Pieces of Paper: How to be Unemployed in Sweden

I’ve already posted one or two poems about bureaucracy in Sweden, which were inspired by the process I’ve been undergoing since losing my job a few months ago. Well, I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I haven’t gotten there yet but things are definitely getting brighter.

It’s important to keep in mind that this a country obsessed with paperwork, and I literally mean paper that one writes on with a pen. Occasionally, one encounters an “online form,” but it’s the kind that one fills in online, then prints out, signs, puts into an envelope and then into a mailbox, which defeats the whole purpose of filling in the form online.

Allow me to familiarize you with the process of getting employment benefits, and how many Pieces of Paper are involved. On the first day I was officially unemployed I went to the employment office with an Employer Certificate (piece of paper #1) from my former employer, where I registered myself as unemployed and seeking work. They gave me something they call a Treatment Plan (piece of paper #2) which is a list of mostly useless suggestions for how to get a job. They then notified my unemployment agency, which sent me an application form (piece of paper #3) to fill in.

The unemployment agency advised me to register for their online service, as it somewhat streamlines the process of getting the money. Kudos to them as it does actually work pretty well. However, you’d think they could email me my password like everyone else does, but apparently this had to be sent by paper mail (piece of paper #4) so I spent a few days waiting for it to arrive.

Before the unemployment agency could make a decision, I had to submit a Cash Card detailing the days and hours I actually worked and the same for which I was unemployed. Miraculously, this is actually a form that one fills in and submits online. Therefore it’s technically not a piece of paper, though it would have been in the past, hence the old-fashioned name of Cash Card. At least they’ve managed to bring this part of process into the 21st century.

At one point I sent them a message asking if I could just scan and email documents to them since I figured this could save both paper and time. They responded that they needed paper copies. I guess they can only be sure of the authenticity of a document if they have a physical paper copy, since we all know how difficult it is to fake paper documents.

Anyway, I sent them the application, along with copies of the Employer Certificate and Treatment Plan. I got my password in the mail, and filled in and submitted the online Cash Card. A few days later I got my Decision Letter (piece of paper #5) in the mail informing me that I’ve been processed and approved to receive benefits. I just needed to contact the bank that pays out the money and let them know where to send it. As it turns out the bank that does this is my bank, so they said the money should just show up in my account. Sweet.

But wait there’s more…

When I found out how much they’re actually giving me, I thought the amount seemed rather low. Employment is supposed to be 80% of your original salary, so I did some checking and discovered that the unemployment agency has an income cap of about $2,800 per month, which means they’ll pay benefits for up to that amount. It doesn’t matter if you made $2,000 or $10,000 per month, the amount is the same. Furthermore, they’ll give you only 80% of that amount, so if you receive the maximum amount of benefits we’re talking only $2,200 gross. On top of that, they deduct 30% for taxes, which would leave you with $1,550 net.

That’s where income insurance comes in, which I got through the Teacher’s Union. Since the amount that unemployment actually pays out is so pitifully low, my income insurance will pay the remainder of the 80% of my original salary, and that amount will be tax free. I spoke to them on the phone and they said they’d send me an application form (piece of paper #6) and which I’ll fill in and send back to them, along with a copy of my Decision Letter.

Joyful, isn’t it? I’ve now gone all the way through the unemployment process but have just begun the insurance process. Also, my situation is a little more complicated due to the fact that I’m taking a Swedish course. Normally, you’re not qualified to receive benefits while studying, but as long as it’s part time (less than 50%) you can still get unemployment. It just requires more Forms, Certificates, and Pieces of Paper.