Sweden’s “crazy, political and short-term” new restrictions on granting permanent residence permits to foreign doctoral students will probably lead to a brain drain that will damage its university and knowledge economy, researchers have warned.
Until recently, doctoral students outside the EU were entitled to a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden for four of the last seven years, which gave them a path to citizenship.
However, this situation changed in July when new laws to control the number of asylum seekers came into force, which means that all foreign nationals outside the EU applying for a permanent residence permit must either have a permanent job or one that lasts at least 18 months.
Since postdoctoral positions in academia or industry rarely last longer than a year, although they can be extended continuously, the new rules can cause a relocation of overseas doctoral students, warned Jenny Iao-Jörgensen, chairman of Sweden’s National Doctoral Candidate Association, part of Sweden’s association of university teachers and researchers.
“Sweden has some big ambitions to build up its knowledge economy – and to keep more of its foreign doctoral students – so this really puts us in the foot,” says Iao-Jörgensen, doctoral student at Lund University, who believes that up to 3,000 international doctoral students or newly graduated doctoral students will be affected by the rule change.
Given Sweden’s expensive doctoral education model, where doctoral students are formally recognized as staff and pay an annual salary of up to SEK 414,000 (34,705 pounds), about double the scholarship granted to funded doctoral students in the UK, the move to stricter permanent residence requirements also little meaning, added Mrs. Iao-Jörgensen.
“It throws away SEK 12-18 billion that taxpayers have invested in this group and gives it to other countries that will surely welcome them,” she said, adding that 80 percent of international doctoral students were based on scientific subjects.
“It is particularly unfair because many of these doctoral students moved with their families to Sweden precisely because they understood our rules of residence, which have now changed – and in some cases only weeks before they were to graduate.”
The Swedish Ministry of Justice has defended the changes, saying that they represent a “reasonable balance that contributes to Sweden having long-term sustainable legislation that does not differ significantly from other EU countries”.
However, the new requirements have recently been criticized by university leaders, and Ole Petter Ottersen, head of Sweden’s highest ranked university, Karolinska Institutet, said University World News that “over time, these new measures will weaken Sweden as a research nation”.
“We risk losing this [research] competence to other countries. Can Sweden afford this? He added.
The personal distress and uncertainty that researchers in early careers caused by these new rules should also not be overlooked, said Iao-Jörgensen.
“You can point out how crazy, political and short-sighted these rules are when applied to doctoral students, but it also matters that this already causes great concern for doctoral students, especially those who are in the final stages of their doctoral degree,” she said.
“Many have told me how difficult it is for them to focus on writing or living, given the enormous uncertainty they now face.”