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‘A real eye-opener’: the Swedish university future-proofing careers

Whether you live in Sweden or elsewhere, the kind of skills you most need for tomorrow’s job market are changing. This means one more challenge to overcome for anyone living abroad or wishing to move abroad.

‘A real eye-opener’: the Swedish university future-proofing careers
Photo: Linköping University graduate Elias Hallack working at SKF

But some educational institutions excel in helping you to prepare for the future. That’s certainly true of Linköping University (LiU) in southern Sweden, which ranks in the worldwide top 50 for universities founded in the past 50 years.

Do you want to specialise in sustainable engineering or making sense of migration? Aircraft design or ageing populations? LiU offers 30 international programmes taught in English, covering all these fields and many more. 

The Local spoke with two international graduates, now working in major Swedish companies, who took their future into their own hands through their choice of Master’s studies.

Browse the full range of Master’s and degree programmes taught in English at Linköping University 

An eye-opening education

“I would definitely say I’m helping to create a more sustainable future,” says Elias Hallack. “I feel sure that I’m contributing to the change in this industry – and in the world.”

Elias, who is half-Syrian and half-Brazilian, began working as an environmental analysis specialist at Swedish industrial giant SKF in September after completing a two-year Master’s in Sustainability Engineering and Management at LiU. 

He uses skills he learned during his studies “on a daily basis” to gain a true picture of what’s kind to the environment and what isn’t.

“You look not only at a product’s use phase but the whole life cycle – extraction of the raw materials, transportation, production and the end of life, whether that means landfill, incineration, or recycling,” says Elias. “Learning about this was a real eye-opener for me in terms of how to think about things and see all the dimensions.” 

Marcela Miranda, from Brazil, has been a sustainability specialist at Ikea for nearly three years. Like Elias, she’s concerned about climate change but feels sure she’s contributing to a positive transformation through the skills she learned during a two-year Master’s in Science for Sustainable Development.

Ikea is aiming to become a fully circular business by 2030 and Marcela analyses sustainability data and KPIs for paper suppliers. She’s “putting into practice” technological skills for powerfully illustrating potential climate impacts that she learned at LiU.

“There’s a Decision Arena at the Norrköping campus, where the whole room is full of screens,” Marcela explains. She says this was a priceless tool for using maps and graphs to clearly communicate the potential impact of different business choices.

Linköping University’s Decision Arena. Photo: LiU

“I use this approach a lot in my current job,” she says. “We collect our suppliers’ sustainability data and give them feedback every year, so we need [to create] nice visualisations.” This data is one of the factors taken into account in Ikea’s sourcing decisions, she adds.

Future-proof your own prospects: check out all Linköping University’s programmes in English and use this form to request further information on any programme

Comprehensive and collective 

Elias and Marcela, who both came to study in Sweden with scholarships from the Swedish Institute, each say that LiU offers a comprehensive approach to the topics they care about that sets it apart. 

“I chose Linköping University because the sustainable engineering programme included not only renewable energy and sustainable energy sources but also design and social aspects of sustainability,” says Elias.

Marcela, who came to Sweden from São Paulo in 2016 and completed her Master’s in 2018, says: “I looked at the course descriptions and there was a lot of really advanced technology that we don’t have in universities in Brazil.” 

Photo: Marcela Miranda and her parents at Linköping University

Looking back, one more reason now stands out: “I heard from students on other Master’s that the university always emphasises critical thinking, even with something like the Sustainable Development Goals.” 

This dedication to scrutinising everything in the search for solutions also inspires a collective feeling of belonging, according to Marcela: “There’s a real sense of togetherness among the students.”

Diverse paths to a future-proof career

If you’re looking to future-proof your career, focusing on sustainability is one option of many. Perhaps your interest lies in how societies should cope with ageing populations or in challenging and reimagining gender norms? There are Master’s degrees at LiU for you too. 

There are also a wide range of engineering and scientific Master’s programmes, such as Biomedical Engineering, Statistics and Machine Learning, and Communications Systems (with the university at the forefront of research into 5G). You can view all 30 international programmes in this 2022 prospectus and you can use this form to get more information on any programme within an hour.

Elias, who did a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in Syria, says the more relaxed style of teaching in Sweden helped him “grow in confidence” through discussions with his professors. Teaching staff also helped him submit research to a life cycle engineering conference in Belgium, where he hopes to make a presentation next year. “I believe these good relationships with my professors will also help me in the future if I ever need to ask for help,” he says.

Marcela praises the university’s CV workshops – which also encompass support with social media – for further supporting students to plan for the future.

And while she felt concerned about finding accommodation before leaving Brazil, she needn’t have worried. “As an international student, you’re really taken care of by the university and its international office,” she says. “They had everything arranged for me and also booked a taxi to pick me up at the airport. Everything was really easy, so don’t be afraid!”

Want a better future for yourself and the planet? Check out all Linköping University’s Master’s and degree programmes in English. Then find out how to apply (applications for 2022 close on January 17th)

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WORKING IN SWEDEN

The bureaucratic and tax issues hitting commuters between Sweden and Denmark

The Øresund Agreement struck in 2003 between Sweden and Denmark is in many ways a boon to cross-border commuters, allowing those living in Sweden to benefit from higher Danish salaries. But it can be quite complicated. Here are some of the issues faced by foreigners.

The bureaucratic and tax issues hitting commuters between Sweden and Denmark
The Øresund Bridge lit up in rainbow colours to celebrate WorldPride in Malmö and Copenhagen. Photo: Johan Nilsson/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

The border controls and homeworking that came in around the pandemic have made it more complicated still, with members of a longstanding commuter group last year setting up a special group, Øresundspendler – I klemme mellem 2 lande, or “Oresund commuters – caught between two countries”, which has more than 4,000 members. 

How does the Øresund Agreement work? 

Under the Øresund Agreement, cross-border commuters pay taxes in the country where they work.

This means those resident in Sweden, but working in Denmark need to register with the Danish Tax Authority and receive a CPR number, after which they pay Danish municipal tax at 24 percent, state tax of 12.11 percent on all income above 46,700 DKK, and 15 percent on all income above 544,800 DKK, and arbejdmarkedsbidrag, or “labour market contribution” at 8 percent. 

Those resident in Denmark but working in Sweden can decide whether to pay a special gross income tax (SINK tax) of 25 percent, which comes with no deductions, or ordinary income tax. 

What are some of the issues faced by aspiring and actual cross-border workers? 

Pandemic homeworking forcing changes to tax status 

Most cross-border workers will have been working primarily in their country of residence for much of the pandemic, meaning that for one or more three-month periods, they will not have fulfilled the requirement of working in their country of employment for at least 50 percent of their working days. 

This means that many will have had taxation split between Denmark and Sweden for some of 2020, and are also likely to have split taxation for parts of 2021. 

For most people living in Sweden but working in Denmark, this should mean a lower tax bill, whereas those commuting the other way are likely to have seen their tax bill increase. 

The complexity of deciding how much tax they should pay, and the required coordination between Danish and Swedish tax agencies means that many commuters are still waiting in August to receive their final tax demand for 2020 from the Swedish Tax Agency. 

Troels Tingvold Aaberg complained that 2020 taxes were “still not being resolved” leaving commuters “not knowing if [they] have a massive tax debt or not”.

Issues with social security due to pandemic homeworking 

Under the Øresund Agreement, cross-border commuters pay social insurance in Denmark if they spend less than 25 percent of their time working in Sweden, their country of residence, about one day a week.

If you work two days a week in Sweden, or 40 percent, then you need to apply to the authorities, who will then decide whether you should be socially insured in Sweden or Denmark, and you are most likely to then be social secured in the country where you live. 

If you have a Danish employer, it can be very complicated if you are registered for social insurance in Sweden. Theoretically, if the Danish employer has a permanent place of business in Sweden, they have to pay 19.8 percent of the employee’s gross salary, while a Danish employer with a permanent establishment in Sweden pays 31.42 percent. 

Almost all Danish employers, though, will have a clause in any contract, saying that it is up to the employee to make sure that they are registered for social insurance in Denmark. Most workers working one or two days at home in Sweden should be able to successfully apply to the Danish or Swedish social insurance agency for an exception. 

According to one member of the commuter Facebook group, the bureaucratic hassle of this was a major obstacle for some Swedes looking to work in Copenhagen.

“I’ve been in a dialogue with several IT recruitment and specialist headhunters lately,” he said, adding that the recruiters were forced to make prospective employers in Denmark aware that hiring someone living in Sweden can trigger “an administrative burden, which can be extra straining for a small start-up company”.

“This gives a huge disadvantage for Swedish resident candidates in the selection process,” he said. “It is a considerable border obstacle.”

During the coronavirus crisis, there has been a temporary arrangement, a general exception until further notice, to allow cross-border commuters to remain within the social insurance system that they had historically been connected to. 

The exception only applies, however, to those who were already working in Denmark at the time of the pandemic. To inform the Swedish authorities, you need to fill in form 5459, Working Abroad, as soon as possible. 

The CPR number Catch-22 

Foreigners living in Malmö looking for unskilled work in Copenhagen can struggle to get work if they don’t already have a Danish tax number or CPR, but at the same time, those without a job contract are often ineligible for a CPR number.

“My sister had trouble finding student temp jobs in Denmark even though are plenty of jobs available,” said Daniel Kiss, a Hungarian who lives in Malmö but studies and works in Copenhagen.  “Nobody would hire someone who didn’t have a CPR number and you can’t get a CPR number without a job.”

The issue for her was that the university where she was studying in Copenhagen was not used to students with residency outside Denmark, and so didn’t give her the correct paperwork to get a CPR number. 

“Their student support services didn’t know what to do with the people who didn’t have a Danish address.” 

By the time Kiss himself arrived, a year later, she had worked out what was required, meaning he was able to get his CPR within a week of starting at Copenhagen Business School. 

Using MobilePay or Swish 

In both Denmark and Sweden, it is common to use the phone payment systems MobilePay (Denmark) and Swish (Sweden) to transfer money between friends, and also to pay at shops and some restaurants, particularly small, informal ones where the owner does not have the ability to accept credit cards.

“My only ‘problem’ is that I cannot use MobilePay,” Kiss said. “I have a Swedish address, and I can pay taxes and work in Denmark. I have a Danish phone contract. I can do everything in Denmark except use the most common mobile payment application because they require you to have a Danish address.”

MobilePay requires a Danish residency to work, while Swish requires Swedish residency. 

“It’s kind of inconvenient because I work in Copenhagen and every time we go out with colleagues or friends or whatever, they always say ‘MobilePay me’, and I have to say ‘can you send me your bank details…for 45 kroner.”

The Nordic banks are currently trying to work together to the use of mobile payment solutions across borders, but progress is slow. 

Getting caught in limbo when moving 

Patrick Gallen, an American who works in Denmark for the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, is moving to Malmö because he and his Norwegian wife got fed up with Denmark’s constantly tightening citizenship requirements. 

“I have basically fallen into a grey zone in the legislation in terms of my right to work between Denmark and Sweden,” he told The Local. 

Gallen is long established in Denmark with a CPR number and residency permit, and has a right to family reunion everywhere in the European Union as a result of his marriage to a Norwegian. 

But he discovered when organising the couple’s move that until he receives his Swedish residency permit and personal number, he will lose his right to work in Denmark. 

“Denmark does offer a commuter permit for people in this situation if they either live in Schleswig, or in Skåne, commuting from Germany or Sweden. However, in order to get that commuter permit, as a third country national like myself, you need to have proof that you’ve received legal residency in the country where you normally live.”

So while Sweden will let him work from the day he arrives in Malmö, he will not be able to work in Denmark until Sweden grants him residency due to family reunion, which he expects to take at least four months. 

“I actually have to work physically in Sweden while I wait for this permit, otherwise it’s a violation of Danish immigration regulations, and I can actually get a fine, my employer could get a fine, and I could get banned from working in Denmark for two or three years or something like that. It’s ridiculous.” 

While in this “weird limbo”, he will also have to pay an effective tax of as high as 54 percent, because he will lose the right to Danish social insurance, so Swedish social insurance will kick in. 

Low level of understanding among employers on the Swedish side 

Nicole Nielsen, a Copenhagen-based American lawyer, has been facing enormous difficulties since starting work this April at a fast-growing company on the Swedish side of the Øresund.

“The first thing was, they did not realise, even though it was clear that I was an American, that I needed a work permit.” 

But they wanted her to start straight away, so initially, she was working even though it was unclear how or in what capacity she would be paid. She only started getting her pay checks in June, two months after starting, but as she’s still waiting for her Swedish personal number she can’t log into her Swedish bank account, meaning she has to be given manual checks to put into her Danish account. 

She qualifies for Sweden’s SINK tax, State Income Tax for Non-Residents, which she expected to be easy, but has found the process agonisingly slow. 

“It’s been like a nightmare, and everything has to go through Swedish social security [Försäkringskassan] so it’s very slow and bureaucratic, and it’s not very efficient,” she said. “So in Denmark. So even though you complain, you don’t really realise how easy everything is.  Everything is very manual in Sweden. And it’s like, you know, it’s very rules-based. There’s like no exceptions.”

Sick leave and parental leave

Nielsen is now pregnant, but aims to limit her maternity leave to three months.

The issue she is having is that by changing her country of work, she has discovered that she has probably lost all the Danish “barsel“, or parental leave she had built up, including the days she had left over for her other two children, but she will not have worked in Sweden long enough to qualify for anything other than a minimum parental leave payment. 

The company has offered to pay her what she would have received in parental leave payments from Sweden, but that is much less than her salary. 

“It’s come as a shock to me and so confusing that this has never happened before, that they have sort of system,” she said. “Nobody in Sweden seems to know what to do about people coming from Denmark, which is very shocking, because I know that it’s pretty common for people to come from Sweden to Denmark, and it’s not an issue.” 

The parental leave issue can also cause problems when one of the two parents starts working on the other side of the Øresund Bridge. All of the shared parental leave attached to the child will then revert to the parent who is still working where the child is registered, who will be treated from a child leave perspective as a single parent. 

Others find sick leave confusing. Richa Sharma, from India, said her husband, who lives in Malmö but works in Copenhagen, was still trying understand if he could get sick leave for a stay in hospital in Malmö when he caught coronavirus last year, or whether the time would be taken from his holiday. 

An advisor from the advice line Øresundsdirekt said that Sharma’s husband would be requesting sick leave from his Danish employer, and said that unlike in Sweden, where the state pays sick leave after a week, in Denmark the employer continues to pay your salary for three months, and that it was often down to the employer exactly how this leave should be treated. 

Unwittingly switching the country where you are registered for taxation 

According to the advisor at Øresundsdirekt, it is quite common for cross-border workers to take short breaks from work of three months or more without realising that they risk losing their right to taxation in Denmark or Sweden, and so causing enormous bureaucratic headaches.

If you take any significant amounts of time off work, he warned, you must first run it past the tax authorities. 

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