decision is made, in order to validate their identity by showing up in person to show the passport. This changes the timelines to deployment for everyone, but most significantly for those who may travel to Sweden and Schengen without a visa. Earlier they would typically enter Sweden to give their biometrics locally and start working, which saves the 3-4 weeks it takes for the diplomatic mail service to deliver the residence card. Not everyone lives close to an embassy and some countries have suspended their courier service, making it even more cumbersome for the applicants.
For immigration nerds, it is interesting to read that the underlying reason for the Embassy visits is the result of a report by the National Audit Office that clearly states that there is an issue with validating the identity of some applicants. Mainly this happens in a handful of countries where there isn’t a public record of persons or where there is a high risk for counterfeit passports. It also relates more to dependents aiming to join family members already in Sweden rather than to employment-based immigration applicants, yet here we are.
The Migration Agency opts to have a catch-all model and now all nationals must go to the nearest Swedish Embassy before approval can be granted, which will likely delay the time to approval. We are waiting to see outcomes due to the EU directive 2011/98/EU, which states that the entire process to get a decision for a work/residence permit application must be taken within four months even if a labor market test is included. Hence, it’s surprising that the embassy visit is requested before, not after, the decision is made. This means that the time allowed for the Swedish Migration Agency will be reduced by 1 month to allow for the embassy visit and still live up to the EU directive of 4 months.
Several of the current permits to Sweden are under scrutiny and may be amended, changed, or removed in the next few years.
Proposals for change
The EU Blue Card requirements will be reviewed and news of changes will come in March 2023. We have noted thus far that proof of insurance for full medical coverage must be shown before a permit will be approved, which means that in case the candidate doesn’t start working in Sweden, the cost is to be borne by the employer even without a beneficiary.
ICT permits will also be reviewed and higher protection of workers’ rights will be taken into consideration. There seems to have been a number of people that haven’t been given appropriate salaries or terms when on assignment, which they want to prevent going forward.
The EU member states are looking at how the region can attract and retain talent from outside the EU while protecting their rights. Hence, an EU directive 2003/109/EG is the underlying reason for the Swedish government’s suggestion to remove Permanent Residency status and instead offer long-term EU status. Workers should have similar terms and conditions as EU nationals and the applications should be simplified.
Later, long-term residents that have made Sweden their home and are working can apply for Swedish Citizenship. It has been suggested that the time to qualify for Swedish citizenship should be eight years and a language requirement and overall knowledge about Swedish society and culture should be part of the application. Current timelines to get Swedish citizenship is 3-4 years, so in other words, it takes a long time to become Swedish “on paper” while living and working on permits alone is possible. The directive suggests that long-term EU residents shall be given terms and rights on par with the locals and thus protect them from hardship.
Sweden reduces refugee quotas and the Swedish government aims to align with the minimum numbers that are set by the EU. The inner borders are closed and increased border controls are put into place until May 2023 due to threats of terror and illegal weapons smuggling.
The story from the desk of a practitioner will be updated from time to time.