Summer is at its end, and a new term of office has begun. In SFS-DK, the change of office was August 1st, so the last couple of weeks have been special. On Friday the 13th of August it was the first time where we, the chair and two vice-chairs of SFS-DK met in person, maybe we should have been more superstitious and chosen another date.
Sitting in the sun that weekend, we discussed the plans for the coming year. As many others, we are hoping for a more normal year than the one we have just finished, and we are ready to start discussing how Swedish academia becomes more sustainable. We had hoped that this blog post would focus on what quality in doctoral education is; instead we have to turn to one of the hardest topics you have to deal with as a doctoral student representative, namely migration legislation and the consequences of the newly amended Swedish migration legislation, the Aliens Act, has on non-EU/EEA doctoral students.
There should be no sugar coating, the conditions for non-EU/EEA doctoral students have changed significantly with the implementation of the new Aliens Act, as it has been made much harder if not impossible to obtain permanent residency for those doctoral students during their studies.
A short introduction to the Aliens Act
The Aliens Act did not come as a surprise, as all other new Swedish legislation has passed through a hearing process, where relevant actors such as organizations of interest have the chance to voice their opinion on the piece of legislation. The Aliens Act went through such a hearing process in the spring 2021, and here SFS and many other organizations from the higher education sector reviewed and commented on the draft.
SFS, in particular, highlighted that the new language requirements and the cap on temporary work permits were problematic for doctoral students and others early in their research career.
However, it is hard to comment on what is not written explicitly in the law, so what we and others missed, was the consequences that the requirement’ that one would need to be financially self-sufficient for a certain amount of time to obtain permanent residency would have on doctoral students. In the Aliens Act itself, it is not specified what ‘financially self-sufficient’ means, this means that when the law started working on July 20th.
While the Aliens Act itself only requires that the doctoral student is ”financially self sufficient”, it is specified in The Aliens Ordinance (Utlänningsförordningen) chapter 4, section 4 d, that one in order to fulfill the requirement of financial self sufficiency, needs to be able to do so, for a certain (unspecified) duration of time”. The meaning of this, ”a certain duration of time” which was left up to the Migration Agency to interpret, and this the head of the legal department of the Migration Agency did in a legal directive (Rättsligt ställningstagande) on the 21st of July.
In this directive, the Migration Agency specifies that it means that one has to either have permanent employment or have a fixed term employment lasting at least 18 months into the future from the day they start to process the application. There are of course a number of exceptions, but as it looks right now, none of them are applicable for doctoral students.
To highlight how problematic this is, before the implementation of the Aliens Act, there were no such requirements on doctoral students who wished to apply for permanent residency. If you’d been living and studying as a doctoral student in Sweden for four years, you could apply for permanent residency. This was the case both for those who were employed and those who held a scholarship. Overnight this changed, and the Swedish Migration Agency presented an interpretation of the Aliens Act that without warning changed conditions completely.
The situation for doctoral students
Most of us are employed as doctoral students, but while the doctoral education is four years of full-time education, our contracts are shorter. The first contract is for a year, and is then followed by a new contract of a contract of maximum two years at a time though it can be for up to two years, though it will never be longer than the time you have left. That you, when you finish your fourth year as a doctoral student, have more than one and a half year left, and are offered a contract for 18 months or more, is very very very unlikely!
And this is assuming that you can actually start the application process for permanent residency the exact day you have been a doctoral student for four years. This is not always the case, one can earliest apply for a new residency permit 14 days before your current one expires.
Acknowledge the precarious situation of early career researchers!
The Swedish doctoral education is an education of the future Swedish academia, but it is also an integral part of a strong academia here and now. A strong academia means an academia that produces world class education and research, and a necessary condition for this to happen is decent conditions for both students and researchers, and this includes doctoral students.
We as doctoral students are not special, but what we have chosen to do leads down a career path with some very special and often stressful conditions. If we wish to stay in academia, we sign up for an extremely precarious one. The first 10-15 years of our careers will be on temporary contracts, often having to move countries. These short contracts often lead to long hours, as you always have to think about landing your next position. This is not compensated by high salaries, most of us would earn significantly more if we chose to leave for industry.
The Swedish doctoral education offers something as rare in academia as stability for 4-5 years, the financial compensation is decent, and for non-EU/EEA citizens it used to offer the possibility of obtaining permanent residency after four years of doctoral studies. This made it attractive and led to many highly qualified candidates applying from abroad, and is part of what makes Swedish academia able to compete internationally. Moving abroad for 4-5 years to complete is a huge commitment that needs to be acknowledged. In this context a safetynet of stability is essential, that you have to stay and continue to contribute where your academic journey has brought you and your life is now rooted.
The Swedish doctoral education is not just valuable for those who complete it, it is an integral part of academia, and it is also very much also an education for the future Sweden. The risk is that the talent that has been educated in Sweden will leave in higher numbers, and that we will lose potential non-EU/EEA doctoral students. We all lose if Swedish doctoral education becomes less attractive for non-EU/EEA doctoral students, as we rely on them for a lively research environment and for a high quality bachelor and master education, and we rely on them for Swedish industry.
So as we in SFS write together with SULF and SDF in today’s debate article “Nya migrationsregler kan orsaka forskarflykt” in SvD. Do the right thing, do a redo!
Pil Maria Saugmann, chair of SFS-DK 2021/2022
Linnea Carlsson, vice-chair of SFS-DK 2021/2022
Alex Cravcenco, vice-chair of SFS-DK 2021/2022