Labour immigration flares up as an election issue

Labour immigration flares up as an election issue

As everyone knows, there is an election in September, and labour migration has been thrust into the limelight. If the proposed policies are implemented it is going to make being an expat in Sweden even harder. And this will hurt the economy. So, why?

To recap. In 2008, the then Alliance government led by Fredrik Reinfeldt (M) liberalised what had been a highly-regulated labour market, allowing in labour migrants from outside the EU. Sweden became, according to some observers, the most liberal labour market in the OECD. The reality, of course, as many expats experience, is that it is not easy to get work as a foreigner in Sweden. Nonetheless, in 2017 there were 15,000 labour migrants in Sweden – the biggest category being Indian IT workers, but also technicians from China and some 3,000 seasonal Asian berry pickers.

Swedish NewsThese are not particularly big numbers. To put it in comparison, Cedefop, which analyses European labour markets, forecasts that there will be around 800,000 additional high-qualification (e.g. university graduate) jobs created between 2013 and 2025. According to these numbers, the demand for high-level skills will outgrow Sweden’s ability to grow its own talent by hundreds of thousands. As we reported in the State of Expat Life in Sweden, Sweden needs truly massive immigration of talent, if it is to continue to grow its economy to its potential.

But Sweden is facing other challenges too. Arguably its biggest problem is with integration of refugees, having allowed in hundreds of thousands over the last decade. The lack of success at integration resulted in the rise of the Sweden Democrats (SD), which fractured Swedish politics. Although the SD has stolen most votes from the Moderates (M), around 20% of SD numbers are believed to have come from the Social Democrats (S), who seem desperate to get that vote back. And that is why we are now seeing S-politicians airing anti-immigration views.

The Minister for Integration, Ylva Johansson (S), recently announced two policies that the Social Democrats want to introduce after the election. The first was to introduce a permitting system so that unskilled labour migrants do not move to Sweden. The proposed mechanism is to determine different categories of job, which would be deemed to be deficit, in balance or surplus of labour. Labour immigration would only be allowed for so-called deficit jobs. The Social Democrats argue that this is so that the refugees find low-skill jobs more easily. But, while it may make it easier for refugees to gain employment, a policy targeting at most a few thousand migrants would introduce additional bureaucracy effecting tens or even hundreds of thousands. Given the severe problems with the Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) and the Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen), international labour would have every reason to fear the practical outcome of such a change. Business organisations such as the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) are in uproar, pointing out the economic risks and unnecessary bureaucracy in the proposal. The Alliance parties (and the Greens) are against the proposal, with opposition led by the Centre Party leader Annie Lööf. The editorials of some Swedish newspapers argue against change on economic grounds, and in defence of liberalism, while other papers call the proposal “sensible”.

The second announcement made by Johansson and Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson (S) was to introduce language requirements for newcomers. “In order to live fully in Sweden, you also need to be able to speak Swedish,” the Finance Minister said at a press conference, in front of a big screen with the message “Everyone living in Sweden should be able to speak Swedish”. With this proposal, S wants to ensure that anyone seeking financial support from the government is obliged to attend Swedish language training. According to Johansson, extra money will be pumped into language education (SFI), and the requirements will give an extra push for immigrant women to become more employable.

Political observers believe that these policies are about “signal politics”, with the Social Democrats trying to attract votes back from SD, by showing that they are tightening immigration policies. It’s meant to signal “Swedish job for Swedish workers”, according to one Linköping Centre Party politician.

With the outcome of the next election highly uncertain, the policies may never be implemented. Nonetheless, with clear proposals now tabled, they remain a risk for expats, and Mundus will continue its coverage until the outcome is known.

Photo: TT Nyhetsbyrån

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