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Stakeholders debate visa abuse in Sweden

Stakeholders have offered differing opinions on the findings of a recent report by the Swedish Migration Agency which hints at student visa abuse in Sweden.

In 2021, Pakistan was among the countries that sent the most new incoming students to Sweden. Photo: Unsplash

The report claims it is likely that there is similar visa abuse among other nationalities

The report titled ‘Abuse of Residence Permits for Studies’ claims it has found strong indications that Pakistani international students in Sweden are extensively abusing their residents permits.

The report looks at Pakistani students who were granted residence visas in 2020 to pursue two-year masters programs at two institutions – Halmstad University and Linnaeus University. It found that after one year, 36% had applied for an extended study visa and 28% had applied for a work permit. Meanwhile, 32% had not made a further application. For the remainder of students, the next steps are unknown.

The Swedish Migration Agency concluded from this data that almost one third of these students came to Sweden with the intention to work rather than study.

Although the research focuses on Pakistani students, the report states that “what makes the abuse possible is not limited by citizenship” and that “it is likely that there is similar abuse among other nationalities”.

Douglas Washburn, acting head of unit, talent attraction unit, the Swedish Institute, told The PIE News “this is an issue that we are aware of as Swedish higher education institutions have clearly highlighted that there are challenges that need to be dealt with related to residence permits”.

“We are pleased that the issue has been highlighted and we are confident that there will be a thorough analysis and appropriate solutions, so that our higher education institutions can continue to attract top students to their high quality degree programs,” Washburn added.

The report further backs its claims of visa abuse by highlighting that many Pakistani students are no longer residing in the town where they are enrolled to study with 38% found to be living in Stockholm – approximately 410 kilometres away from the university city. Meanwhile, 20% of those enrolled at Halmstad University were residing in Stockholm – approximately 490 kilometres away.

However, in an article published by Universitetsläraren, representatives from the two higher education institutions analysed in the report reacted to the findings.

Brita Lundh, head of educational support at Halmstad University, told the publication that she finds it “incredibly strange” that the Swedish Migration Agency chose to include a student’s location of residence as a factor in determining visa abuse since the results were taken during the Covid-19 pandemic when distance learning was implemented, meaning that it was possible for students to study remotely.

“This is a very large and complex issue”

“This is a very large and complex issue. It’s terrible if there are individuals who are being exploited, whether it is for human trafficking or illegal work. But this issue has many different aspects, and we think that the Migration Agency needs to have a little more evidence before drawing these conclusions,” she added.

According to Lundh, Halmstad University does not have a higher percentage of international students leaving after one year than that of Swedish students, further adding to her skepticism of the findings.

Maria Eriksson, section manager of the student department at Linnaeus University, told Universitetsläraren that her university would be willing to consider “tightening up” its routines by reviewing courses, entry requirements and fees.

“We think it’s important that the students who come to us and pay their tuition fees also want to complete their programs. We’ve been working on this for a number of years, but this report has intensified our work on the matter,” she said.

Washburn anticipates the issue will be discussed further through the new ‘Platform for Internationalisation’ – a platform where Swedish public agencies, institutions and other actors can bring up important issues related to internationalisation in Sweden.

In 2021, The PIE reported that Pakistan was among the countries that sent the most new incoming students to Sweden in 2019/20.

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