The many refugees seeking asylum in Sweden face numerous obstacles when seeking employment. The overall state and direction of the economy can adversely affect the foreign-born population. When immigrating to Sweden during an economic downturn, it has been shown that foreign-born citizens are more adversely affected, meaning that the state of the economy is a determining factor in their success. It has also been shown that the Swedish economy – with an emphasis on the service sector – limits the abilities of immigrants to Sweden due to the lack of available, low-skill jobs.

Language and cultural-specific knowledge are also necessary skills that immigrants to Sweden lack, and therefore prevent their full integration into the labour market. In turn, these factors contribute to various types of discrimination by employers, who seek employees that are more suited to the demands of the Swedish labour market. In sum, there are numerous obstacles that contribute to the lack of economic integration and the wage and employment disparity facing foreign-born individuals in Sweden. These developments have therefore spurred the need for the Swedish government to implement wider and far-reaching integration programs.

Policies implemented since 2000 have focused on citizenship acquisition, language training, job mapping, and anti-discrimination. Some have shown more promise than others: programs promoting citizenship and language training, in particular, have been observed to be the most effective.

Naturalization acts a signal to employers that an immigrant is committed to both residing in Sweden and to retaining his position of employment if hired. The government has been active in making citizenship, naturalization, and residency available. The right to dual citizenship was enacted in 2001, allowing those possessing a foreign passport to hold a Swedish one as well. This in turn allows for migrants to become Swedish citizens without renouncing their previous citizenship, thereby improving their employability in the Swedish labour market.

While statistics quantifying the number of foreign-born Swedish speakers is limited, there is evidence that speaking Swedish improves labour market performance. Among Finnish immigrants to Sweden, Rooth & Saarela (2007) have found that Finnish men, with close to “perfect” language skills were 23 percent more likely to find employment than those who had “imperfect” Swedish-speaking capabilities. The Swedish government realized the importance of country-specific skills in terms of language and skill recognition and has been active in promoting them through various programs since 2000. The 1997-2002 Adult Education Initiative, the 2006 pilot project and 2010 Introduction Plan were all introduced to further stimulate integration by different means; these programs specifically focused on both improving the language skills of migrants and recognizing their qualifications.

Not every European country faces the same immigration difficulties as Sweden. Most do not accept as many immigrants as Sweden does. Others, such as the United Kingdom and France, are better able to integrate and educate migrants because their native languages are more universally practiced. Realistically, Sweden is an outlier in terms of its integration situation, having perhaps taken on too many refugees. Nevertheless, Sweden has recognized its respective challenges, has been active in addressing them, and continues to be main a contributor to the European refugee crisis. The European continent would be better positioned if other European nations were to take on a similar approach.


Aleks Dzintars is an M.A. candidate at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Ottawa. He has written on several topics including diplomacy, security, and immigration. His primary research interest and working thesis focus on the challenges of the Swedish immigrant labour market, the Swedish government’s policies in response to amend them since 2000, and the ultimate efficacy of their programmes.

Featured Photo From Wikimedia.

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