Border Management and Migration Controls in SWEDEN Report

Karin Borevi - Mudar Shakra | Uppsala University

From a comparative European perspective, Sweden is generally known as a country pursuing relatively liberal asylum policies. One distinguishing feature of Swedish immigration policy has been the principle that persons who are given asylum are immediately granted permanent residence (although the law allows exemptions from this under certain circumstances).

This report gives an overview of the Swedish legal and policy framework of border management and migration control – how it relates to EU regulations and policies; what key actors are involved in the implementation and what the key issues and challenges are in relation to this field. Together with other country reports from partners of the RESPOND project, it provides a basis for cross-country comparisons.

The report particularly documents policy changes which were introduced in Sweden as a direct result of the large increase of the arrival of asylum seekers during the autumn of 2015, which triggered the introduction of policy measures following two main strategies: (1) reintroduction and reinforcement of Sweden’s territorial border controls and (2) limitations in the possibilities for asylum seekers to be granted residence.

The first strategy (i.e. revolving around territorial border controls) involved policy decisions on two different levels. First, in November 2015, the government decided to re-introduce border controls on the territorial border to Denmark (Government 2015b). Since this is an internal border within the Schengen zone this policy decision was based on the exemption provisions under the Schengen Borders Code, whereby a member state has the right to temporarily introduce internal border controls “to prevent a threat against public order or inner security in the country” (Article 25). Since November 2015, Sweden has continuously prolonged the temporary internal border controls (European Commission 2019).

Second, the government also took initiative to strengthen the way these border controls were executed, in the sense that the reintroduced border controls should be combined with comprehensive identity checks. This however required legislative changes to be taken on the national policy level. In December 2015, the government presented a three years temporary law proposal on “special measures in the event of serious danger to public order or internal security” which involved giving the government the right to order ID-controls to be implemented for all passengers trafficking certain border crossings (Government 2015c). The proposal was speedily prepared and processed, and on 4 January 2016, ID-controls of all passengers trafficking certain entries from Germany and Denmark were introduced (Government bill 2015/16:67). These comprehensive ID-controls were in force up until May 2017, when they were abolished (Government 2017).

Since May 2017 the temporary internal Schengen border controls have remained, however these are no longer combined with the comprehensive ID-controls. Simultaneously, as the government abolished the comprehensive ID-checks, it introduced an extended duty for the police to carry out sporadic border-checks at Sweden’s territorial borders, as specified in a list of airports and harbours.

The second strategy (i.e. revolving around asylum seekers’ possibilities to achieve residence in Sweden) involved the goal to adjust Swedish immigration law to “the minimum level” under EU law and international conventions, which was thought necessary to “temporarily limit the number of asylum seekers to Sweden and make more people seek asylum in other countries” (Government Bill 2015/16:174, p. 29). As a result – and contrary to what had since long been the Swedish guiding principle – all persons given asylum in the country were to be granted only temporary (i.e. not permanent) residency. In the wake of the so called “refugee crisis” in 2015, a prominent narrative in the Swedish policy discourse is that restrictions in the possibilities to achieve residence is required to limit and control the immigration of asylum seekers to the country. In sum, the nexus border/immigration control – residence permits is a salient theme in the Swedish context, which will also be reflected in this report.

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