Swedish startups rally to defend Pakistani developer being deported because of a former employer’s failure to pay pension

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Pakistani native and Dynamo developer Tayyab Shabab has suddenly become a cause celebre in the Swedish tech community after bureaucrats in Stockholm determined he must be deported, apparently because his previous employer forgot to withhold pension payments from his salary as he was required to do under the terms of his work visa.

That an employer error could result in a developer’s loss of visa has incensed Swedish startup workers and prompted Geektime syndication partner The Nordic Web‘s founding editor, Neil S W Murray, to launch a petition on change.org to head off his deportation. The petition has 5,480 signatories so far with a goal of achieving 7,500. The petition has also grabbed attention from others, including Spotify founder Daniel Ek and TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher.

“I found out about the case when I came across this post from Tayyab’s CEO, Mathias Plank, last Friday,” Murray tells Geektime, adding that he was “driven by a frustration and a sympathy for Tayyab and his family. Within ten minutes I had reached out to Mathias offering my help, and decided to start a petition to show support for Tayyab’s case.”

Neil S W Murray (foreground) has launched a petition on change.org to reverse the Immigration Authority's decision (Facebook)
Neil S W Murray (foreground) has launched a petition on change.org to reverse the Immigration Authority’s decision (Facebook)

Based in London, Murray travels at least twice a month to cover the entire Nordic startup scene, where he says “overzealous bureaucracy” is “beginning to severely harm the business environment in the region, especially when it comes to startups attracting talent.”

“There is no doubt that measures like this will harm the Nordics’ ability to attract talent, and this is why this case is so important. As if the Government can’t step in and apply some common sense to this situation, it will be hard for startups in the region to believe they are acting in their best interests when it comes to assisting startups forming and growing in the Nordics.”

Immigrants from South Asia fill Sweden’s talent gap

The tech scene’s leaders have typed in their support, including SUP46 Co-founder and CEO Jessica Stark has also signed. Another big backer is Maria Rankka, the CEO of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. She launched a hashtag campaign on Twitter Monday called #BackaTayyab, which was trending in the country going into Tuesday.

“Computer programmer is the single most common profession in the Stockholm county and we are depending on a global influx of computer scientists and coders to stay competitive, so this case is very sad,” she conveyed to Geektime. She was in Tel Aviv Tuesday as part of the annual DLD tech and startup festival, speaking about innovation in the tourism space, but there was clearly a lot on her mind back home.

Maria Rankka, CEO of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (chamber.se)
Maria Rankka, CEO of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (chamber.se)

“I hope we will be able to influence decision makers, because this is a key issue for not only startups but all of the Stockholm business community. Generally the labor migration legislation is pretty open and competitive, but the sun has its spots…”

From the perspective of the South Asian community in Stockholm though, the case is especially scary. As Rankka mentioned, the number of tech-related immigrants in Sweden is significant. While India and Pakistan are far from the most numerous groups of nationals in Sweden, they do compose a lot of its top tech talent.

Originally from Chennai, Raman Ramalingam has spent more than six years in Europe, four of them in Sweden. He works on talent recruitment for local incubator STING – Stockholm Innovation & Growth, making him uniquely qualified to speak about the situation. From what he can see, changing Swedish attitudes to immigration are putting a lot of pressure on the large South Asian developer community in Stockholm.

“Most of the tech professionals here are increasingly coming from abroad because of the lack of skills in the local talent pool here,” Ramalingam tells Geektime. Which positions exactly? Well, Sweden’s Immigration Authority itself lists several in-demand jobs in the tech world: IT technicians, IT architects, systems administrators, telecommunications engineers, electrical engineers, biomedical researchers, GIS engineers, chemical engineers and market analysts. That covers some of the big ones in the startup world: software engineers and machine learning in particular, Ramalingam lists.

Ramalingam (top right) says he is the first non-Swedish-born employee at STING, and the case is opening natives' eyes to some new problems for professional immigrants
Ramalingam (top right) says he is the first non-Swedish-born employee at STING, and the case is opening natives’ eyes to some new problems for professional immigrants

Sweden is trying to grow with an extremely stretched local talent pool. Yet, the office’s policies appear to have morphed in the last year. The reason why is patently obvious. Swedish fears about immigration have peaked in the last year with reports of overt anti-Semitism among many immigrants in the southern city of Malmö and fears that immigrants are behind more sexual assaults. The right wing has experienced a surge over the past few years, as fears of the refugee crisis continue to boil over in the historically open society. But as in other countries, it seems professional immigrants are caught in the political crossfire.

Ramalingam explains that visa renewals had been fairly routine: once every two years, a visa holder would have to apply with three months of pay stubs and one year’s record of tax payments. Suddenly in March just before his third renewal, he caught wind of a massive change in the offing.

He was shocked.

“But now, you have to specify all of your salary before and after taxes from when you started working in Sweden; I have to enter each and every month’s salary before and after taxes for current and previous employers, when I took vacation, etc,” he explains of the new situation facing immigrants, asking, “Can you imagine someone who has been working here three or four years, completely auditing immigrants’ records?” 

This is where Shabab ran into trouble Ramalingam says, as his previous employer was apparently not very organized and underpaid his pension. “Normally you have to submit your insurance documents of your current employer. But now, I’m not completely sure.”

The community is hopeful, but realize that it might be too late to prevent Shabab’s deportation at this point. While this battle may be a lost one, the swell of support and the notice of the country’s politicians should reassure some people that the issue of professional immigration might get a reassessment.

Meanwhile, South Asian IT specialists and systems managers wait with anxiety about what this case means for their own future in Sweden. As Ramalingam put it when he signed the petition, “I’m working everyday to ensure the tech startup space of Stockholm has the best team and talent in place. But in my busy work life in the Stockholm startup ecosystem I forgot for a moment that, I’m an immigrant from India myself and waiting for the migrationsverket decision right now for my own work permit extension which is under processing.”

“So, I am the next Tayyab!”

2 COMMENTS

  1. I wanted to give some insider information on ther siutation, and why it is not as clear cut as the media claims it to be. First of all, in order to qualify for a swedish work visa a minum salary requirement has to be met (the minimum required wage is roughly 1/3-1/4 of what someone with Tayyab’s stated experience should expect to be payed. So this is not a simple clerical error). Continuing, corporations in Sweden have been screaming about “developer talent shortage” for decades, yet lots of new graduates from swedish technical universities are told that they lack sufficient previous work experience.

    This coupled with the fact that the CEO of Dyanmo has been mouthing of about how only the best of the best deserve to be employed, and that Tayyab is one of the best developers in Sweden makes regular swedes less than sympathetic to Tayyab’s case. There has also been numerous inconsistencies in reporting on what Tayyab has actually been employeed to do.
    To an average swedish developer who competes with Tayyab in the job market, this doesn’t look like swedish bureaucracy ruling with an iron fist over startups who struggle to find talent. To an average swedish developer this looks like an obvious attempt at hyping an average developer to fantasy levels when the real reason for all this ruckus is a failing company that wants to suppress wages.

  2. Being a foreign professional myself and having worked in Swedish tech industry for more than 4 years now, basically the so-called ‘insider information’ is that having a minimum base salary and having a basic pension insurance are two completely different requirements for getting a work permit in Sweden. So, having a much higher salary than the base salary, required by the Swedish migration board, does not automatically qualify a visa applicant to not to have a pension insurance. And what’s more Swedish companies are required to have these pension and sick insurances only from foreign talents, not from Swedish residents, unless the Swedish residents are already covered by a collective agreement with a labor union. So basically some level of intelligence is required to understand the current situation.

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