The Swedish Migration Agency is threatening to force fee-paying students who have too little money in their bank account to leave the country. The fact that they are getting on well with their studies and meeting their financial commitments to the University is irrelevant. This is completely inconsistent with the aspiration to increase the internationalisation of higher education and it damages Sweden’s reputation. The rules must be changed immediately; the changes in practice brought in at the end of January are not enough.
The government inquiry on internationalisation has just presented an interim report which proposes that “the Swedish Migration Agency should be instructed to consider, in consultation with higher education institutions, how procedures can be improved so as to simplify the processing of applications for residence permits for students, visiting researchers and other employees, and to shorten processing times” (SoU 2018/3).
This is important, but it is even more crucial that those who have received a residence permit and started their programme in Sweden are guaranteed the opportunity to complete their education. At Uppsala University we have had several cases when motivated students from the United States, South Korea and other countries have fallen foul of the regulations. It has just happened again. One of our students, who has been with us for one-and-a-half years, is to be sent home because she does not have enough money in her bank account. (The local paper wrote about the student’s situation on unt.se on 8 February 2018.) The rules say that students staying in Sweden on a student visa must have over SEK 80,000 per year available in their account. A student admitted to a two-year programme has to be able to demonstrate they have twice that amount. This in itself is an unreasonable demand. As a student one often lives with little margin, as many of us know from experience. Many students are financed by their parents, who can be relied on to send money every month but cannot always tie up large lump-sums. As many people are aware, students can also improve their financial situation by working on the side. In Uppsala, for example, many students have jobs at the student associations. That is the reality of student life.
The long processing times are another problem. A student who does not have a residence permit and is waiting for a decision can stay in the country but cannot do a degree project in another country. The bureaucracy gets in the way of their studies. A residence permit should therefore be granted for the whole of the programme applied for at once.
The Swedish Migration Agency’s inflexible rules are not just unnecessary, they are counter-productive. They are damaging for students, for internationalisation and, ultimately, for the development of higher education in Sweden. The exaggeratedly strict interpretation of the regulations is out of tune with reality. Change cannot wait. This issue is urgent.