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27 March, 2017

Getting That LGBT “Love-Visa” to Come Live in Sweden

You’ve found love in Sweden. So what do you and your LGBT partner need to do so that you can come live happily ever after in Sweden, also known as LGBT paradise? This article is all about getting your “Love Visa” to migrate to Sweden! 

My story

I moved from Canada to Sweden to study in the 1990s, and remember being impressed that Swedish immigration rules based on “family ties” also covered gay and lesbian couples. Back then, very few countries supported LGBT migration—my home country certainly didn’t.

At that time, most countries required you to be both married and straight, to even be considered for immigration to be with your partner. Sweden had then—and still has today—extremely generous migration rules for people wanting to live with their Sweden-based partner.

To qualify for a residence permit, it suffices for you to be be in a committed relationship with a Swedish resident, with the mere intention to live together as a couple in Sweden. If you fulfill this basic requirement—whether straight and cis, or LGBT—you have the right to apply to migrate to Sweden.

So back to my story: After a year in Sweden as a student I met a Swedish guy, and after a year of living together, we applied for a residence permit for me, using our relationship as a basis. I was legally in Sweden with my student visa, but knew that a regular residence permit would be better in the long term.

That was awhile ago so I don’t remember all the details, however I do remember all the paperwork—the forms to fill in and all the addition papers included in our application—and the long wait for processing.

I also remember the Swedish Migration Agency interviews: We were interviewed separately and back then these interviews were actually called interrogations (förhör). Sitting rather nervously at my interview, I remember wondering—perhaps unfairly—if the rather elderly official had ever (knowingly) met a gay couple. In the end things went fine—the interviews were not difficult, and I received my residence permit.

Just a layperson’s advice

The rest of this article is based on my knowledge of the LGBT migration process in Sweden, based on my own experiences with the Swedish Migration Agency. Be aware that I am not a migration expert, so if in doubt, the official rules and guidelines on the Migration Agency website have the last word. This article does not contain advice about applying for asylum in Sweden due to LGBT persecution in your home country; for that see the links at the end of this article.

General tips—for both homos and heteros

These first points are valid for anyone applying to the Swedish Migration Agency for a residence permit, be you gay or straight.

Online applications are faster

The Swedish Migration Agency allows you to apply both online via their website and “manually” by filling in printed forms. The processing times for the online applications are much, much faster than sending in printed forms. If you are applying to come to Sweden, use the online application, unless you are specifically disqualified from doing so owing to some special case in your application.

Complete and accurate applications speed processing times

Make sure your application is 100% complete and 100% accurate—this is also an absolute must. When the Migration Agency official who gets your case reads your application for the first time, and if it is completely and accurately filled in, he/she can immediately send it on to the next step, such arranging for your interview. If your application is incomplete or obviously inaccurate, the official will, in the best case, send it right back to you with questions about your errors/omissions.

There’s nothing a Swedish bureaucrat loves more than a properly filled-in form, so put some work into it and get things off to a good start with your new bureaucrat buddy. Everyone I know who had a speedy decision was meticulous in their application and went over it multiple times before submitting it.

Coordinate with your partner

When applying for a residence permit due to your relationship with your Sweden-based partner, both of you are required to submit information. Do all this work together, making sure that the information you each submit agrees with each other. This means making sure you both remember (and agree on!) the date you first met, how your relationship developed, common friends, and future plans together. When the time comes for your interview at the embassy, make sure to know the basics about each other—your families, work, friends, hobbies and important events in each other’s lives.

The Migration Agency is not looking to interrogate you about every last detail, but they are looking to see that you are in a valid and honest relationship and that you know the basics about each other, like any genuine couple would.

Follow the rules

Follow the rules

The Migration Agency sets some pretty specific rules about how, when, and from where to apply for your residence permit. Don’t try to bend the rules and hope that you’ll slip through—follow the application rules that apply for your case, which are clearly described on the Migration Agency website. If you don’t follow their rules, you risk a longer processing time, or in the worst case, rejection of your application.

Get ready to wait

Although Swedish bureaucracy is in many cases pretty fast and hopefully somewhat efficient, the Migration Agency is known for long processing times. So get ready to wait, sometimes up to and even more than a year. And have a plan B ready—if you are in for a wait, make sure to have plans to study, earn a living and keep busy in in your home country.

Specific advice for LGBT applicants

I was impressed from day one that Sweden has for many decades officially and explicitly given equal value to both heterosexual and LGBT relationships in the migration application process. Sweden was a pioneer in this area, and without this equal treatment I received in the 1990s, I wouldn’t have been granted a permit.

So even though we are treated equally in the application process, there are a couple things to remember if your application is based on a LGBT relationship.

Make it very clear that you are in a romantic relationship with your Sweden-based partner

To be eligible for a residence permit through your partner, you must state clearly that you are partners, intending to live together in a romantic relationship when you arrive in Sweden. This might seem obvious, but many of us who are LGBT—especially if we’re young or coming from a homophobic background—have never actually said words such as “I am gay,” “I am lesbian,” or “I am in a relationship with another man.” It’s critical that you make it extremely clear to the embassy official or Migration Agency agent who interviews you that you are in a romantic relationship with your partner.

If you are feeling shy and try avoid the subject by saying things like “oh, we are just really good friends”, “she’s like a sister to me”, “he’s like my brother” the official interviewing you will quite likely reject your application. When they ask you “are you gay?” “are you lesbian?”, “are you in love with him?”, you must answer clearly yes.

I know this can be difficult if you’re in the closet and don’t normally talk openly about these things, so to help prepare for the interview, talk about these interview questions with your partner, and even practice how to handle and answer these questions.

The embassy interviews are not about the sex

I’ve never heard of a Migration Agency official asking explicit sex or “bedroom questions” at the interviews. These officials are there to confirm that your application is truthful and that you are applying to move to Sweden to live with your partner whom you love. If you do get an intimate question you are not comfortable with, you can answer something like “I’m not comfortable answering that detailed question, but I do assure you that I’m in a serious romantic relationship with my partner, and we intend to live together in Sweden as a common-law (or married) couple.”

Language barriers—avoid a “lost in translation” situation at your interview

When you are being interviewed about your application, it is important that you and the official both understand each other clearly, that there are no language barriers. This is perhaps even more important when discussing a LGBT relationship. If the official doesn’t speak your language fluently, or if you are not confident discussing and describing your relationship in English, ask for an interpreter to make sure that language misunderstandings do not hinder your application.

Be prepared for an embassy LGBT-“newbie”

Although the Migration Agency’s rules explicitly allow for residence permits for LGBT couples, you might have bad luck and get an official at the embassy interview who has never interviewed a LGBT couple before—he or she might be uncertain about how to run the interview. In that case, keep calm, answer the questions, and again, don’t be shy about stating that you are in a romantic relationship with your partner. If you feel the official is asking inappropriate questions or is not treating you fairly, take notes afterwards about the mistakes he/she made, which will help strengthen your appeal later on, if you are unfairly denied a permit.

To wrap this up—I’m happy to tell you that I know countless LGBT couples who have successfully applied for and received a Swedish residence permit based on their relationship. It’s a lot of paperwork, it takes time, and there’s a lot of waiting involved, but the system usually works.

And to throw this back to you—What are your experiences with LGBT residence permit applications? Use the comments section to tell us about the success stories, advice on what mistakes not to make, or even about cases that were not approved.

 

Useful links

Residence permits

The Swedish Migration Agency provides excellent and clear information about the application process. Start with the “Moving to someone in Sweden” page and follow the links. Again, LGBT applicants are treated the same as the straight applicants, so these pages don’t actually say much about LGBT. Read more here

Asylum for LGBT applicants

There are provisions for asylum applications for LGBT persons who fear persecution in their home country. Read more here

Legal help

If you have a complicated case, or if your application has been denied, get professional help. Googling the term “advokatbyrå migrationsrätt” gives you a list of local law offices specialising in Swedish migration law.

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Steven Muir
I am originally from Canada but after many years here, first as a student and now working for a Swedish company, I definitely see myself as a seasoned "Oldbie" here in Sweden, full of advice for Newbies!

I blog about LGTB life here in Sweden. Probably not too much about the latest club or who's gay on the latest docusåpa (look it up), but more about things I've learned about living in Sweden, where being gay is at least part of my identity.

My one piece of advice for all Newbies if you want to enjoy living here - gay, straight, or any flavour of the rainbow: Learn Swedish and do it now! It doesn't have to be perfect, but just understanding what's being said around you in the office, understanding a joke cracked at lunch, or being able to "harumph" properly in Swedish at the parent who just ran over your foot with the triple-wide pram on the bus -- all this is so much easier and enjoyable when you understand this Swedish chef language we Newbies and Oldbies are immersed in here.

Let me know if there's any Swedish LGBT Newbie questions you're curious about!

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