I first came to Sweden in 2013 to study Geography at Lund University. I was a 19 year old Californian who hardly knew the difference between Sweden and Switzerland and who pronounced Lund like the first syllable of “London.”
Those first months were my honeymoon time in Sweden – everything was new, exciting, and effortless. Now, after six years and three visas (study, sambo, and work), I’ve lost the starry eyes and the fluttery feelings. I still think of my relationship to Sweden in terms of a romantic relationship, but now it’s an unhealthy one: an imbalance of power, one side desiring, the other side callous, aloof, calculating.
Life as a non-EU citizen in Sweden is, at the best of times, precarious. At the worst of times it’s a bureaucratic tangle of paperwork, delays, misinformation, conflicting information, and faceless, pitiless authority. Like a Kafka novel, but with everyone away June to September because of summer vacation. After nine months of not being able to leave Sweden while I waited on an application to extend my residency, in December I was denied a new visa – meaning my status in the eyes of Migrationsverket went, overnight, from “you absolutely can’t leave” to “get the hell out of here within four weeks.”
I’m now writing in exile, to share a few things I learned during my struggle to stay in Sweden:
That Migrationsverket’s automated phone service will hang up on you if there are too many other callers.
That real Migrationsverket workers will hang up on you, too. That despite many Swedish work and apartment rental contracts requiring three months’ notice before you leave, when you’re denied for a visa renewal you only have one month to leave the country. That when you’re mad at a big organization, anyone in that organization that you could actually talk to is someone who has no control over the rule/decision that’s made you angry.
That there are people who need Swedish residency way more than I do, and that being sent back to the country I came from doesn’t threaten my life like it does for some of them. That nothing makes you realize how much you love a place and the people there until you’re forced to leave. So, again like an unhealthy relationship, even after being so casually rejected I still find myself yearning for the warm, familiar embrace of fikapaus and universal healthcare and orderly queues. Hej då, Sweden, and – hopefully – vi ses.