In August of last year, after four years of having a residence permit on the basis of doctoral studies in Sweden, I applied for permanent residency. I applied from a position of luxury, having an additional right of residence through my EU-citizen sambo. Little did I know that what I then saw as an advantage would end up shutting the door on my right to stay here as a professional.
The dependent immigrant woman
Growing up as a Brazilian immigrant in the United States, I knew many people who struggled with immigration law. One family friend, overcome with homesickness during the lengthy permanent residence process, took a trip to Brazil to visit her relatives only then having to made the risky, undocumented journey back through Mexico’s border in order for her absence not to ruin her green card application. Another, I found out as an adult, had paid thousands of dollars to marry an American citizen in order to get permanent residency. Later on in the Netherlands, I accompanied the distress of my friend, who wanted to break up with her boyfriend but had a residence permit that depended on him. The subsequent frenzy that followed her eventual decision to end the relationship led her scrambling for both a new residence permit and loans to cover the increased tuition prices which accompanied her new status.
A self-sufficient academic
Shaped by these experiences, I have always prided myself in being self-sufficient. I was fortunate enough to have had parents who obtained the Green Card for me. The immigration officer who processed my U.S. citizenship application did nothing to hide his embarrassment at asking me—a U.S. college graduate—the basic English language questions on the exam. In the Netherlands, I guaranteed stability and my own right to a residence permit through a hard-earned scholarship. I was aware of the opportunity of staying in the Netherlands following graduation for an orientation year as a “highly educated migrant” to have enough time to look for a suitable career.
In the end, I found the I PhD project that fit perfectly with my research interests at Karolinska Institutet. A quite search on Sweden’s favorable policy towards foreign professionals convinced me that this would be an advantageous move for my career. So, in 2017, I once again packed up my life and moved to the place I hoped would be my final home.
The image shatters
I admit that my own experiences have made me see myself as a sought-after highly educated and skilled immigrant. This was bolstered by the discovery that Sweden had an expedited permanent residence process for foreign nationals who completed a PhD here. While I came here for my PhD project, I considered for the first time making a permanent home for myself in Sweden. I happily waited the four years required before submitting my permanent residency application and finally submitted it during my vacation last August. With the lessons I had learned about dependency below my belt, my pride and peace of mind gladly paid the 1500 SEK for the independent permit application rather than apply for the free-of-charge EU family member permit, which would allow me to stay in Sweden on the basis of my long-term relationship with an EU citizen.
It wasn’t until I came back from vacation that I heard about the new Aliens Act which was passed in late July. This law requires, among other things, that the applicant have an employment contract for at least 18 months at the time of decision (for perspective, it took them over 7 months to process my case) to qualify. It also wasn’t encouraging that the supporting documents requested were all pertaining to my romantic relationship rather than my original application. This apparently was to determine whether a process of deportation should be initiated; they concluded that this won’t be necessary. (Lucky me!)
My rejection letter came in March, 2022.
Rejected from independent stay in Sweden
Permanent residency isn’t the only option available to those who need more time to finish studies in Sweden; an extended permit can also be provided. However, my rejection letter was quick to mention that I do not qualify for this permit, either.
Why? Because I am living with my German boyfriend.
In the end, the only option laid out to me by Migrationsverket was to apply for a permit as a family member of an EU citizen. My professional achievements are not what Sweden wants to see. It isn’t enough to have earned a PhD here, but it is enough to be romantically involved with a European. Despite the efforts of modern media to portray and celebrate intelligent, independent women, Migrationsverket is making it that
The plight of academics in Sweden
Sveriges universitetslärare och forskare (SULF) is taking action against the new Aliens Act. They have compiled a series of short stories on the situation of researchers who have been negatively affected by the residency laws. Some researchers are reevaluating whether they can cope with staying in academia due to the short-term contracts. Others are looking to continue their careers elsewhere. A few are already too invested in Sweden and must ride out the consequences of the new law. Families are being kept apart either as a byproduct of long permit processing times or actively by the requirement of non-Swedes to leave the country to open new applications. In all cases, the stress and anxiety of navigating the new permanent residence permit requirements are being added to the already-demanding academic workload.
I realize that I am in a good situation relative to many other people who have completed their doctoral studies in Sweden. I’m lucky that I have a second permit to fall back on when the residence permit laws changed. To my advantage, my sambo is German, so EU—not Swedish—law applies to my right of residence. This means that I do not have to leave Sweden while Migrationsverket processes my residence permit application. This is unfortunately not the case for those cohabiting with Swedish citizens (check out Magda’s story).
My complaints come from being put in a dependent situation after building up the best professional resume that I could. While I am aware that this law works both ways, the feminist in me is hurting. After all the progress I thought I had made, in the end, I will be in the same boat as the women whose lessons I thought I had learned from.
What advice do I have for the qualified and ambitious incoming non-EU resident PhD students? Don’t spend all your time on your studies; they might not be enough. How valuable you are to a country now does not reflect your value in their eyes in the future.
So lay down your pipets! Close your computers! Put away those research papers! And go find yourself a Plan B!
Cover image source: https://cen.acs.org/careers/employment/job-market-tough-s-wise/98/i39
PhD student, dog lover, mom