Some of us are lucky enough to be born with one (or two…) of those ‘strong’ passports which allow us to explore the world without visas, study and work in many places of our choice without obtaining residence permits. And some of us aren’t. I definitely wasn’t – until now that I got my Swedish citizenship. A significant milestone on the way to the ‘integration’ into the Swedish society – but only one milestone among many.
Many years ago I zeroed in on my favourite Swedish word. Music to my heart: ‘bevilja’. Doesn’t it just sound lovely? And it has a wonderful meaning too, although it doesn’t quite translate to English with the same ‘willing’ ring to it: ‘to grant’.
Perhaps its beauty lies for me in its connection to a Russian root ‘-vel’, found in words like ‘велеть’ (to command), ‘повелевать’ (to domineer), ‘величие’ (grandeur), descending from the Proto-Indo-European root ‘-welh-’ meaning of ‘choose’ or ‘want’ (language geeks, check this wiki).
Etymology aside, I fell in love with this word when I got my first residence permit from Migrationsverket, to study in Sweden. Since then, I extended my study permit twice, received multiple visas to Sweden, applied for work permits and extensions of work permits in Sweden, and each time, receiving an inconspicuous thin envelope from Migrationsverket, I used to tear it up with trembling hands, my eyes searching the shaking page feverously for that cherished word, the only one that matters: bevilja. Bevilja. Bevilja!
This long journey culminated the other day, in the midst of the corona chaos. I didn’t expect it. I hoped for it, looked forward to it – but I didn’t expect it to actually happen, so quickly and smoothly.
I came home late, when my family were in bed, to find two inconspicuous papers lying on our kitchen table.
Actually, they were a little more conspicuous than usual, because they were printed in colour (a paper from Migrationsverket, in colour?!), and featured the Sweden’s coat of arms. And when I saw that coat of arms on my kitchen table, I knew – we had become Swedish citizens.
It was so mundane. No trumpets and angel choruses. No fighting our case and trying to prove something. No interviews, requests for additional documents, aptitude tests. One day it was just there. And it said: Migrationsverket beviljar. Case closed.
Looks like it’s way more difficult to get a Swedish driving license. Citizenship is not a big thing.
What did I learn? (Tips for successful integration – if you want to live in Sweden long-term)
I am writing this with a somewhat heavy heart. I know people who came to Sweden as asylum seekers, and some of them received asylum, while others didn’t. Some are still waiting. Others’ applications have been rejected multiple times. Some of them have now moved out of Sweden, to start again, from scratch, in other countries, after having spent years here, learning the language, working different jobs. After they had WALKED to Sweden from unimaginably far away places.
One person received the verdict of deportation DESPITE acknowledging by Migrationsverket that such deportation may be life-threatening, and is now trying to execute plan B (go to a third country temporarily and start everything from scratch, so that they can later go to a fourth country and start everything from scratch).
My heart goes out to all these friends and many others like them: kind, intelligent, diligent, hard-working, creative, an asset to any country. Everyone has their own path, and I wish them to find theirs, and that all their challenges will pay off, and all their efforts will be generously rewarded.
And a disclaimer: in spite of the heading above, I do not consider myself successfully integrated. And you’ll know why in a minute.
So, to the tips.
You need a plan…
And this really is a number one.
Most people I know who came to Sweden and lived happily ever after are those who came here with a job invitation which gave them at least a two-year contract. And the company didn’t go bust after they arrived (seen that happen too).
Just trying your luck works sometimes. And sometimes it doesn’t. The same is true for asylum seekers, unfortunately. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to be granted (att beviljas) one.
For those from outside the EU
If you have a work contract, the path is relatively straightforward:
- You get your first work permit, which took us ten months. Long time, I know, but so it is. You can take your family with you on your work permit, and they get the right to work, too. This work permit only allows you to work for that particular company who hired you (it’s written on the work permit).
- After two years, if you still have the contract, you get an extension. This new work permit allows you to work with any employer.
- After four years, you get a permanent residence. It means you can stay in Sweden as long as you want, provided that you continue living in Sweden and do not leave the country for more than one year at a time.
- After five years, you can apply for citizenship. If you travelled abroad for more than six weeks at a time during these five years, you have to add all the time you spent abroad for more than six weeks at a time, to the five years, and apply at the end of this time.
… and it better be a good one.
My husband had a work contract, I didn’t. I had contacts from my studies. I had a plan to apply for PhD position. But it didn’t work – not for the first six years. And, the newly granted (beviljat) citizenship or not, I was then as jobless and feeling as far from ‘integrating’ into anything as… well… as one can be, perhaps.
Migrationsverket is unpredictable…
The first time I applied for the extension of my study visa, it took ten months. The next time, it took… one day. I got the reply (the inconspicuous envelope with the cherished word) so quickly that when I saw it I thought something went wrong and they were deporting me.
When we applied for citizenship, they said they don’t need us to send in our passports. A week later they wrote and said they do and if we don’t send them within three weeks, we’ll have a problem. When we wrote and said we can’t send them now, they said ok, send them later. When we sent them and requested them back because we needed to travel, they sent us back the passports… and citizenship itself! In less than a month after we sent the passports.
Why am I so incredulous? Because on the website it says that the decision about granting Swedish citizenship currently may take up to TWENTY FOUR MONTHS. Go figure.
… and therefore sometimes you need to follow-up on your case
If you have one, that is, with Migrationsverket. There is a balance between being annoying and only delaying the process by unnecessary inquiries – and actually speeding it up by asking the right question at the right time.
Again, here a lot depends on what you apply for and how difficult it is to get your kind of permit. But a good rule of thumb is to wait till you get a case officer appointed to your case. Then you can contact them directly.
Here, you need to be careful. On the one hand, they sometimes frown upon it. But sometimes it does magic – just inquiring about a specific issue concerning your case seems to lift it up from the bottom of the pile. I have no idea how it works. It’s a black box.
Take stock of what you need to have in place
…and the Newbie Guide to Sweden is a good place to start.
Learn the language
Yes, all Swedes speak excellent English. No, it’s impossible to get far in the long term without speaking Swedish, unless you are a true professional gem (I know such people… but not many, and a 100% of them do IT or some technical/scientific stuff I can’t pronounce or something truly niche).
Take advantage of the help you can get
Anyone who has worked one hour in Sweden knows how much tax was deducted before the payment for that hour reached them. I definitely have – and I am happy that this money is used well. I sometimes feel that in other countries we pay no fewer taxes, and the whole brouhaha about high Nordic taxes is a little overhyped – but we do get back the taxes’ worth. I’m now talking about one specific thing: job coaching and support to startups.
If you need some coaching, you can get it for free, either through Arbetsförmedlingen or through your municipality (kommun), in which case you don’t need to be registered at Arbetsförmedlingen. I went for coaching through Sollentuna municipality. Did it help me to get a job? Not then. At least not the kind I wanted. But it helped me to understand what I was doing wrong (I had to restructure my cover letter in a Swedish manner – now I can apply for any job in fifteen minutes by tweaking the master cover letter I created as a result. Cue: don’t write sentences. Write bullet points). It also helped me identify strategies of how to find a job – it’s just that I was notoriously bad at actually following them.
If nothing else, going to a coach will lift your spirits and give you a designated space and time to think about your skills, interests, and options. And sometimes this is what we need most: some focused attention to what matters most. And a way to lift us from the couch/pull us out of a depressive mode (tick the appropriate box).
There is also a wonderful initiative: ÖppnaDörren. It has a service called Yrkesdörren, which led me to two amazing meetings with well-established professionals in my field. If anything, they greatly inspired me, because they are exceptional people. I warmly recommend everyone looking for a job (or friends, or new opportunities) to give it a try!
What does it mean for me?
Well. I guess it means I have to have another go at Bergman and Strindberg (especially since my dance teacher shamed us for not having read Fröken Julie).
On a more serious note, I will have to answer this question in a different post, as it is another topic. And it has to do with feeling welcome – and being welcomed home.
What has been your experience of navigating Sweden so far, in terms of permits, work, and other issues you found important?