Immigration Policy in Sweden: Part Two

This is a continuation of my previous article on the history of Swedish immigration and integration policy. 

Until 13 December 1989, Sweden had a more liberal policy approach to asylum applications than the rest of Europe and extended grounds for asylum to ‘de-facto refugees’ (Ålund & Schierup 1991 p.22). These were refugees that did not suffer a personal threat, but whose home country was dangerous and thus felt it was not safe for them to remain in those conditions. This liberal policy also extended to army deserters and pacifists (Nordin 2005).

After that date, Sweden began to accept refugees strictly under the principles of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, otherwise known as the Geneva Convention. This move was in response to critics who felt the more liberal policy allowed those who were ‘not real refugees’ (Nordin 2005 p.42) to enter Sweden, and also in order to reduce the ever increasing number of asylum applications the nation received, and the economic and social pressures this resulted in.

Despite restrictions in asylum policy, in the 1990s over 100,000 Yugoslavs sought refuge in Sweden after the collapse of their nation (Migrations Verket 2009) and in 1994 alone, 83,598 refugees from around the word claimed asylum (The European Migration Network 2005). 1996 marked a period whereby the government sought to tighten long-term immigration by introducing measures in which refugees would be issued temporary residency permits, rather than permanent ones, with the intention of returning refugees to their home countries once it was safe to do so (Westin 1996).

In 1997 Swedish integration policy shifted to one that encouraged self-support and self-sufficiency by the immigrant and refugee population of Sweden and also resulted in the creation of a National Integration Office. This office was responsible for aiding integration in Sweden through the creation of programs to assist in the process as well as monitoring integration progress (Geddes 2003). This policy also sought to reduce xenophobia and discrimination in Sweden and create mutual respect for cultural differences, in part through municipality consultation with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that could assist in promoting integration and anti-discrimination measures. However, the municipalities displayed very limited interest in maintaining these NGOs, and even with government funding, they did not receive enough money to take any cases of discrimination to the courts.There are a number of larger independent NGOs in existence that assisted with the 1997 Integration Policy (Diakité 2006), but it is evident that by this time municipalities in Sweden were attempting to not comply with government policies and this integration policy was not as successful as it could have been.

A series of laws were passed in 1999 to ban direct or indirect discrimination of immigrants and refugees (Geddes 2003), however ‘… actual developments since the beginning of the 1990s suggests that Sweden is moving closer to the exclusiveness, selectivity and increasing brutality of fortress Europe’ (Ålund & Schierup 1991 p.8). This tightening of immigration and asylum policy coincided with Sweden’s entry into the European Union (EU) in 1995.

However, with the enlargement of the EU in 2004 to include ten new countries, Sweden was one of only three EU member states to allow the citizens of the new member states the right to work without first requesting a permit (Westin 2006). In 1996 Sweden signed the Schengen agreement, allowing the free movement of people between the other states who are party to the agreement.

Sweden continues to accept refugees from all over the world, and in per capita terms, is amongst the highest asylum-receiving nations in Europe. For the past 15 years, refugee migration and family reunification has amounted to between 60 and 80 percent of total migration to Sweden (Lemaître 2007) – although this number had fallen to 31 % by 2011. An important development in family reunification for parents and children occured on the 18th of January 2012 – The Migration Court of Appeal ruled that if family connection could not be proved due to lack of official documentation that DNA testing could be used instead.

In 2011, 29,670 Asylum Seekers came to Sweden – a decrease of 7% from 2010. Of this number, 2,657 were unaccompanied children, mostly from Somalia and Afghanistan (The European Migration Network 2011) – this is a substantial increase from 2005 where the number was 398 (Riksdagen). Currently, Municipalities can accept unaccompanied children on a voluntary basis and as such, there has been a shortage in placements for this group of asylum seekers. There has been debate in Sweden regarding whether or not Municipalities should be legally required to offer places for unaccompanied children (The European Migration Network 2011), and this remains unresolved to date.

In 2012, Sweden’s municipalities are responsible for assisting refugees with integration and receive a government grant per refugee – they offer Swedish for Immigrants classes (SFI), and contacts with job seeking services, schools and child care facilities – all of which are intended to allow refugees to enter the work force as quickly as possible. On December the 1st 2010 reforms were implemented to increase the speed of integration – this has been met with some challenges such as lack of housing in areas where work is available. Other attempts have been made to increase participation in the work force such as Step-in-jobs, which basically means that the government will pay a grant to cover up to 80% of the position in an attempt to encourage Swedish companies to hire more people of foreign background (participants are required to attend SFI at the same time). There also appears to be attempts to encourage a greater level of immigrant entrepreneurship.

In 2007, the Swedish Integration Board was discontinued by the Alliance for Sweden coalition as the government felt it had not achieved its targets. The tasks undertaken by this board were transferred to other government agencies, including the new Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality. On the 1st of January 2011 the Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality was closed and integration issues were taken up by the Ministry of Employment. The current Minister of integration is Erik Ullenhag, who appears to have an open policy towards immigration and speaks of encouraging more openness within Europe.

Sweden is currently working together with other EU member states to create a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) (theoretically) by 2012, according to the 2009 Stockholm Programme (which is itself a result of the 2004 Hague Programme). It remains to be seen whether or not the 2012 deadline will be met given it is already nearing the end of December – that said, the Cypriot Presidency of the EU seems to have made some positive steps forward as recently as the 25th of October.

On the 15th of December 2008 legislation was passed to make it easier for Swedish companies to hire workers from outside of the EU/EEA. From the 15th of April 2010, Sweden implemented a rule in which proof must be given that adequate support exists before a family member can be brought over – in other words the person already resident in Sweden must be able to financially support as well as providing housing for the family member before a residency permit can be granted – this rule does not apply to refugees. There has also been some restriction regarding those coming to Sweden to pick berries with companies needing to provide transportation, accommodation, food and guarantee salary even when berry harvests are low (The European Migration Network 2011) – this is in response to exploitation of these workers in the past, although how effective this has been is debatable as there have been plenty of reports in 2012 showing that this is still continuing.

On a related note, the introduction of tuition fees for University in autumn 2011 for students from outside of the EU/EEA/Switzerland saw a reduction of 79% in the number of foreign students enrolling at Swedish tertiary institutions (Högskoleverket). Since this initial drop in applications from students outside of the EU, applications from this group have risen by around 20% in 2012, but it will be interesting to see what percentage of this number actually transfers to enrolment.

Want to read more? Here are my references:

Diakité, A M 2006, ‘The Policy and Strategies Used in the Integration of Immigrants in Sweden’, The English International Association of Lund, Briefing Paper No. 2006:20

Geddes, A 2003, The Politics of Migration and Immigration in Europe, Sage Publications, London.

The European Migration Network, ‘Annual Policy Report 2007 – Sweden’ & ‘Annual Policy Report 2011 – Sweden’ – these are brilliant resources for those who want to know more about this topic.

Lemaître, G 2007, ‘The Integrations of Immigrants into the Labour Market: The Case of Sweden’, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 48.

Mahama, T 2006, ‘Multiculturalism and Policymaking. A Comparative Study of Danish and Swedish Cultural Policies since 1969’, Masters Thesis, Dalarna University College, Sweden.

Malm, T 2005, ‘The Impact of Immigration on Europe’s Societies: Sweden’, The European Migration Network.

Migrations Verket, ‘History of The Swedish Migration,’ The Swedish Migration Board.

Riksdagen – The Swedish Government website.

Westin, C, 2006, ‘Sweden: Restrictive Immigration Policy and Multiculturalism’, Centre for Research in International Migration and Ethnic Relations, Stockholm University.

Ålund, A & Schierup C 1991, Paradoxes of Multiculturalism – Essays on Swedish Society, Avebury, Aldershot.

Other sources are linked to in the above article.

New adventure: Berlin

Sorry for my disappearance lately – I’ve been travelling quite a bit, meeting long lost family in the Netherlands (and enjoying lovely Dutch food – it is lovely, I tell you!), a week in Berlin and many Christmas markets.

In very exciting news, I’ll be leaving Stockholm in a few weeks to work in Berlin until the end of March. I’m really excited to be going as I love Berlin (a perfect combination of cosy cafes, and history). Geoff will be staying in Stockholm, so I’ll be back and fourth between the two cities.

I’ll post up part two of Swedish migration policy this weekend!