The Swedish Migration Agency answers: How long does it take to get a work permit?

The Swedish Migration Agency is working to streamline the examination of work permits and make the process more predictable. But how long are the processing times? And why do you have to wait for a permit?

Most people who apply for a permit to come to Sweden and work receive a decision about their application within four months. Yet some cases take longer, and the agency has taken a number of measures to address this. The aim is that no cases should take longer than four months, which corresponds to the processing time required under the regulations.

A few years ago, the Swedish Migration Agency introduced a fast track for companies that meet certain requirements – so-called “certified companies”. With the fast track, processing time should be predictable and short; ten days is the goal the agency set several years ago. The proportion of certified companies has grown, and a review of the requirements for certification is underway, with the aim of enabling the agency to cope with a demanding situation: more incoming cases, altered legislation and new mandates from the Government.

This article will answer some frequently asked questions about the examination of work permit applications and their processing times. Unless otherwise stated, the figures are based on cases decided in 2022.

How long are the processing times for obtaining a work permit?

In 2022, processing times grew longer in some categories. At present, applicants may even need to wait over a year for a decision. But just because a few people have to wait a long time doesn’t mean that everyone has to. There is a big difference between different types of cases.

First time or extension

Firstly, there is a big difference between people applying for a work permit for the first time and those applying for an extended work permit. Getting a decision on an extension takes significantly longer – today, the average processing time in an extension case is 220 days, while a first-time case takes about half as long – an average of 116 days, i.e., just under four months. 70 per cent of first-time cases take less than four months, while more than 60 per cent of extension cases are decided after more than four months.

Chart: Average time in number of days increase between 2019 and 2022.

The average time in days – increase between 2019 and 2022. Extension cases have increased more than first-time applications. Source: Swedish Migration Agency

Certified or not

Secondly, cases that fall into the “fast track” category are a different story. When it comes to certified cases, for years the average processing time for first-time cases; more than 80 per cent of cases were resolved within a month. In 2022, the average time grew to 58 days, with approximately 30 per cent of certified companies’ cases resolved within a month. In 2022, the average processing time of first-time cases for non-certified companies was 144 days.

Chart: This is how the average time for certified and uncertified employers has increased between 2019 and 2022.

This is how the average time for certified and uncertified employers has increased between 2019 and 2022. Source: the Swedish Migration Agency

Chart: How many had to wait how long?

How many had to wait how long? The diagram shows the percentage of applicants who had their application decided within a certain time, depending on whether they had a certified or non-certified employer. The figures refer to first-time cases in 2022. Source: the Swedish Migration Agency

Average or median

Thirdly, a distinction can be made between “median” and “average” processing times. The median time for first-time applications was 52 days for cases decided in 2022, while the average time was 116 days. For extension cases, the median time was 148 days, while the average time was 220 days. The median processing times are generally shorter than the average processing times. This can be seen in the processing times for work permits. If there are a large number of cases with long processing times, this can lead to long average processing times. In such cases, it may be a good idea to also look at the median measurement to provide a more nuanced picture of how processing times have developed.

Conclusion: different cases have different processing times

In other words, when applying for a work permit, the category to which the case belongs makes a big difference. The fastest way to get a decision is to submit a first-time work permit application for a certified company. It takes the longest time for non-certified companies to extend a permit; the average time in 2022 was 335 days, which means that there is a high risk that you will have to wait more than a year for a decision.

Last year, the processing time for most of the applicants (almost three out of four applicants) who received a work permit for the first time in Sweden was less than four months. The corresponding period for extension applications was significantly longer.

Why have processing times gotten longer?

However, you calculate over time, 2022 stands out as a year with growing processing times. And this is despite the fact that the Swedish Migration Agency has long been working to streamline and speed up the examination of work permit cases. There are several explanations for the longer processing times – and the Swedish Migration Agency has been able to influence some of these aspects, but not others.

  • Manpower. When Russia invaded Ukraine, many people sought protection in Sweden, which meant that the agency had to reallocate its examination resources. Many agency employees working with work permits had to prioritise Ukrainian applications for residence permits.
  • More cases. In 2022, 105,000 work permit cases were received by the Swedish Migration Agency. This was more than ever before.
  • A new law from 1 July 2022. The complexity of work permits has increased with new legislation. This not only affects productivity, but also creates obstacles in the digitalisation that is underway at the agency to streamline the examination process.
  • Passports must now be in original form. In order to meet the requirements for identity checks, the Swedish Migration Agency introduced new procedures last year that mean that an applicant must present their original passport when applying for a permit. This is expected to have an impact in the form of longer processing times for those who apply for a work permit for the first time, because they must now go to an embassy and present their passport in order to be granted a residence permit.
Chart: Applications received 2021-2022.

Applications received 2021-2022. The number of work permit cases received has increased over the past two years. Within the asylum process, it is Russia's invasion of Ukraine in particular that has affected the number of cases received. Source: the Swedish Migration Agency

What is the Swedish Migration Agency doing now?

To improve the processing times in work permit cases, the Swedish Migration Agency has taken a number of measures. The single most important measure is to increase the number of people working with work permit cases, and last year the agency increased its examination team from 200 to 300 people.

In addition, a focus group that includes agency employees who work with examination has been set up to review the entire system and identify areas where improvements can be made. Digitalisation is also an important component in making the application process faster, smoother and more accessible for applicants.

At the same time, the Swedish Migration Agency is cooperating with the business community to take the measures that are actually requested. Among other things, there is an external reference group in which a dialogue is being conducted about the strained situation surrounding work permits and various options going forward.