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How the global pandemic has disrupted the movement of people and the impact on work permits in Sweden

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the world, it’s disruptiveness will leave a lasting effect on the global economy, not seen since the Second World War. Yet despite this new common “enemy”, countries have pursued divergent strategies when it comes to tackling the pandemic. However, the one thing these strategies do have in common are the restrictions imposed on the movement of people through border closures and travel bans by the affected countries.

The EU proposed, and unanimously agreed, on an entry ban to the Schengen Area, with some exceptions. The US has similarly banned visitors from Europe, Iran, China and closed its borders to non-essential travel from its neighbours, Canada and Mexico. India has suspended most travel and tourist visas, whilst China quarantines most new arrivals in Beijing for 14 days. Closer to home, travel to Norway and Denmark has been restricted, including travel from Sweden. Only those who have a valid reason to enter Denmark will be able to do so, including frontier workers and those possessing permanent or temporary residence status. The exact restrictions to the movement of people imposed by countries around the world vary by country and are becoming stricter as the number of cases and deaths related to Covid-19 increase.

By contrast, Sweden’s restrictions remain less strict than many of its European and Nordic neighbours. To date, official measures have included banning crowds of more than 500 people, closing senior high schools and universities and imposing a temporary travel ban to those entering Sweden from outside of the EU, with some exceptions. In a rare televised speech addressing the nation, the Swedish prime minister, Stefan Löfven has warned that Sweden should be prepared for further measures that could come at short notice in the days and weeks to come.

Below, we detail some of the measures taken in Sweden to date in an effort to contain the further spread of the coronavirus, and the impacts these measures have on work permit holders in Sweden. We also provide some tips on how businesses can minimize these disruptions to lessen the impact on their mobile workforce.

Travel Ban from outside the EU

Together with the other EU 27-member states, Sweden has temporarily closed its borders to travellers from outside of the EU.

Those exempted from the travel ban include the following:

  • Swedish citizens
  • People with permanent or temporary residence permits who will be returning home to Sweden (which includes all work permit holders with permits longer than 90 days)
  • EU citizens, citizens of EEA countries, and Swiss citizens (including UK citizens)
  • People working as diplomats, in need of international protection and people in certain health care professions

In accordance with the ordinance from the Ministry of Justice, the exemptions to the travel ban includes those who hold a residence permit and will be returning to their homes in Sweden. The Ordinance implies that these exceptions to the travel ban do not apply to first time work and residence permit holders who have not travelled to Sweden before the travel ban was imposed.

As a result, EY recommends:

  • Where possible, businesses should postpone any employment or assignment which is due to begin during the 30-day travel ban whereby the individual has yet to travel to Sweden in order to avoid any risks of being denied entry by a border officer. 
  • Where it is not possible to postpone a start date, we recommend that the individual contacts the nearest Swedish Embassy or Consulate in their country of residence to seek further guidance on admittance into Sweden and contact the airline to confirm whether they will be permitted to board their flight.
  • If postponing to a later date leads the applicant to exceed four months from the date the permit was issued, we recommend cancelling the work permit and applying for a new one once a revised start date has been agreed.

In the FAQ published by the Migration Agency, the standard work permit regulations continue to apply to work permit holders regardless of the impact from Covid-19.

These include:

Requirement to start employment/work within four months or cancel the Work Permit

Under the existing work permit regulations in Sweden, employment and/or work must commence within the first four months of the work permit being issued. If the individual does not start within this time, an extension application may be rejected on the grounds that the employment did not commence in time.

The Migration Agency recommends cancelling any new work permit recently issued to employees where you foresee that the employee will not commence employment/work within four months of the work permit start date. Once a new employment start date is agreed a new work permit can be applied for. The recommendation for this is to avoid any potential difficulties when it comes to extending the same work permit at a later date.

Terms of employment and salary conditions

In relation to the terms of employment and salary conditions for work permit holders, the Migration Agency have advised:

  • If a work permit holder is required to work less than originally planned, the salary must continue to remain on par with the collective agreement levels and be no less than 13 000 SEK (regardless of amount of work). If the salary does not meet these requirements, an extension application may be rejected.
  • If a work permit holder loses their employment, they have 3 months to obtain a new employer.

Travelling to and from Sweden

The Swedish Public Health Agency have advised against all international travel as a result of challenges an individual could face in trying to return to Sweden. Sweden has not offered to repatriated citizens who find themselves stuck abroad unable to return home.

If you have employees who frequently travel to and from Sweden and are not impacted by the travel ban, we recommend that you consider postponing all non-essential travel, where possible.

Should a work permit holder need to remain outside Sweden for more than three months, it is recommended that you consider cancelling their work permit. Otherwise, it could impact their eligibility for permanent residence if they have been away for an accumulated period of time.

Biometrics & residence permit cards

For the time being, the Migration Agency and the majority of Swedish embassies abroad remain open (with reduced hours or closures in heavily affected countries). Thus, it is still possible to book or submit biometrics from within Sweden or at a Swedish Embassy abroad. It is however recommended that employees, where possible, book in advance before going to submit their biometrics, or contact their nearest Swedish Embassy or Consulate (see here) for the latest information in regard to opening times or closures as a result of Covid-19.


Overall, there are no other specific updates of changes from the Migration Agency, and EY does not foresee any immediate changes to the Migration Agency’s assessment of the work permit rules that may be affected as a result of Covid-19.

As such, it is important that employers and their employees continue to maintain compliance with the existing work permit conditions during the ongoing pandemic.

The Migration Agency have not advised of any delays in processing or handling of work permit applications, however it is expected that delays may occur as a result of remote working or employees being sent home. Consequently, the number of case officers available to handle applications may be reduced leading to possible extended processing times.

Further developments and who to contact

EY is closely monitoring the developments in Sweden. As they are changing daily, we recommend all to follow the events closely in the news and relevant government webpages, so as to keep up to date on relevant travel restrictions and work permit updates as required.

Should you have any concerns with regards to the above and how to continue to ensure compliance during these challenging times, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our team for advice and guidance.

José Vaz


José Vaz
+46 70 148 13 25