Who gives up a Swedish Permanent Residence? I did
The first dream of most people from the sub-continent, specially from my country Pakistan is to move abroad and settle down, preferably in a place where the settlement can eventually lead to citizenship. The countries popular for Pakistanis for citizenship have typically been the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Mainland European countries are not top of the priority because of English not being their first language.
Within the European countries, Germany has had a sizable Pakistani population. I do not have the information about the demographics of southern European countries like Spain, Italy and Greece but them not being as economically stable as Germany, I suspect it is not as favorable a destination as Germany. However, Denmark and Norway having a sizable Pakistani population surprised me. Both of these countries have a non-English language as the natural one, yet it attracted so many Pakistanis as a percentage of the overall population. Further surprising was the fact that Sweden, which lies in between Denmark and Norway and provides the only land connection between the two countries has, relatively speaking, so few Pakistanis.
My take on the reason is that Sweden does not have many natural resources. I am not sure what resources Denmark has, but Norway has oil and may have contributed to development and employment opportunities in the 70s and 80s, the period when most Pakistanis moved to Norway. Sweden’s economic strength comes from technology and entrepreneurship. It is Sweden which gave us famous names like Ikea and Ericsson, one a famous furniture giant and one a telecommunication giant. So may be, Sweden was not able to attract the type of workers as Norway was able to.
So I being a techie, with a background in Computer Engineering, decided to head off to Sweden to pursue my Masters. Well, all the information above is based on my knowledge gained after moving to Sweden, so the reasons for which I moved to Sweden was their relatively good universities and the fact that Sweden till that time provided free Masters education (which unfortunately ended in 2011).
After completing my Masters, I pursued PhD, for reasons outlined in a series of blogs I wrote earlier. Sweden, along with a number of European countries have this wonderful tradition that PhD students are considered as paid employees. Instead of giving a miserly stipend and charging heavy fees, like the UK and Ireland does foolishly, it provides a healthy monthly salary which is taxed normally. This allows the PhD students to live comfortably, have a family life and have access to all state benefits that other people have. In fact, in Sweden even international students who move their for at least one year have access to nearly all state benefits like almost free health facility.
However, when I started my PhD, there was one anomaly. Despite being tax payers, there was one benefit we were missing out on. Those who are on a work permit in Sweden had the right to claim permanent residence of Sweden after ‘4’ years of work after which gaining a Swedish citizenship was a further year or two away. However, as PhD students we did not have the right despite paying the same income tax as normally employed people.
Thankfully, due to the efforts of the union of PhD students along with some like minded members of Swedish parliament, this changed in 2013–14. This helped me and my wife and two children gain permanent residency of Sweden. But as highlighted in an earlier blog, I was the only son of my single mother and I was always torn between Sweden and Pakistan. Though my mother was able to visit Sweden for as long as 12 months at a given time, I was not satisfied with it. I wanted her to live with me permanently.
Thus, just a few months after getting my own PR, I applied for my mothers’s permanent residency. Based on the information given by the Swedish Migration Board, our case perfectly fitted their given example and I was confident that the case will be approved. For this, we even had to sacrifice another visit by my mother and the case took a long time to be processed.
Unfortunately, my mother’s application was rejected. But I was not heart broken. I took solace on the fact that I always had the intention of going back to Pakistan once I was done with my studies and it was only after obtaining Swedish PR that the thought of permanently settling down in Sweden came up.
Furthermore, the time at which my mother’s application was rejected, I only had a few months of my PhD left. I had the option to appeal and the appeal might have been successful with the reasons given for the rejection so ludicrous. However, with so little time left I had to make a decision which were to be based on a number of factors. One, I had to make sure my mother was there for my public defense of PhD dissertation. Secondly, I needed to start searching for a job. Three, if I have to leave Sweden, then I need to also start making plans of packing up, giving notice to the landlord of my apartment and other practical details involved.
The appeal would have easily taken a further 4–6 months, which would have meant that my mother would have missed the public defense. Secondly, where should I apply for jobs, Pakistan or Sweden. What if the appeal failed and I was left with no jobs and no plan? How would I pay my bills? How would I take care of my mother in Pakistan who I was financially supporting. What if I took a job in Sweden and then the appeal failed? Would I be able to leave the job and Sweden on a short notice?
There was too much uncertainty and I needed one to properly plan life after PhD. And at that time, the only thing that seemed feasible for me was to decide to leave Sweden for good. It allowed me enough time to apply to various universities in Pakistan and also allowed my mother to apply for a visit visa. Unfortunately for me and her, her visit visa application was also rejected based on the fact that she tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to settle in permanently in Sweden.
The decision to move to Pakistan was also made easy because I made a lot of assumptions, some which I have highlighted in another blog. One more assumption that I had made was that the culture in Pakistani universities was very healthy, which turned out, not exactly a myth, but not true either.
Furthermore, by the blessings of the Al-Mighty, I was also able to secure a job in a Rural College (now an Institute) which seemed to have a lot of potential and would have provided me an opportunity to truly express my ideas and thoughts, and it did to a certain extent. Thus, on March 19, 2016, I left Sweden for good, never thinking of returning.
And no thinking I did, for the best part of three years. Initially I was very satisfied with my decision, and I started to enjoy my stay in the rural Institute. It came with its unique challenges but I was still satisfied and so was my family. However, with the situation in that Institute getting from bad to worse, as highlighted here and with not much success in getting a job elsewhere in Pakistan, I started having second thoughts. Also, getting to know the culture and environment in various institutes around the country, I knew that it would be difficult for me to settle down any where. One thing that I very strongly picked up from Sweden was independence of thought and opinion, without losing respect of other people. However, this attitude in Pakistan is seldom tolerated.
I knew from earlier that in Pakistan there is a certain culture of appeasing the boss in various avenues of life but little did I knew that it was also prevalent in the place you will least expect it, a University. A place which should be known as a haven for independent thought, out of the box ideas and strong opinions, also carried the same culture seen elsewhere. But what does one expect when a significant chunk of these institutes of higher education are run by various factions of the armed forces, i.e., the army, air force and naval forces?
At this point of time, I started having thoughts of whataboutism and whatifism. What if I had not applied for my mothers PR and made her visit me for 12 months at a time until I settled in and got Swedish citizenship. What if I had appealed the rejection of her PR decision or tried something else to bring her there. What about going back to Sweden and trying to get her visa again?
One should never regret past decisions and certainly those which are made with noble intentions, yet I would be lying if I say that I did not have thoughts of regret. I tried pushing those thoughts away with positive thoughts but there is always a limit when the same thoughts keep on returning.
The though of Sweden gained even more traction when I moved to Dublin, Ireland for my post-doctoral research fellowship. Seeing that Ireland was so far behind to Sweden in so many ways, specially in terms of public services available, and being so expensive, despite offering so little, the thoughts of Sweden started hitting badly. So much so, that I contacted the Swedish Migration board again, literally pleading with them to allow me to continue my PR and also re-open my mother’s case.
Such a foolish thought. Somewhere down in my heart I knew that it was futile but the frustration and depression building inside me led to this desperate measure and it led to further disappointment. The Swedish Migration board, despite my assurances of moving back to Sweden, formally revoked my and my family’s PR to end all hopes of returning to Sweden.
Why, as a practicing Muslim, did I like Sweden so much. Yes, leading an Islamic life there was difficult and I was always worried about bringing up my kids there, yet why did it attracted me and continues to do so? It was the remarkable system Sweden, and to that extent even Norway and Finland, has built. The cradle to grave welfare system, which allows you to focus on the more productive areas of your life was an inspiration. The fairness and dignity with which they dealt with us foreigners was remarkable. And that is the reason Sweden, despite its cold weather, extremely short winter days and a low population is so technologically advance. The system it has built allows its inhabitants to experiment, build new things, take risks knowing that the state will back them up in case of failure. In Pakistan, all our thoughts are reduced to putting food on table, saving for our children’s education and for our health in old age. Sweden took away all these worries and allowed its people, whether local or foreign, to focus on the spheres of life which can help the country and its people to grow. The health, education, tax, banking and other systems were extremely streamlined which makes looking at the archaic system of Ireland, frustrating.
And yet, I cannot go back and I also do not want to go back without assurance regarding my mother. I just love her too much and cannot leave her. Not only is this my religious duty but I owe it to my mother. The way she brought me up, taking care of all my needs while sacrificing hers and instilling the best habits, manners and education in me, I just cannot leave her at this stage of life, no matter what sacrifices I have to make. And I am lucky to have a supporting wife, who understands this and is ready to make the same sacrifices, while having all the right not to do so.
But do I miss Sweden, well the whole blog speaks loudly about it. Is it frustrating? Yes it is but life is never a bed of roses and there are so many frustrating things that one encounters in life. And life is about making hard choices and sticking to it, no matter how frustrating it might be.
I made a choice of leaving Sweden and I plan to stick with it. I will have days when all these thoughts outlined here will come back to hit hard but I must find a way to deal with it. The quest to becoming a determined researcher must be complemented with the quest to becoming a determined human being. One, who strives hard to make the best of difficult situations, one who is cognizant of religious and worldly duties on him and one who goes to all lengths to achieve success yet remains grounded in the realities of his life. I am determined to make my life a success, both for this world and the hereafter. And I strongly believe that the Al-Mighty will find a way for me to achieve this as nothing happens without his Will.