I wanted to write a post around the upcoming Swedish election. One of the central topics of this election has been immigration. Despite there being many groups of people who this affects much more dramatically than me, I am going to focus on how changes in policy and rhetoric that have affected me personally.
In December of 2014, when I was 22, I applied for Swedish residency on a relationship visa. Ten months and ten days later I got the official decision that I was granted a residency permit. Three months later I moved to Sweden.
Shortly after changes to the law made were made that increased the restrictions for relationship visas. These changes were particularly hard for international couples living outside of Sweden. The Swedish partner would have to move back to Sweden, find an apartment and then find a job before even being able to apply for residency. With the current application processing time ranging from ten to fifteen months this has forced couples to put their lives on hold for years.
The right wing populist party the Sweden Democrats (SD), has looked to Denmark for even harder policy inspiration. Copying Denmark, they would like to impose a law stopping relationship visas only to those who are under 24 years old. In Denmark this law is just one part of a larger package of laws that discourages people living in Denmark from marrying citizens from non-EU countries. Other parts include putting a deposit of 100,000 DKK (141,480 SEK, $15,000) in case your spouse goes on welfare and an “attachment check” to see that your combined attachment to Denmark is higher than any other country, meaning if you lived together abroad you would be denied, because your “combined attachment” would be higher in the country where you met. If Sweden had a similar package of laws in 2014, there is no way I would have been able to move here.
But the Sweden Democrats’ policies don’t stop at restricting immigration to the country. Last year at SD’s party conference there was a proposal to strip citizenship of the unemployed Swedes who have more than one citizenship. This cruel proposal shows the deeply rooted view of the party that Swedes with dual citizenships should be punished differently than others. That being a Swedish citizen does not make you Swedish. This proposal wasn’t taken up by the party. Although SD and other parties have proposed stripping citizenship for other reasons. These proposals aren’t likely to become law as the Swedish constitution does not allow the removal of citizenship.
But in SD’s principle programme their ideal is a ban on dual citizenships. Paula Bieler, the migration spokesman for the SD explained the position saying “As a basic principle, we want that you have citizenship in a state where you have loyalty and your national identity. One’s homeland simply.” The implication that you cannot be “loyal” to more than one nation and national identity is restricted to a single nation. This is reflected by Björn Söder, party secretary of the Sweden Democrats, who famously said that Jewish and Sami Swedes belong to the Jewish and Sami nation but are not Swedes. He further explained that “most Jewish people who have become Swedes have left their Jewish identity”. Jimmie Åkesson, the party leader of the Sweden Democrats, has insisted that Swedes will also need to be assimilated into a new national identity, as the old one has been under assault from a “unhealthy alliance between Marxists and Liberals”. Their ideology makes a distinct separation between citizenship and nationality, with them deciding the criteria of what it is to be Swedish.
In another interview Paula Bieler said “One in five, perhaps one in four voters will cast their ballot for us, today in Sweden, everyone knows someone, maybe loves someone, who supports the Sweden Democrats”. This is true. But it is also true that 31% of people living in Sweden, are immigrants themselves or have at least one parent born in another country than Sweden. For many of them, me included, national identity is more complicated than “one’s homeland simply”. Identity is intensely personal, complex, and can’t be driven from the top down. The idea of a “trade off” between national identities isn’t based in any reality. People can hold more than one identity, and in some cases these identities can even strengthen each other.
I have navigated Sweden through an international milieu. When I studied here made friends with other international students and Swedes were attracted to an international environment. I knew about ten other international couples who stayed together after the end of the school year. I learned that the stereotype I had of a Sweden where all Swedes were blonde and had names like Per, Joakim and Maja wasn’t really really accurate. People had parents, grandparents from all over the world. I have experienced Sweden through this lens. Like in the US, my social grouping has insulated me from the bubbling undercurrent of populist nationalism around me.
The current political climate worries me. The policy proposals and rhetorical tone has hardened dramatically. It creates an uncertainty. Five days after I moved to Sweden the Conservative Party proposed removing health insurance from those on a temporary residency permit. Six months later when the Social Democratic-Green government tightened the requirements for sambo (cohabitant relationship) visas I didn’t know how that would affect my residency permit extension. When I moved to Sweden, Emelie and I had general plans for how we would build our lives for the next years that we developed around the current requirements and rules for immigration. If the changes in government policy were more drastic it could have forced us to change the path of our life. As an immigrant you are more exposed to changes in government policy. The weight of state power pushes much harder against you as an immigrant than as a citizen.
I am in a secure position now. I have permanent residency, and as the sambo to a Swedish citizen, I can apply for Swedish citizenship earlier than others. But if the race for harder policy proposals continues at this breakneck speed, I am not sure even having Swedish citizenship will allow me to feel completely secure from changes in government policy.
Reflecting back on the developments of the last three year, I can’t help but feel like slipped through as the doors were closing. I look back at my own experiences throughout the process. I remember the pain of waiting for the decision, being thousands of miles away from Emelie, only chatting once a week. I remember the difficulty I had when I first moved here, trying to learn to live in Sweden as a non-student, trying to get myself registered in the bureaucracy, struggling with learning Swedish, not knowing if I’d be able to “make it” in Sweden, worrying about running out of money. And today, still struggling with Swedish, being reminded of my perpetual low level foreignness, worrying if I will thrive here, what my future holds here. Moving to a new country is hard. It is hard even when you chose to move and have connections in the country.
I can’t vote in the upcoming election but maybe this post can add a new perspective to someone who can.