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Interview “bottleneck” hampers Sweden’s recruitment efforts

Waiting times for residence permit application interviews at Swedish foreign missions have created a “bottleneck” that will prevent some students from studying in Sweden in the upcoming year, hampering the efforts of universities across the country to recruit students from outside the EU, Swedish universities have warned.

Photo: Flickr/ Pedro Szekely

The Swedish government is expected to update its post-study work offer in 2020

“It doesn’t seem that Sweden has invested the resources required to interview applicants in a timely fashion”

Students from countries including Bangladesh and Pakistan must attend interviews at consulates as part of their application, and universities have warned that applicants have been unable to find interview time slots before the start of term in Sweden.

“This is obviously a massive issue because it basically means that these students won’t be able to get a residence permit in time for their studies in Sweden,” Douglas Washburn, marketing manager at Study in Sweden, told The PIE News.

“Interviews can certainly be an important part of the residence permit application process but it’s a time intensive process and it doesn’t seem that Sweden has invested the resources required to interview applicants in a timely fashion,” he added.

The situation may result in Swedish universities losing a significant amount of money, Washburn continued.

“They’ve invested so much in the recruiting process and often nurture relationships with students over a one to two year period and some students won’t be able to enrol despite being accepted and having their hearts set on coming to Sweden.”

According to Stefan Haglund, communication strategist, international student recruitment, at Linnaeus University, students from Bangladesh are especially prone to missing out due to not being able to schedule an interview.

“The most affected is the embassy in Dhaka due to Sweden in general having had a large increase in the amount of admitted students from Bangladesh. The Islamabad embassy in Pakistan has a small problem with this also, but not as big as the embassy in Dhaka,” he told The PIE.

“Obviously it is a rather big problem when students do not have the chance of getting a residence permit even if they do what they should in time.”

Between 20-40 students will be missing out on the opportunity to study at Linnaeus this semester due to not getting interviews booked before the semester starts, Haglund estimated, with the majority being from Bangladesh.

In total, there were 391 students from Bangladesh and 314 students from Pakistan enrolled in Swedish higher education for the first time in 2017/18.

“Mostly, interviews are conducted with students from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran, but can be done at any embassy if the Migration Agency doubts [students’] study intentions,” he added.

“We all understand this is a complex situation,” Haglund noted.

However, in the future the Swedish Council for Higher Education, Swedish universities, embassies and the Migration Agency should work together to ensure the process works efficiently for a country which is in an early phase of developing its international student recruitment, he said.

Focus needs to be placed on migration rules, student information, joint marketing strategies for Sweden, internship programs, scholarship programs, and the work permit policy, Haglund said.

“We are moving in they right direction, but sometimes it is of course frustrating when things move slowly or you see a backlash as in the example of the problem for Bangladeshi students to book interviews at the embassy to get residence permits.”

“It’s critical that Sweden continues to explore ways to improve the experience”

The Swedish Institute and Study in Sweden have closely cooperated with the Swedish Migration Agency and Swedish foreign missions in the past few years, Washburn explained.

“It’s critical that Sweden continues to explore ways to improve the experience and process for international students to come to Sweden. If we aren’t able to issue residence permits to students who are accepted to Sweden we risk damaging our reputation and making it harder to recruit students in the future,” Washburn said.

“In general I think it’s very important to also consider that the Swedish Migration Agency has made some very positive changes,” he said

“The processing times for new applicants has been reduced drastically and in some cases made within a week. So the situation for the majority of applicants is looking positive and the Swedish Migration Agency has made some extremely encouraging improvements.

“Last spring, we organised webinars about the application process with the Swedish Migration Agency for over 1,000 students. Swedish Foreign Missions organised over 30 pre-departure events for non-EU students which included information and tips on how to apply for a residence permit,” he explained.

By offering these, Study in Sweden and the Swedish Institute hope to reduce the number of mistakes students make during the application process and help more students receive their residence permit in time to study in Sweden, Washburn said.

“There are also talks to allow a small group of universities to take part in a trial where universities are responsible for the interviews during the residence permit application process, which would drastically reduce the waiting time.”

Study in Sweden is also taking part in discussions to allow two-year residence permits which would “help with the waiting time for renewals as well as other problems students have dealing with health care when they only receive a one-year permit”, Washburn stated.

In addition, the government is expected to update its post-study work offer.

“We expect a new law to go through on January 1 2020 to allow non-EU students who have graduated from a program in Sweden to stay for 12 months after graduation instead of the current six months to try to find a job,” Washburn said.

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