Inhuman consequences of the new Aliens Act

On 1 January 2020, after many years of discussion, the Swedish Riksdag voted to make the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Swedish law. The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 and was ratified by Sweden the following year. It then took thirty years for it to gain legal status here in Sweden.

Better late than never, one might think, but did the ratification have any impact?  This question has now been brought to the fore when we now see that the revisions of the Aliens Act, which came into effect last summer, turn out to have a detrimental impact on children. The revisions affect overseas researchers who are working in Sweden on a residence permit and who have had children in this country. They are required to take their newborn infant out of Sweden to apply for residency for him or her – a process that is as absurd as it is unnecessary.

The child’s best interests

According to Article 3 of the Convention, in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. The very concept of “the best interests of the child” lies at the very heart of the Convention. You can read more about this on the Ombudsman for Children’s website, which clearly explains the intentions, purpose and goals of the Convention and the law.

One problem, which amongst others Swedish UNICEF pointed out ahead of the adoption of the Act, is that the Convention as a legislative instrument doesn’t fully correlate with other laws. This is nothing new. There have been cases before where the Convention’s “best interests of the child” have been subordinated other laws. The example of the Aliens Act is just one of many. We can point at Norway, which enshrined the Convention in law back in 2003, and where it is explicitly stated that the Convention is to take precedence in the event of conflict with other laws.

An excellent picture

A recently published article in Universitetsläraren sums up the situation and the consequences of the revised Aliens Act. In this article interviewed researchers and university administrators all testify to the effect it has on researchers and their families. Apart from the purely practical difficulties of travelling with babies during these pandemic times, there is a host of good reasons for criticising and opposing the wording of the revised law, not least the fact that it appears to ignore the child’s best interests.

I – and many others with me – are deeply critical of the revised Aliens Act on many counts. It runs counter, both directly and indirectly, to Sweden’s explicit desire to be a leading nation in the realms of research and life science. Our legislation should support, not deter, the much needed exchange of international talent and outstanding researchers.

Read more about this in earlier blogs.

An overhaul is urgently required

In a comment to Universitetsläraren, the Ministry of Justice claims that they “know and are looking into the matter”. To me, it’s all too obvious that the government needs to do a total overhaul of the entire Aliens Act, and do so quickly as a matter of urgency. Sweden cannot afford to be branded a country that actively frustrates international scientific exchange and the possibility of recruiting skilled researchers.

It is also indefensible to have a law that does not take the best interests of the child – a researcher’s or anyone else’s – into account. If we genuinely aspire to respect Article 3 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, we must demonstrate this commitment in our own laws and in how we apply them.


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