It’s been a little stressful lately dealing with various immigration challenges. But things are starting to turn around. Yes!
What’s Been Happening
My work and resident visas expire at the end of March. I was supposed to have six-month permits but due to some bureaucratic hiccups and our non-understanding of the process, I was given permission for just November through March—only four months.
The Migration Board (Migrationsverket) says that you must apply for an extension of your permit at least one month before it expires. I applied for the extension in late January so that was good.
Traveling To and From Sweden
I traveled back to the US in February and before I left, I bought another ticket to travel to the US in April. I was afraid that it would be too hard to see my family for just six days and then leave again without knowing that I would return soon. My plan worked because it felt great to be able to see “See you soon.”
Then the bomb dropped. I found out that the Migration Board says you are not allowed to leave and re-enter Sweden while your case is being decided. You are allowed to stay in Sweden and continue to work but you cannot leave because you may be denied entrance when you return. How strange that would be if I could not do my job, could not return to the life I have built over the last four months here in Sweden. The kicker was that they said the approval of the extended permit would take six to seven months.
I called the airline but my ticket was completely unchangeable. So there I was, stuck with a ticket I had paid for but didn’t dare use.
In an ironic twist, two out of the last three times I entered Sweden, there was no passport control at all. That was most likely due to the fact that I entered from within the European Union. My trip usually originated in the US but I changed planes in Frankfurt, or Munich, or London. EU citizens can freely move between countries so passport control is less necessary. The irony? For the first time, my flight in April will arrive directly from the US so I imagine Arlanda (Stockholm’s airport) Passport Control will be looking at passports and permits more closely. Sweden, like the US, does not like people to enter the country with, say a visitor’s visa, and then try to switch that visa to another kind while you are there. Usually you must leave the country to change your visa type.
The HR woman at my work called the Migration Board and was told (off the record since they say the opposite on the website) that Passport Control would not deny me entrance if I could show my previous permit, prove that I had applied for an extension, and was coming from a country Sweden has lots of immigration agreements with.
Both the HR person and I called Arlanda’s Passport Control to see if they said the same thing. The woman we spoke to assured us this was the case but as always happens when two different officials tell me two different things, I wasn’t sure whom to believe.
Nevertheless, I decided that I was going go anyway. I had already paid for the ticket, it was important to my family, and I was just going to chance it. I could always call my boss from immigration prison and beg him to intervene on my behalf. (Ah, good back-up plan…)
But now, I don’t have to call my boss on a late Saturday night in April! I received the decision yesterday from the Migration Board after seven weeks instead of seven months. It could be because we wrote a letter asking for it to go quicker. It could be because I keep calling them. It could be because mine was a really simple case.
I was so happy that I immediately ran down to what I thought was the Migration Board but was actually the Tax Board to order my new permit card (a biometric card that shows how long you can stay in Sweden…no one has ever asked to see my current one nor is it accepted as an ID…but it’s necessary to have.) I have made so many trips to various Tax Board offices that in my deliriously happy state I got them confused with the Migration Board.
Now that I have permission to stay 19 months, I can apply for a personal number (personnummer). This is done at the Tax Board so I will go back there shortly. I cannot express how many doors will open once I have a personal number. With this number, I can then get a Swedish ID card. (You might recall that I paid the fee to get one of these and traveled all over Stockholm to get to the special ID-giving Tax Board office a few months ago but it turned out having a coordination number (samordningsnummer) was not good enough. One needs the real thing–the personal number.)
The Swedish ID card will allow me to have a full bank account that I can access online. This is important because right now I cannot pay for things like train tickets or memberships online—the way nearly everything is done.
It has also been tricky to look for an apartment without the personal number. Both the private and municipality websites where you stand in queues to find an apartment require a number. Some of them will accept the coordination number and some will not.
I could not purchase trip health insurance the last time I went to the US (a whole other challenge) because I did not have a personal number. Although I am covered here in Sweden, I am not covered when I travel home to the US.
I wrote this blog for four months for free because the lack of a personal number confused the issue of how much my pay should be taxed. This finally resolved itself and I am grateful we didn’t have to wait until the personal number was issued.
You see why this is fantastic news? Whahoo! I feel like I am getting closer to being Swedish. What could be better than permission to live in Sweden and a personal number! (Well, Swedish citizenship maybe…)