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Colombian researcher Mauricio Aljure Rey turned to KTH Relocation for help after encountering problems in obtaining a Swedish personal identity number. (Photo: Lindgren)

Helping foreign researchers wade through Swedish bureaucracy

Published May 02, 2013

Long delays with Sweden’s Migration Board and communication gaps between authorities combine daily to create hurdles for international scientists at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. But now the university has increased its support to foreign researchers relocating to Sweden, and in some instances has taken on individual cases.

Mauricio Aljure Rey applied for Swedish residence permit from his native Colombia to pursue his PhD at KTH. “Of course I applied for a long period because it will take four to five years,” Aljure Rey says.

But when his application was granted, it was for only 12 months – the standard period provided by Swedish authorities. Annual renewals alone would present enough of a problem for a foreign researcher; but the residency restriction led to yet another, more serious complication: because of it, neither Aljure Rey nor his wife can obtain their personal identity numbers. Swedish tax law requires that applicants for a personal number must have residence for a period of at least 12 months beyond their application date.

Without personal numbers, the couple cannot open Swedish bank accounts, obtain mobile telecommunications service, or get a place in the queue for housing. They also are excluded from receiving national health care service.

“You discover pretty quickly that most social services in Sweden require you to have a personal identity number,” he says.

KTH helped with housing

They turned to KTH for help and when the couple had found a home, their contract was signed by the school. But even after they moved into their Abrahamsberg apartment, a new problem arose.

Mauricio Aljure Rey in his new Stockholm apartment.

“I needed a Swedish personal number to sign a contract with the electricity company and also for a fixed internet subscription,” Aljure Rey says.

Each of the problems could be considered small – but navigating these everyday obstacles distracts one from their doctoral studies, he says.

“In the current situation, I wish nothing more than to be able to concentrate on my studies. But honestly, it is becoming increasingly difficult. My work is funded by a grant from Colombia, and to maintain it, I must be able to show results.”

Now a central function is being created at KTH Relocation to improve assistance to foreign researchers, teachers and students with both immigration and housing issues.

Lotta Rosenfeldt, an administrator from KTH Relocation, says: “We started in November last year, and now we are working to build greater competence in the issue of migration in order to facilitate and speed up the handling of candidates, she says.

The current regulations for migration are extensive and constantly changing, she says.

“Even the administrators at the Migration Board may find it difficult to keep up with all the changes,” Rosenfeldt says. “The processing time can vary greatly in different cases depending on which officer you are assigned.”

“Even the administrators at the Migration Board may find it difficult to keep up with all the changes.” - Lotta Rosenfeldt, KTH Relocation. 

Learning Swedish Aljure Reys’ problems are shared by many foreign researchers at KTH. For example, Blaise Goutérau registered his residency permit as an EU citizen and was issued his Swedish personal identity numbers. But when Goutéraux’s wife did the same on her residency application, the process didn’t work out so well.

“We applied for the first time in September of last year but have not heard yet from the Migration Board. Now we have made a new application with the hope that it will go a little faster,” Goutéraux says. 

Without a complete Swedish personal identity number, she has been unable to register as a job seeker with the national employment office, Arbetsförmedlingen, or to enrol in the government-sponsored language classes for immigrants. So she is seeking a job without assistance and teaching herself Swedish.

Each year there are about 1,500 residence permits linked to KTH. Rosenfeldt says that a central function of KTH Relocation will be to improve the management of their cases.

“KTH Relocation's goal is to establish an efficient and speedy routine on migration matters and that we will assist KTH’s schools. When you do not work with these kinds of issues often, it can be hard to keep track of the rules and routines,” she says.

Maximum five-day notices

With the facts behind her, she hopes to put pressure on the Swedish Migration Board.

“The Migration Board has stated that a residence case should take no more than five days to process, if it is filed correctly. It remains to be seen whether actually works,” Rosenfeldt says.

Meanwhile Aljure Rey and his wife have been contacted by the power utility, which decided to make an exception to its own rules on social security.

“They told me that they have seen a significant increase in customers without social security numbers so they chose to make exceptions. Without such help, the support from KTH Relocation and especially from my supervisor, I do not know how it would have turned out,” he says. 

Magnus Pahlén Trogen

A service of KTH Human Resources, KTH Relocation began operations in November, 2012. It is the central reception service for the approximately 1,500 international professors, graduate students and other researchers working at KTH. Read more about KTH Relocation .