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Sweden has no special path to permanent residency or citizenship for undocumented minors, and children born to undocumented parents do not receive Swedish citizenship at birth. Sweden has not granted general amnesty for persons who have been undocumented over a long period. The right to legal residence based on humanitarian grounds allows for the consideration of time spent in Sweden and is more generous towards children than adults. The right to residence is determined on an individual basis, where prior status as an undocumented person is not considered a hindrance.  Undocumented persons in Sweden are typically persons who have had their asylum application denied. Many of the undocumented individuals in Sweden are minors. Asylum applications can be resubmitted after a four-year statute of limitation on the most recent decision has run. Undocumented minors have the same right to public education, health care, and dental care as children who are citizens. Undocumented adults also have a limited right to financial and health benefits, covering only acute/urgent circumstances.  

I. Introduction/Background 

Sweden is a member of the European Union (EU) and as such is bound by EU law.  Specifically in relation to immigration law, Sweden is bound by the free movement of people (EU citizens), Schengen, and the Dublin Regulation.[1]   

During the Refugee Crisis of 2015, 162,900 asylum seekers (equal to approximately 1.7% of the population) sought refuge in Sweden.[2]  This made Sweden the second-largest EU recipient of asylum applications per capita in 2015.[3]  Nearly half of these immigrants came during October and November of 2015.[4]  In total 70,384 minors sought asylum in 2015.[5]  A little more than half of the minors (35,400) were unaccompanied minors, mostly boys in their late teens from Afghanistan.[6]

As a response to the refugee crisis the Swedish parliament and government made several changes to the Swedish immigration law in 2015 and 2016, most notably changing and limiting policies on who receives permanent resident status,[7] as well as how humanitarian reasons are determined.[8]  In addition, in December of 2015 Sweden set up border controls, both external and internal.[9]  Internal border controls are still in effect in a number of Swedish ports and cities; the large identification control program on the border to Denmark has ceased.[10]

Two incidents have been reported related to undocumented immigrants. On April 7, 2017, a terrorist attack was carried out in the Swedish capital Stockholm by a person who had been refused asylum and who had a legal obligation to leave Sweden voluntarily but instead had chosen to stay and live as an undocumented immigrant.[11]  In 2015 an asylum-seeker who had just found out that he had been denied asylum killed two people in an unprovoked attack at an IKEA store; the case was not considered a terrorist attack but deemed directly linked to his rejected asylum application.[12]

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II.  Swedish Citizenship

Swedish citizenship is acquired through birth or through naturalization.[13]  Children born after 2015 to either a Swedish mother or father (regardless of their marital status), in Sweden or abroad, acquire Swedish citizenship at birth.[14]  In addition, persons may acquire citizenship through application or naturalization.[15]  To acquire citizenship through naturalization a person must have resided permanently in Sweden for a minimum of two years (Nordic citizens), four years (stateless persons or refugees), or five years (everyone else).[16]  A child who at birth has permanent residency (i.e., is a child of a person who has permanent residency) and who would otherwise become stateless acquires Swedish citizenship at birth.[17]

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III.  Illegal Immigration

A.  General Considerations

Persons who are present in Sweden without the proper documentation (residence permits, visas, or citizenship) are referred to as “undocumented persons.”  Undocumented persons in Sweden are typically individuals who entered Sweden to seek asylum and then remained in Sweden after being denied permanent or temporary residence as refugees or under subsidiary protection.[18]

Previously, a person who had been denied asylum could reapply for asylum after the person had left and then re-entered the country.  In 2005 the Swedish Parliament adopted a statute of limitations (preskriptionstid) on asylum decisions, mandating that a person could not reapply as an asylum seeker unless four years had passed since the person last applied for asylum.[19]  Ahead of the 2018 national elections in Sweden, the Moderate Party (the largest opposition party) has said that they want to extend the statute of limitations to eight years.[20]

There are currently 12,500 persons who have been denied asylum who are listed with the police because they are evading deportation.[21]  The number of persons who have been denied asylum that are listed with the police is comparatively small in relation to the total number of denied applicants; 15,401 persons had their asylum applications denied during the month of July of 2017 alone.[22]  According to news reports, an estimated 8,000 undocumented persons are registered as taxpayers with the Swedish Tax Authority.[23]  Reports from Swedish media and the Swedish police indicate that as a result of the 2015 shift in policy, whereby fewer persons are granted residence permits, more asylum seekers are staying as undocumented in Sweden, waiting for the four year statute of limitations to run.[24]  Swedish state media (Sveriges Radio) reports that a smaller percentage of persons reapplying for asylum are having their original denials overturned.[25]  In 2011, 61% of those who reapplied were successful, that number had fallen to 5% by the first six months of 2017.[26]  According to news reports, the Swedish Police are worried that the number of undocumented persons living in Sweden will rise.[27]  During recent parliamentary debates it was predicted that some 80,000 persons live as undocumented immigrants in Sweden and that the number will rise.[28]

B.  Rights of Undocumented Persons

1. Education

As of 2013 undocumented minors have the same right to a free public primary and secondary education as Swedish citizens.[29] This means that children ages six to eighteen have a legal right to attend school (elementary through high school).[30] However, unlike legal resident children, undocumented minors are not mandated to attend school.[31] Municipalities may seek state grants for the added cost of educating undocumented children.[32]

2. Health and Dental Care

Undocumented minors, whether born in Sweden or elsewhere, have the same right to health care and dental care as a native-born Swedish citizen child.[33]

Undocumented adults also have the right to health and dental care in Sweden, but only to urgent care (defined by law as “care that cannot wait”), prenatal care, abortion care, and birth control.[34]  An estimated 30,000 undocumented persons received health care in Sweden in 2015.[35]  This figure likely includes undocumented EU migrants (persons who are EU citizens but have no documentation of such citizenship and no legal right to remain in Sweden, as they are not working in Sweden).[36]

3. Social Benefits (Social Welfare Services) and Housing Benefits

Undocumented persons living in Sweden only have a limited legal right to social welfare.[37]  However, certain municipalities, such as Malmö, give undocumented minors full financial aid with reference to the legal obligation to consider “the best interest of the child.”[38]  Consequently, Malmö provides undocumented families with full financial support, including child benefits and housing benefits, in order for the child to enjoy a “decent living situation.”[39]  This means that minors receive between SEK 2,500 (approximately US$314) and 3,000 (approximately US$376) a month from the local authorities, whereas an adult receives SEK 1,700 (approximately US$213) per month in financial aid.

4. Prior to 2015

Prior to the refugee crisis of 2015 a person whose asylum application had been denied still had the right to social benefits including free room and board at special migration authority operated housing.[40]  Following legal changes, there is no longer any such right in Sweden.  However, as in the case with Malmö above, certain municipalities have chosen to provide these benefits, even though they are not mandated to do so.  

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IV.  Pathways to Legal Residence and Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants

A.  Children

Sweden does not have a special track for undocumented minors to attain permanent residency.  Nevertheless, years spent in Sweden may be considered a factor in identifying synnerligen ömmande omständigheter (exceptionally distressing circumstances, historically referred to as “humanitarian grounds”) when determining if someone should receive asylum.[41]  For children the test is särskilt ömmande omständigheter (particularly distressing circumstances).[42]  Other factors considered are the health of the child and the situation in the home country.[43]  By a temporary provision in force between July 20, 2016, and July 19, 2019, the court’s discretion to grant residence permits based on synnerligen or särskilt ömmande omständigheter has been limited.[44]  During this period such permits may only be granted if not granting them would violate Sweden’s international obligations.[45]  Moreover, such permits may only be temporary and for an initial period of thirteen months.[46]  Refugee group representatives want the case law to change, so that children over the age of two would be considered as having such a close relationship to Sweden as to warrant awarding them legal residency after one year.[47]

Being or having been undocumented in Sweden is not a bar to later receiving asylum or a residence permit based on work, school, or family.[48]

Undocumented minors and young adults that attend school may receive a temporary residence permit to complete school.[49]  As of June 1, 2017, a minor who has attended high school while either an undocumented person or while his or her resident permit application was pending may apply for a temporary residence permit to finish high school.[50]  Completion of a high school education is thought to help that person to receive an employment-based residency permit sponsorship.[51]  Persons under the age of twenty-five cannot be granted a permanent residence permit in Sweden based on employment unless they have completed a high school education.[52]  The amended Act thus provides persons aged seventeen to twenty-five a chance to obtain the education needed to receive a permanent residence permit.  A permanent residence permit can be given to a person who holds a job and can provide for him or herself.[53]

B. Adults

Sweden has not offered universal amnesty for undocumented persons staying in Sweden. Similar to the test of särskilt ömmande omständigheter for children, adults may be granted residency permits based on synnerligen ömmande omständigheter.[54] Typically, physical presence in Sweden for a long period of time is not by itself enough to grant an adult without children legal residence in Sweden.[55]

Adults who have been residing in the country illegally are not barred from later becoming legal residents or citizens.[56]  To become a permanent resident an undocumented individual must be granted a permanent resident permit based on asylum, employment, or family grounds.[57]  Thereafter the person must remain a permanent resident of Sweden for four years (refugees) or five years (everyone else) in order to become a Swedish citizen.[58]

Case law examples of when permanent residence has been awarded to adults who have lived in Sweden illegally include MIG 2011:27[59] and MIG 2009:2.[60]

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Prepared by Elin Hofverberg
Foreign Law Research Consultant
September 2017

[1] Schengen Area, European Commission (Sept. 15, 2017),, archived at; Common European Asylum System, European Commission (Sept. 15, 2017), asylum_en, archived at

[3] Sweden received 1,667 applications per 100,000 inhabitants compared to the EU average of 260 per 100,000 inhabitants.  Only Hungary received more applications per capita.  Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts, BBC (Mar. 4, 2016),, archived at

[4] Statistiska centralbyrån, supra note 2.  More than 35,000 persons came in each of these months.

[5] Asylsökande till Sverige under 2000–2016, Migrationsverket, 18.585fa5be158ee6bf362fd2/1485556063045/Asyls%C3%B6kande+till+Sverige+2000-2016.pdf (last visited Sept. 19, 2017), archived at

[6] Id.

[7] Lag om tillfälliga begränsningar av möjligheten att få uppehållstillstånd i Sverige [Act on Temporary Restriction on the Possibility of Obtaining Residence Permits in Sweden] (SFS 2016:752), sls/lag/20160752.htm, archived at; see also Elin Hofverberg, Sweden: Government Moves to Adopt More Restrictive Rules for Asylum Seekers, Global Legal Monitor (Nov. 30, 2015),, archived at

[8] Lag om tillfälliga begränsningar av möjligheten att få uppehållstillstånd i Sverige (SFS 2016:752), supra note 7; see also Hofverberg, supra note 7. 

[9] Regeringen Pressrelease, Regeringen beslutar att tillfälligt återinföra gränskontroll vid inre gräns (Nov. 12, 2015),, archived at

[10] Frågor och svar om id-kontroller och gränskontroller, Regeringen (May 15, 2017), artiklar/2017/05/fragor-och-svar-om-id-kontroller-och-granskontroller/, archived at

[12] Press Release, Svea Hovrätt [Svea Court of Appeals] (Dec. 22, 2015),, archived at (judgement on file with author).

[13] Lag om Svenskt Medborgarskap [Act on Swedish Citizenship] (SFS 2001:82), sls/lag/20010082.HTM, archived at

[14] Id. 2 §.

[15] Id. 11 §.

[16] Id.

[17] Id. 6 §.

[18] Examples of undocumented persons and their stories are available at Röster från skuggsamhället - att leva som papperslös i Sverige,RödaKorset [Red Cross] (Apr. 17, 2015),, archived at “Subsidiary protections” are protections based on the person being subject to corporal punishment, torture, or the death sentence if returned to his or her home country.  See Asylum Regulations, Migrationsverket (May 29, 2017),, archived at

[19] 12 kap. 22 § Utlänningslag [UTL] [Aliens Act] (SFS 2005:716), lag/20050716.htm, archived at; Prop. 2004/05:170, 2D693F72-D485-41F5-AF85-11DADFBFCA2C, archived at

[20] Moderaternas nya utspel om papperslösa i Sverige [The Moderates’ New Gambit on Undocumented Persons in Sweden], Expressen (Apr. 23, 2017),, archived at

[22] Avgjorda asylärenden beslutade av Migrationsverket, förstagångsansökningar 2017 [Decided Asylum Cases, First-Time Applications, 2017], Migrationsverket (Sept. 8, 2017), download/18.4100dc0b159d67dc6146d1/1505293104409/Avgjorda+asyl%C3%A4renden+2017+-+Asylum+decisions+2017.pdf, archived at

[23] Tusentals papperslösa arbetar vitt – utan tillstånd [Thousands of Undocumented Persons Pay Taxes – Without a Work Permit], SVD (July 11, 2017),

[24] De förbereder ett liv som papperslösa [They Prepare a Life as Undocumented], Sveriges Radio (May 10, 2017),, archived at; Arne Larsson, Så många fler kan bli papperslösa i Sverige [This Many More May Become Undocumented in Sweden], GP (July 3, 2017),, archived at

[25] Mindre vanligt att de som fått avslag får asyl på andra försöket [Less Common that Persons Whose Applications are Denied Get Asylum on Second Try], Sveriges Radio (July 15, 2017), aspx?programid=83&grupp=23921&artikel=6736226, archived at

[26] Id

[27] Polisen oroad över fler papperslösa, Sveriges Radio (Mar. 7, 2017), programid=83&artikel=6647005, archived at

[28] Sveriges Riksdag, Aktuell debatt om situationen för ensamkommande, Sept. 13, 2017, sv/webb-tv/video/aktuell-debatt/aktuell-debatt-om-situationen-for-ensamkommande_H5C120170913ad, archived at

[29] 29 kap. 2 § Skollagen [School Act], as amended through SFS 2013:298 (SFS 2010:800),, archived at; Regeringens proposition [Prop.] 2012/13:58 Utbildning för barn som vistas i landet utan tillstånd, b7559b140ab8e59b85c5415346f/utbildning-for-barn-som-vistas-i-landet-utan-tillstand-prop.-20121358, archived at  See also Papperslösa barn i skolan, Skolverket, https://www.skolverket. se/regelverk/mer-om-skolans-ansvar/papperslosa-barn-1.205221, archived at

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Statsbidrag för utbildning för barn som vistas i landet utan tillstånd [State Grants for Education of Children that are Present in the Country Without Permits], Skolverket, grundskole-och-gymnasieutbildning/papperslosa-barn-1.203490 (last visited Sept. 19, 2017), archived at

[33] 6 § Lag om hälso- och sjukvård till vissa utlänningar som vistas i Sverige utan nödvändiga tillstånd (SFS 2013:407),, archived at  

[34] 7 § Lag (2013:407) om hälso- och sjukvård till vissa utlänningar som vistas i Sverige utan nödvändiga tillstånd.  For examples of health care provided and costs, see Healthcare in Sweden for Asylum-Seekers, People with No Papers and People in Hiding, 1177 Vårdguiden (Nov. 11, 2016), Other-languages/Engelska/Regler-och-rattigheter/Vard-i-Sverige-om-man-ar-asylsokande-gomd-eller-papperslos/, archived at

[35] 30 000 “papperslösa” fick vård i Sverige – men regelverket är otydligt [30,000 Undocumented Received Health Care in Sweden – But the Legal Framework Is Unclear], Dagens Juridik (Apr. 30, 2016), http://www.dagens, archived at

[36] Id.

[37] Lagen om mottagande av asylsökande m.fl (SFS 1994:137) [Act on Receiving Asylumseekers],, archived at; 4 kap. 2 § Socialtjänstlagen [SoL] [Social Welfare Act] (SFS 2001:453), socialtjanstlag-2001453_sfs-2001-453, archived at; see also Supreme Administrative Court Decision, HFD 2017:33, regeringsratten/Rättsfall/ HFD 2017 ref. 33.pdf, archived at (detailing that undocumented persons do not have a right to social welfare (Socialbidrag) in Sweden but may still have a right to financial aid under the Act on Receiving Asylum-seekers).

[38] Malmö Stadskontor, Riktlinjer för Handläggning av Försörjningsstöd och Ekonomiskt Bistånd för Livsföring i Övrigt, +för+handläggning+av+försörjningsstöd+och+ekonomiskt+bistånd_Malmö+stad.pdf, archived at

[39] Id. at 13.  Accordingly, financial benefits are made with reference to the Social Welfare provisions 2 a kap 2 § Socialtjänstlagen (SoL). 

[40] See Supreme Administrative Court Decision HFD 2014:37,, archived at (establishing that a person had a right to social benefits even though he was not cooperating in his court-ordered deportation).

[41] 5 kap. 6 § 1 st. UTL.

[42] 5 kap. 6 § 2 st UTL; see also Legislative History DS 2014:5 ömmande omständigheter, https://data.riksdagen. se/fil/33DFEE45-F34B-48E6-B7E6-465204B82B04, archived at

[43] DS 2014:5 at 16-21.

[44] 5 kap. 6 § 3 st. UTL; 11 and 12 §§ Lagen om tillfälliga begränsningar av möjligheten att få uppehållstillstånd i Sverige (SFS 2016:752).

[45] 5 kap. 6 § 3 st. UTL.

[46] 12 § Lagen om tillfälliga begränsningar av möjligheten att få uppehållstillstånd i Sverige (SFS 2016:752).

[47] Ömmande omständigheter, FARR, (last visited Sept. 15, 2017), archived at

[48] UTL, e contrario.

[49] Lag om tillfälliga begränsningar av möjligheten att få uppehållstillstånd i Sverige [Act on Temporary Limits on the Opportunity of Receiving a Residency Permit in Sweden] (SFS 2016:752), sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/lag-2016752-om-tillfalliga-begransningar-av_sfs-2016-752, archived at

[50] Id.; see also Elin Hofverberg, Sweden: Parliament Votes to Grant Migrants Extended Residence Permits to Complete High School, Global Legal Monitor (June 9, 2017),, archived at

[51] Proposition [Prop.] 2016/17:133 on Amendments to the Temporary Act on Residence Permits Regarding High School Education at 1, Regeringen (Government Offices of Sweden website).

[52] 17 § 3 st. Lag om tillfälliga begränsningar av möjligheten att få uppehållstillstånd i Sverige [Act on Temporary Limits on the Opportunity of Receiving a Residency Permit in Sweden] (SFS 2016:752).

[53] Id. 17 § 2 st.

[54] 5 kap. 6 § 1 st UTL.  For more on temporary limitations on applying this provision see Part III(A), above.

[55] MIG 2007:15 (Supreme Migration Court),, archived at

[56] UTL, e contrario.

[57] 3. kap; 4 kap.; 5 kap. UTL.

[58] 11§ Lag om svenskt medborgarskap (SFS 2001:82).

[59] Supreme Migration Court, MIG 2011:27,, archived at

[60] Supreme Migration Court, MIG 2009:2,, archived at