“I regret coming here”

- in In English, Nyheter

The personnummer forms the backbone of life in Sweden. Foreigners face a stiff application procedure while Swedes are allocated one at birth. Four international students have spoken to Lundagård about the difficulties they encounter with Swedish bureaucracy.

Sweden’s system of national identification numbers (personnummer) simplifies many aspects of our lives. For some, however, the process is far from straightforward. Swedes receive a personnummer at birth, whereas foreigners must follow a strict procedure to obtain their own. The Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) manages these applications to the population register (folkbokföringsregistret).

The personnummer system is practical for anybody who is in it: you can set up bank accounts, get a supermarket membership, sign up for a mobile contract or get home insurance. In fact, signing up for any of the above things proves to be rather difficult without a national identification number. Lundagård has spoken with four students living in Sweden, all with various burdensome experiences obtaining personnummers.

Tany Calixto, an International Human Rights Law master’s student from Brazil with dual Italian nationality has been saving money for “three years” to come to Sweden, her “first experience living abroad”. Having chosen Sweden over the Netherlands due to Sweden’s balance of online and on-campus classes, her predicament with personnummer leaves her feeling “powerless and angry with things that should be easier”.

The complex application procedure led her to be rejected three separate times for different reasons. In August, it was because she did not submit proof of enrollment to Lund University. Her courses only started in September.

Next, she unwittingly did not submit what Skatteverket calls “proof of sufficient funds”, leading her application to be rejected. She duly printed all her savings and bank statements and applied once more.

The third time, it was the apparent inadequacy of her health insurance. Before arriving in Sweden, Tany Calixto was proactive: she purchased insurance worth around €1000 (around SEK 10 000). Unfortunately, this was deemed to not satisfy Skatteverket’s policies, leaving her short of money and short of a personnummer. She is understandably disgruntled and has already decided that she will not be applying again. “I regret coming here, I should have gone to the Netherlands”.

Ahmed Hussein Abduljabbar, a dentist from Iraq studying Swedish for Medical Staff at Folkuniversitet (FU) came to Sweden for the first time this autumn. For him, Sweden is a country of opportunities – a big change coming from a country where he studied “for many years without electricity”.

Unlike Lund University, Folkuniversitet does not offer any accommodation, according to Viktor Mandrik, ISU Program Director at FU. Ahmed is in a tight situation: with no accommodation through his university and still waiting for a personnummer – he cannot get housing through conventional means. Until recently, he lived at a hotel, straining his budget. He is now living with a friend and is still waiting for Skatteverket’s reply.

While Ahmed Hussein Alnakeeb praises Swedes and Sweden, he feels that these bureaucratic hurdles put undue pressure on people that “want to spend their whole lives studying and working” here. Some appreciation would go a long way, he says.

Amna Asad is studying a master’s in Marketing and Brand Management and came from Pakistan to Lund for one year. Because of the short duration of her studies, she does not qualify for a personnummer, leaving her locked out of the many services that use them.

Having to pay all her bills from a bank account outside the EU is very costly. After going to three separate banks, she still has not been able to sign up for a basic payments account – a right which any legally resident person has in the EU. Her family would have sent money from Pakistan so she could live here – but that does not comply with banks’ money-laundering policies.

A prominent Swedish bank writes on their website: “we could not justify designing expensive procedures for carrying out payments to countries where payment flows are so small that the costs of complying with the regulations would be too high.” But Amna is resolute: “I like Sweden, I like Lund, it’s just one tiny thing”. She plans to “stick around” after her studies.

Paco Cobos, a Mexican-Spanish dual national studying a bachelor’s degree in Economy and Society is waiting for his personnummer after being rejected once for having insurance that did not fit Skatteverket’s criteria: “I was disappointed but not surprised”. He says his experience with government authorities was much smoother in the Netherlands, where representatives of the government were present at the university’s arrival day.

According to Lund University’s Richard Stenelo, chief of External Affairs, Skatteverket is usually at Lund University’s arrival days – at least before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Paco also highlighted the lack of an “if-not clause” – what would happen if a student did not register for a personnummer? A spokesperson from Skatteverket replied that it would be “very hard to live in Sweden” without a personnummer “since the number is widely used.”

There seems to be no explicit requirement to have a personnummer, however Skatteverket’s spokesperson told Lundagård that everybody is “supposed to report change of address within a week (by law)” in Sweden, but this differs for EU citizens: they can stay in Sweden for three months before deciding to stay. There is also no limit to the number of times a person can apply for a personnummer, according to Skatteverket’s spokesperson.

Many international students are also not aware of the option to receive funding for their studies. CSN is a unique and core part of Swedes’ educational possibilities, but it is seldom applied for by non-Swedes. Of the around 48 100 international students that went through the Swedish university system last year (Source: Statistikmyndigheten), 8 775 foreign citizens applied for Swedish student finance in 2019 (and 77 percent of these requests were granted), according to CSN’s Peter Engberg.

The students Lundagård has spoken to have had various unsuccessful experiences with Swedish authorities. But all of them have also mentioned friends or relatives who have either passed through the bureaucracy without any issues or are stuck in limbo like them. The majority of people that go through Skatteverket’s doors do not encounter many issues, and half of all applicants receive a personnummer after one month, according to Skatteverket’s own statistics made available to Lundagård.

While Skatteverket requires certain types of insurance for a successful personnummer application – EU citizens’ European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) suffices – Richard Stenelo tells Lundagård that all students of Swedish universities are covered “by law” through Kammarkollegiet, a public agency providing insurance for higher education students.

In light of the current pandemic, Lundagård has also spoken to Region Skåne’s health department.

A PCR test for Covid-19 can be requested from your local health center (vårdcentral) even if you do not have a personnummer.

However, other types of healthcare depend on where you are coming from and what your issue is.

For more information, you should visit Region Skåne’s website: 1177.se