Governments in the Nordics need to encourage talent not technicalities


Since we started The Nordic Web two and a half years ago, we’ve had the pleasure of reporting on how the Nordic startup scene has flourished, attracting increasing amounts of investment, producing companies valued at over $1 billion dollars, and making their mark on a global scale.

However, despite all of this positive progress, there has always been some rather negative issues boiling away underneath. These issues have particularly come to the surface this year, with the latest being the case of Tayyab Shabab in Sweden.

I’ll let his boss, Mathias Plank, Founder and CEO of DYNAMO explain:

“This week we received a letter from the Swedish Migration Board. They have decided to deport Tayyab, one of our superstar developers, along with his wife. Tayyab now has four weeks to leave the country. He’s even at risk of not being able to enter the Schengen area – ever again. WTF!

Tayyab has spent more than three years in Sweden. He has taken his Masters Degree in Computer Science and worked his way up as a software developer. Today, despite his young age, he’s one of our most valued talents. He lives in central Stockholm together with his wife, pays his taxes and contributes to the friendly, inclusive international culture we all enjoy at the office.

So, what has Tayyab done to deserve this harsh, abrupt decision? Did he commit a crime? Lie about his background? Involve himself in murky activities? No, in fact he didn’t do anything at all: His former employer may have made a small, formal error. In short, Tayyab’s pension benefits may have been two percentage points below the industry average (but not below those of his colleagues and bosses at the time). This has since been corrected in arrears by his former employer.

So, a microscopic detail for you and me. For the Swedish Migration Agency, apparently grounds for deporting Tayyab.

DYNAMO employs only the best mobile software developers. Since there isn’t enough homegrown talent, we need to look for people all over the world. Among the 56 developers at our HQ in central Stockholm you’ll find people from 25 different countries. We need Tayyab, and we also need more skilled top talents like Tayyab in our country.
In short, Tayyab is an asset. He’s an asset to us, and he’s an asset to this country. So how can the Swedish Migration Board treat him like he’s a liability, a burden that needs to be kicked out immediately?

Over the past 20 years I have started six companies and employed more than 250 people. I’ve paid company taxes, salary taxes and value added taxes – always with a smile on my face. Yesterday that changed.

I understand that there are and must be laws and regulations. But this insane reaction to a minor formal error that wasn’t even committed by Tayyab himself must be a ridiculously harsh interpretation of those laws. If not, then our problems as a country are bigger than I’d imagined.

You are not only taking away our very best talents from us – you are also taking away the drive and the capability to run companies, pay taxes, employ people and increase the tax base. Not to mention what you’re doing to a young man and his wife just trying to make a living”

Tayyab’s case moved us to act, and we started a petition on which Mathias will hand-deliver to the Swedish Government this week with 10,000+ signatures on (please do sign it)

So, why are we also writing this?

Because Tayyab’s case is one of many happening across the Nordics, not just in Sweden, and is an example of how all of the Nordic Governments can do better when it comes to encouraging people to start and grow their companies in the region. Each country is facing its own issues and restrictions that are suffocating the growth and progress of their technology companies, creating a real risk of installing a ceiling that forces their companies to grow elsewhere.

The founders of Spotify wrote an open letter to the Swedish Government earlier this year highlighting much of the same issues (particularly around the taxing on stock options), and there are a number of issues like these that need to be addressed to ensure that companies are continually able to be started and grown in the Nordics.

The other impetus to us writing this is that we really want to press home the importance of Governments acting now, not next year, or in the next five years, now.

The increased investment we refer to at the beginning of this post means that in the next couple of years, the Nordics won’t just have a couple of big companies, but dozens, as if the market maintains, then it won’t be hard for promising Nordic companies to attract the capital needed to fuel their growth into large companies.

Meaning conditions need to improve rapidly in order to make this transition smoother for these companies, otherwise they will never grow as large as Spotify, and will likely up sticks completely, denying the region of money, talent, expertise and knowledge.

And it is not just Spotify who have spoken out about the lack of Government interest, Sebastian Siematkowski, CEO of Klarna has regularly mentioned his concern and surprise that he was invited to Downing Street in the UK three times before a Swedish politician ever made contact with them, despite being one of the most valuable technology companies in the whole of Europe.

In many ways, when we think about the sacrifices we’ve made to struggle on with The Nordic Web, putting relationships and personal finances at stake in order to provide a resource that informs and shines a spotlight on the Nordic technology scene, real frustration is stirred up inside of us. As the Governments of these countries are seemingly happy to pass up the opportunity to once and for all establish the Nordics as one of the most important regions in the world when it comes to producing global tech successes.

We don’t believe there is a refusal to help, more a lack of understanding and awareness. And that is why there is still some hope that all is not lost and that this situation can be brought under control, but we say again, it has to be now.

Don’t let it take Spotify leaving to force you to act, act now so they and the next Spotifys stay.

If the Swedish Government won’t listen to the founders of Europe’s biggest and most valuable technology company then I doubt they are going to listen to us.

However, we just have a simple ask, a small action that the Swedish Government can take right now, and that is to ensure that common sense is applied to Tayyab’s case and he is allowed to continue to contribute and be an asset to the Swedish and Nordic startup scene.

It is insane to put a technicality before talent and if that is done in this case, it will be hard for anyone in the Nordic startup scene to believe they have their Governments support when it comes to creating and building great Nordic companies.

This is one small battle, yet it is an important one, as at the very least it would indicate that the Governments are listening to the concerns of the Swedish and Nordic startup community, a step firmly in the right direction.

Neil S W Murray founded The Nordic Web in 2014 in order to provide the Nordics with the quality coverage it deserves. As well as being Founding Editor of The Nordic Web, Neil is also an active community builder in the region, participating in a number of initiatives, and has previously worked for