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Sweden: Equality for foreign PhD students

International PhD students, more correctly - researchers, are asking the Swedish government to change their legal status and, instead of treating them as other foreign graduate students, to acknowledge their research at universities as proper work. The main contention is that, unlike in the case of EU and industrial-PhD researchers, PhD activities of non-EU citizens are not counted as work although they are employed by universities. Such a status subsequently impedes their stay in the country and does not allow them to apply for permanent residence. Under the current legislation, all foreign (non-EU/EEA) students are given a short, ten-day leeway upon graduation to find a job, otherwise their visa expires. 

To show their discontent, on 12 March students held protests in the streets of Stockholm and Gothenburg and asked for support through social media: via a Youtube channel and a Facebook group, both called Equality for foreign PhDs in Sweden

On 13 March the Swedish Migration Ministry responded by submitting a bill proposal that aims to accommodate the request and allow non-EU PhD students in the country to apply for permanent residence provided they have spent four of the past seven years employed as researchers. If adopted, the new law would represent a major step towards the recognition of the work done by international PhDs in the Swedish research community. In legal terms, this change would put them on par with the rest of foreign employees in Sweden, who are allowed to apply for permanent residence after four years of working in the country. The government has proposed giving PhD graduates 6 months instead of 10 days to find a job or to set up their own business in the country.

After the proposal is examined and compared with  the existing laws, the Swedish parliament - Riksdag - will vote on the bill within the next few months. If the government’s proposal is accepted, the new regulations should enter into force on 1 June 2014. 

According to the migration minister Tobias Billström, the reform would help make Swedish higher education more competitive globally. The introduction of tuition fees for international students has cost the country quite a fewer enrolments since 2011. Nevertheless, post-graduates are still offered a number of scholarships and, according to the Swedish Higher Education Authority, PhD enrolments are on the rise.

 Government offices of Sweden

Higher education in Sweden status report 2013