We must protect those with temporary residence permits

The most devastating consequences of the Corona crisis will hit people who have temporary residence permits. Now Sweden must review the possibilities of making temporary residence permits permanent in order to protect some of society's most marginalised people.

April 3 2020

Industries come to a halt, hotel rooms are cancelled and restaurant tables remain empty. The economic impact of the spread of the Coronavirus in Sweden and the world is extensive. To soften the blow, the Swedish government has introduced rescue packages for the most affected sectors and made changes in the legislation for unemployment benefits. In that way, they hope to create a safety net so as to stop people from hitting rock bottom. But many are still at risk. A large number of people in the severely affected services sector have temporary residence permits. Many have fled from conflicts around the world, in some cases from conflicts in countries to which Sweden exports arms. The Swedish Public Employment Service reports that those who will be most affected by notices are those who are new in the labour market, among others people born outside of Sweden.

We, the organisations of Swedish civil society, who sign this opinion article come in contact with newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers. Many of them are now worried about the consequences of the spreading of the Coronavirus – both the medical and the economic. Many work in the restaurant business and have already lost their jobs or fear losing them. They are worried that the loss of income will prevent them from being able to renew their residence permits, or that they no longer will meet the maintenance requirements for family reunification in Sweden. At the same time, they find it difficult to get their questions answered by the Migration Agency. The already long turnaround times risk becoming even longer if there are staff cuts at the Migration Agency.

Temporary residence permits have been the norm since the temporary asylum law was introduced in 2016, later extended until 2019. Migration Minister Morgan Johansson has informed Ekot in Sveriges Radio (Swedish radio) that there are no plans to review the legislation. This is unfortunate since it means that large parts of the population become second class citizens who live under the constant threat of being forced to leave Sweden or see their hope of reuniting with their family crumble.

Temporary residence permits undermine people’s safety. It affects individuals, but it may also have socio-economic repercussions. Many people with temporary residence permits already live under severe mental stress. The Coronavirus creates additional anxiety when people worry about family members being stuck in cramped refugee camps with limited opportunities to maintain good hygiene and a lack of healthcare. Not knowing if you may stay in Sweden weakens your incentive to plan for the future, securing education, accommodation and work, and the risk of mental ill-health increases. Children and adolescents in particular, who might have a stronger affiliation to Sweden than to any other country, will suffer exceedingly from temporary residence permits and must be protected. The Coronavirus and its consequences hit hard against all parts of the population. Now we need to show our solidarity by protecting those who are most affected by granting a temporary respite from regulations.

At the same time the ongoing migration investigation must secure that, long term:
• Permanent residence permits become the norm. Far from everybody who has fled from conflict can return after only a few years. The conflicts often continue far longer than that, which the prolonged and drawn-out conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria give evidence to.
• The temporary law’s tightening of the maintenance requirement in family reunification should be abolished. It’s especially important to make exceptions from the maintenance requirement if the asylum seeker or family member in Sweden is a child.

The opinion article was published in Göteborgs-Posten April 3 2020

Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary-general Islamic Relief Sverige

Jamie Bolling, project leader, Disabled Refugees Welcome

Zozan Inci, national project leader for children and adolescents in migration, Fryshuset.

Elin Liss, acting secretary-general, Internationella Kvinnoförbundet för Fred och Frihet (IKFF)

Hannah Kroksson, secretary-general LSU – Sveriges Ungdomsorganisationer

Eliot Wieslander, secretary general Läkare i Världen.

Deidre Palacios, president RFSL

Jêran Rostam, president RFSL Ungdom

Agnes Hellström, chairman Svenska Freds.

Liam Sallmander, project leader, Tillsammans för Sverige – en del av Fryshuset.