Report: Nine voices from the Aliens in Academia

Today we, SFS-DK, are releasing a report created together with SULF Doctoral Candidate Association, entitled “The Aliens in Academia”. It is, of course, about those doctoral students who are affected by the new migration legislation. 

Much has been written about this topic, and you might wonder if the report adds anything new. We, together with SULF-DCA, think it does: it adds a perspective that has been lacking from the debate so far, namely the personal aspect.

The report is centered around 9 interviews with individuals who are affected by the new maintenance requirement. These 9 examples are just the top of a massive iceberg of similar stories, and paint a grim picture. Living in the limbo that a lack of permanent residence takes its toll on the individuals, on both a personal and professional level.

The nine stories are each unique, but at the same time very similar.  The personal worry these nine individuals express centers around not knowing if they can stay in Sweden in the long run. Things such as buying flats and creating a home come with a different level of uncertainty if you do not know if you can remain in Sweden, and starting a family is not as easy if you do not know if you and your partner will have to uproot your children’s life in a few years. The personal consequences for these individuals are not limited to their lives in Sweden, it also very much affects their ability to travel to their country of origin. If you are in the middle of the residence permit application process and wish to travel, you cannot reenter Sweden, and it is not uncommon for internationals to not be able to travel for Christmas, to go years without seeing their parents, families or friends they grew up with. They might miss weddings or funerals of their loved ones. 

Not being able to travel also affects their professional life, since an academic career is, maybe a bit ironically, an international one.  Traveling for conferences, laboratory facilities, archives, or visits in international research groups is part of being a doctoral student, or at least you expect it to be. When the processing times in Migrationsverket are as they are, this affects the opportunities of the international doctoral students. Before the new maintenance requirements, they knew that after four years of doctoral studies they would fulfill the requirements for permanent residency. For those of them who remained in Swedish academia, they knew that this waiting game would no longer restrict their research career. In contrast, now they know that if they remain in academia, chances are that they cannot fulfill the maintenance requirement – and their personal and professional life will be restricted.

Many who would like to stay in academia might be considering a career elsewhere, either abroad, in countries like Norway, Germany or Canada, where the academic career is not a hindrance for obtaining permanent residency. Others consider a career outside of academia instead, and this is of course great – if it is what they wish for. However, it is unlikely that it will be a quick fix for the lack of permanent residency, as many smaller companies request that one has a permanent residency if you are to be employed by them. They do so because they do not have the resources to help with tedious application processes – and residence processes in Sweden are tedious.

Where does this leave these talented internationally young researchers? Well they are still damned if they stay in academia and they are still damned if they leave. 

If the motivation behind the new maintenance requirements was to ensure that those who are granted permanent residency are established within the Swedish labor market, then it should in theory, not be problematic for doctoral students. Those who have conducted their degree in Sweden are less likely to become unemployed than others according to recent reports. 

However, while a doctoral degree gives a certain certainty of not becoming unemployed, academia is filled with many examples of precariousness and unsustainable conditions, in particular for doctoral students and early career researchers, and the maintenance requirement just adds to a long list of such problems. While research is a passion for many doctoral students, we should not be expected to settle for significantly worse conditions than if we had chosen another career path, as we often are. And this raises an important question. 

Why should internationals do their doctoral studies in Sweden?

And now we are at the core of the issue. The maintenance requirement in the Aliens Act is so ill-matched with the academic career path, that it does make the Swedish doctoral education less attractive for international talents. And this creates a cascade of problems.

Read the report here: