Sweden faces challenges on integrating immigrants into the labour market

In mid-May, the OECD presented its report Working Together: Skills and Labour Market Integration of Immigrants and their Children in Sweden on integration in the Swedish labour market and in Swedish society. Sweden is the first country to be reviewed in the context of the project on labour market integration initiated by the OECD. The OECD concludes that Sweden in a strong position to integrate refugees, but that support for those low-skilled needs to be strengthened.  In particular, Sweden should address housing shortages, begin integration activities early, and improve the support for those with low-skills to speed up the integration of refugees. The shortage of housing has led to settlement delays that postpone the start of integration activities. Sweden’s highly-skilled labour market – where only 5% of the jobs require only low levels of skills – presents a challenge for new arrivals with low levels of education, who generally have difficulty fulfilling the requirements of more demanding positions. As such, the report states that a stronger, more structured co-ordination between the Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) and the municipalities is required to ensure coherent pathways to employment and avoid duplication of services. Furthermore, the report points out that the large number of arrivals is testing the efficiency of the reception and integration system.

As in many other countries, the children of immigrants do worse than children with native-born parents. In Sweden, these differences are smaller than elsewhere, which is particularly striking considering the challenges faced by their parents – many of whom arrived as refugees, the report underlines and states that this is an indication of successful integration in the long-term.  Many of the new arrivals are keen to enter the labour market but often lack the necessary skills. The report stresses that Sweden should do more to ensure these young arrivals remain in school in order to boost their long-term job prospects.

Minister for Employment: “Major challenges remain”

In a press release commenting on the report, the Minister for Employment, Ylva Johansson (S), said that,”Despite the many initiatives taken, several major challenges remain, not least because Sweden has received a large number of asylum seekers in a short period of time. Just like the OECD points out in the report, the housing shortage and long waiting times for settlement pose a major challenge. It is valuable to receive an independent review of this important policy area, and it will be interesting to compare how Sweden performs in relation to other countries.”

Educated immigrants less likely than Swedes to have a job

Meanwhile, a new report by Statistics Sweden shows immigrants with university-level educations are about 30% less likely to be employed than similarly trained people born in Sweden. That gap is likely to increase when the record number of asylum seekers who arrived last autumn is taken into account. The survey was conducted during a week in September and given to people aged 25 to 64 who had immigrated between 2003 and 2014.

According to the report, the proportion that had work differed considerably between highly educated foreign born persons who immigrated to Sweden during the period 2003-2014 and Swedish born persons.  Among foreign born persons, six out of ten had work as their main activity while the corresponding proportion among Swedish born persons was nearly nine out of ten.  Among those who immigrated to Sweden during the period 2003 – 2006, nearly 8 out of 10 persons had work, while slightly more of half of those who immigrated to Sweden during the period 2011 – 2014 had work as their main activity during the measurement week.  Among persons who came to Sweden for asylum, half of them had work as their main activity, while nearly 9 of 10 who came to Sweden for employment reasons work as their main activity.

A lack of contacts was by far the most common reason why foreign-born persons had difficulties in finding work within their field of education; this was the case completely or to a great extent for around half of those foreign born. The next most common reason was limited Swedish language skills.

Jessica Nilsson Williams is the CEO & Founder of Mundus International. She has a long-standing interest in international affairs, having worked in the field for 20 years. She began her career as the political advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm, and then worked in the corporate- and NGOs sectors London and Singapore before returning to Stockholm. Back in Sweden, she headed the business intelligence unit for a risk- and security firm. In 2011 she took up a senior role at the New Zealand Embassy before founding Mundus International in 2012.