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NORWAY AND SWEDEN

‘Party Swedes, go home’: Do Swedish immigrants get a bad rep in Norway?

They might be close neighbours with a seemingly shared culture and identity, but Swedish immigrants have not always found it easy to settle in Norway, and have often been the butt of jokes and even abuse, explains Xander Brett.

Do Swedish immigrants in Norway receive a tough welcome, or is it just friendly banter. Pictured is a Norwegian and Swedish flag side by side. Photo by Petter Bernsten/ AFP.

In May 2008, a wall on St Olavs gate street, Oslo, was graffitied. Scrawled across it, the words: ‘Partysvensker go home!’. The slogan, asking ‘party Swedes’ to leave Norway, played with neo-Nazi chants of the 1980s and 90s.

But, with free movement of people and a shared Nordic identity, Swedes in Norway had a history of being treated as ‘different immigrants’, or often simply not as immigrants at all.

The slogan, therefore, was generally interpreted as something benign and humorous. That was until a later addition to the wall, in 2009, that asked, ‘men Norge är ju svenskt?’ (But isn’t Norway Swedish anyway?’).

Rebecca Jafari, writing for Norwegian tabloid Dagsavisen, picked up on the debate. ‘They work hard,’ she wrote, ‘are service minded, rarely engage in crime, and pay taxes. Yet Swedes are subject to bullying by their neighbours.’

In 2014, the problems faced by some young Swedish immigrants in Norway were depicted by director Ronnie Sandahl, who named his latest feature film Svenskjævel (Swedish Devil).

The movie follows 23-year-old Dino as she arrives in Oslo to seek a life of affluence and happiness, only to be thrown into a cycle of odd jobs and partying.

It was a journey that seemed to document the life of an archetypal ‘partysvensk’, and it was held up as an example of the treatment awaiting young Swedes moving over the border.

By the late 2000s, Swedes had grown to be Norway’s second largest immigrant community (after Poles). The unique combination of high youth unemployment back home, versus a strong labour market further west, saw them flood into higher salaried jobs from hospitality to engineering.

At the same time, Norwegians continued to flock the other way, heading over the border to take advantage of Sweden’s low prices. Travelling along the border, the vast supermarkets are clear to see, erected just a few kilometres into Swedish territory, their car parks full of Norwegian registration plates.

Academic Ida Tolgensbakk wrote a 2015 study that examined how young Swedish workers were treated on arrival in Norway. She says the term ‘partysvensker’ is generally used more humorously than other immigrant chants, but that doesn’t mean everyone on the receiving end finds it fun.

“Some find it funny,” she tells The Local, “interpreting it as a sign of equality and closeness. Others find it stigmatising and racist.”

Tolgensbakk based her research on interviews, fieldwork, and a media study. She says Norwegians and Swedes have a long history of mutual jokes dating back to the 1970s.

“Swedes made jokes about Norwegians and vice-versa. However, at that point, there was no significant migration between the two countries, so it was merely neighbourly banter. The meaning changed when one neighbour became a minority in another,” she explains. 

Norway had been independent for years, but there was, perhaps, some lingering unease among Swedes about being the butt of jokes in a country they ruled until 1905.

In 2013, researching for Swedish daily Aftonbladet, journalists Jerker Ivarsson and Victor Stenquist went ‘on location in Oslo to meet Swedish workers aged 20 to 30.

Two-thirds of Swedish immigrants they spoke to had settled in Oslo, and it was to this carefree age group the term ‘partysvensker’ seemed to apply to. However, the then 23-year-old bartender Sarah Thegerström told them ‘partysvensker’ was far from a joke and spoke of the all-too-common bullying experiences of Swedes in her profession (she, apparently, was the victim of frequent anti-Swedish abuse from drunken customers herself).

Writing for Nyheter 24, meanwhile, Haviet Kok was in Norway when he took a phone call from his landlord. Kok says he was harassed by a Norwegian passer-by who had heard his Swedish accent and swore and pleaded that he and his compatriots cross back over the border.

Despite their infrequency, Tolgensbakk, author of the 2015 report, admits these experiences are far from non-existent. Many of the respondents to her study found it difficult to get to know their Norwegian neighbours, and she says they were often naïve in their belief that their culture was identical.

“If you look at the three Scandinavian nations from abroad,” she tells The Local, “you’d think we’re the same country: our histories are intertwined, our languages mutually intelligible. But when you get up close, there are noticeable pegs that separate us. We have our own peculiarities, and that can be confusing if you expect everything to be the same.”

For his part, migration researcher Jan Horgen Friberg says that in the social hierarchy of Norway’s immigrant groups, Swedes are at the top. “Although they may face negative stereotypes,” he says to The Local, “I think the term ‘racism’ is drawing it way too far.”

Along with reports of jokes, banter, even abuse, and struggles to settle in – which are not just limited to Swedes in Norway, there are, of course, many positive experiences of Swedes moving across the border.

Tea Lovcalic, who moved to Norway from Lund in southern Sweden, is perhaps just one of many Swedes who settle smoothly into life in Norway.

She says she felt included straight away.

“The experience was positive and welcoming, both in the workplace and out.”

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For members

WORK PERMITS

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website
How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 
How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 
Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 
What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years. 

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