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Maintaining a highly skilled foreign workforce is very important for countries like Sweden. But when a deported worker sues the state, the record of refusing a state that understands technology becomes the spotlight.
Ali Omumi has bought an apartment and a car, attended a Swedish language course, enrolled his child in a daycare center and has even improved his skiing skills to welcome the freezing temperatures.
But even though his family had come to Sweden for more than three years, and the fact that he was highly paid as a senior employee in one of the leading power and technology companies, Ali Omumi was ordered to leave the country.
“This makes me very frustrated, for my wife this is the beginning of a deep depression,” complained the engineering sales specialist, who is from Iran.
Omumi, who was then 38 years old, was given the final order to immediately leave the country in 2018 after failing to appeal the Swedish Migration Agency’s decision.
Officials refuse registration of work permit extension based on administrative errors made by the software company that previously hired him, ie failed to show the correct coverage data.
“Deportation makes me feel ” I’m a criminal ‘- while I know very well that I’m not a criminal. I come to work and pay taxes, and I bring my experience and money. “
Sweden lacks talented people
Sweden experiences a shortage of quality graduates in many fields, including in engineering and programming, which means employers are increasingly looking beyond national borders and the European Union to fill the gap.
Work permits – which are required for non-EU workers – are initially linked to certain jobs, but those who want to move companies can start new jobs while waiting for the visa extension process.
However, hundreds of refusal requests for an extension of permit experienced by many non-EU workers such as Ali, due to minor administrative errors made by the previous company during their stay.
Aside from insurance issues, other errors that cause deportation include mistakes in pension payments, taking too much or too little time off, or even registering jobs through LinkedIn that are not offered by the Swedish Public Employment Service.
Sweden calls this deportation competitive competence, which means “the expulsion of those who have the skills needed in the labor market”, and the problem is that this hot topic has been going on for a long time, especially in the rapidly developing field of technology.
The deportation of one of Pakistan’s developers in 2016 triggered a petition signed by more than 10,000 people, including Spotify’s founder, Daniel Ek, who later admitted that 15 of the company’s top employees were threatened with deportation.
Earlier this year the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce warned that the trend could damage Swedish economic capital, while the local branch of Startup Grind, one of the largest independent start-up community organizations in the world, held an event called Keep the Talent to protest against Sweden “running out of international talent” .
In March, the results of a large survey for The Diversify Foundation, a non-profit organization campaigning for a more inclusive labor market, found that 81% of non-EU workers who responded said that their health or the health of their families had been affected by the threat of deportation.
Nearly 70% said that they would not recommend Sweden as a destination for foreign workers.
“In our opinion, that hurts Sweden’s international reputation,” said Alexandra Loyd, a lawyer at Centrum för Rättvisa, a non-profit law firm that represents the public interest, representing several affected workers. “Many people – workers and employers, who are related to us – feel insecure about the legal system in Sweden.”
According to him, the root of the problem is the strict interpretation of the Swedish Migration Agency to the 2015 decision by the Migration Court of Appeal, which says that work permits cannot be extended to workers whose employers do not uphold industrial norms.
The decision was related to two cases where foreign workers were underpaid and designed to protect migrants from exploitation by dishonest employers.
This is the foundation of work culture in Sweden, which has a long history of strong trade unions and strict agreements designed to protect workers’ rights.
But it did produce a mantra of deportation of workers that was actually needed based on minor administrative errors.
In 2017, more than 1,800 people experienced a refusal to extend their work permits, although it is not possible to specify exactly how many of them were due to minor errors.
This situation has improved in the last two years, thanks in part to amendments in the law, which allow employers to remedy mistakes gradually.
Meanwhile a new decision from the Migration Court of Appeal in December 2017 ruled that there must be an “overall assessment” of each case applicant to make a more proportional decision, rather than automatically issuing a rejection based on a small error.
Per Ek, an agency spokesman, said that he understood that some foreign workers ended up “in a very difficult situation” if their visas were refused.
But he insisted that the “overall assessment” method generally “ran smoothly enough” to limit the deportation of skilled workers, while at the same time remaining true to previous laws designed to protect workers in all industries.
“We are here for one clear reason. We must be sure that the law or law has been fulfilled … and we will try our best to inform everyone who comes here, in a variety of different languages - in English of course – about what rules or conditions to complete. “
So far, as many as 550 people have been denied work permits in 2019, including around 50 who work in IT and programming, this is significantly reduced compared to 2018 and 2017.
But lawyer Alexandra Loyd believes that the agency still has a tendency to “stick to the rules” – reject cases that have no legal precedent and wait for an appeal against the case in court, rather than looking at the bigger picture at the beginning of each visa extension process. .
“There are very clear deficiencies in the system and in the decisions of the Migration Agency,” he said.
Sales engineer Ali Omumi has now returned to Sweden where he has found a new job at the company he once hired, ABB.
But ensuring his return is a long process. The Iranian man is temporarily moving to Istanbul, while he looks for new opportunities in Sweden and elsewhere in Northern Europe.
Initially he rented out his family’s house, but he was forced to sell it below the market price, after being told that he had broken the rules that forbid most apartment owners in Sweden from renting out their property, unless they had moved because they worked, studied, were sick, or lived together with spouse or other sibling, none of that applies to Omumi.
When he was offered a job in Sweden, at first he could not apply for a new visa, because the Migration Authority said that he had not been abroad long enough, a decision that was eventually canceled.
Centrum för Rättvisa now helps him sue the country for losing his income while he is away.
This is the first time a deported worker has filed a case like this, and he can get around 600,000 Swedish kronor ($ 62,000).
“The main objective is to get recognition that what happened is indeed wrong and that the Migration Agency does not do this again,” said Loyd, who hopes this case will become a milestone.
If it reaches the Swedish Supreme Court, this case will set a precedent for deported workers who believe that they have been treated unfairly.
“I hope this lawsuit will encourage decision makers to draft laws better, where international talents can come here … and stay in Sweden as long as they can contribute,” Omumi added. “In the end, Sweden will get better.”
The Sweden’s Migration Agency said they did not want to speculate on the potential effects of the lawsuits.
“Let them make a decision first on the case, then we will comment,” said spokesman Per Ek. The agency did not talk about the Omumi case specifically.
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Who is still affected?
Meanwhile, many skilled foreign workers remain in uncertainty.
Front end web developer, Zena Jose, who is from India, is currently appealing against the decision to reject the extension of her visa.
The 28-year-old woman works for a startup in Stockholm, but previously worked for a large company in the Swedish capital, along with long-distance work from Mumbai.
He recalled that the failure of his first employer to cancel his original visa was considered an administrative error that ensured his deportation.
“It’s very disappointing because it wasn’t my fault until this happened and I didn’t make any mistakes. But I have to pay, “he said.
The start-up worker has been advised not to leave Sweden during the appeals process, because he might face problems if he returns without valid files.
It means he can’t visit family during the Christmas holidays. “This is really depressing because I can’t visit family or friends in my country … and it’s been almost a year now,” he said.
Aniel Bhaga, a 34-year-old from Australia who had previously worked as a business development for Swedish fashion products in the H&M brand in Stockholm, lost a three-year court process to remain in the country in October, due to administrative errors made by the start company -up where he worked before.
“I built a very wide professional network, built a very, very good family-and-friendship network here, I built my life,” he complained.
Now Bhaga lives with her parents in Brisbane and does casual work while entering a new work permit registration to continue her work at H&M.
Although fed up with the situation, he believes he is “one of the lucky ones”, explaining that “there are many people who are in more difficult situations … who do not have an easy and good country to return to” while waiting for the process.