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!

Raising Bilingual Children: An Interview with Professor Christof Demont-Heinrich

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to interview Christof Demont-Heinrich, Associate Professor of Media, Film & Media Studies at the University of Denver about his views on bilingualism, and also his experiences of raising bilingual children.

I first came across Christof on the brilliant sociolinguistics website Language on the Move where I was immediately fascinated by his articles on the costs of raising bilingual children in the United States. What is interesting about Christof is that while his father was German, Christof was raised to speak only English, and learnt German later at university. He now uses the one language one parent approach to teach his two daughters German and English, but as a non-native speaker of German, he has also employed at various times German au pairs, a nanny and then sent his daughters to an international school in the US.

Michelle: Some people from English speaking countries feel that due to English being the (unofficial) lingua franca of the world at present, that being bilingual is unimportant for native English speakers. Why was it important for you to raise your two daughters to be bilingual in the US?

Christof: I believe strongly in the ideal/ethic of meaningful multilingualism for all, including mother tongue speakers of English. I also believe that simply talking about how important multilingualism is — which a lot of well-educated mother tongue speakers of English do — but not actually living that multilingualism in a meaningful way is highly problematic. We need to live that which we preach/believe in, create the social structures and practices we believe in by living them, or they will not come to be. Plain and simple. I recognize this is highly idealistic, of course, and the fact of the matter is that, while a small but also growing percentage of the U.S. population with English as a MT are waking up to the fact that multilingualism has to be lived in order for the ideal to survive, for instance, by building language immersion schools, the vast majority of people for whom English is a MT in the U.S. either have little interest in multilingualism, or, if they do, do not bother to invest themselves significantly in building the social structures and participating actively in the social practices needed to develop multilingualism in a meaningful way.

In short, while I recognize — in a painful way, actually — that instrumental language learning means that very few mother tongue speakers are going to invest in becoming meaningful multilinguals themselves, I want to build a world in which this changes, even if very slowly. I view myself, and the bilingual living and education of my daughters as integral to actively building the multilingual social change I believe in. I’m not so naive as to believe that we, alone, will change much of anything. But if enough people “walk the walk”, then, hopefully, change will happen on an incremental basis. Of course, being somewhat of a natural born pessimist, I often think that what I’m doing is rather hopeless.

Why did you choose the combination English/German?

C: For heritage reasons. My father emigrated to the U.S. from German in the early 1960s. He did not pass his linguistic heritage on to me or my two siblings (my mom is an American who was, when we were kids, an English monolingual). We lived for 8 months in Stuttgart, Germany when I was 7. I went to school then, along with my younger brother, who was 6. I acquired something very close to a native accent as a result of this well-timed experience. However, I never really learned German until college (the late 1980s), when I chose to major in German and I spent a full year studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany.

Why did you choose the one language one parent approach? Would you recommend this approach to other parents who might not be a native speaker of the language?

Everything I have read — and I have read extensively on the topic of raising children bilingual — points toward this being the most effective approach, at least if the goal for the children to use the minority language regularly on an everyday basis and, ideally, acquire high-level spoken fluency in that language (I recognize this is not always the goal for all parents raising their children as multilinguals, that there is a continuum of goals/hopes for the children ranging from a “a few words/sentences” and simply a general appreciation of the minority language to receptive bilingualism only to full-scale, near “equilingualism” for the children. I believe my stubborn and consistent sticking to German — which, as you probably know, is not a first language for me — with my daughters, Alina (7) and Kyra (6) has been absolutely integral to them using German everyday. I’ve seen many situations in which parents, for a variety of understandable reasons, do not stick to one parent one language and, in those case, I see that the children often speak very little German at all. While I think one parent, one language, and sticking to that is absolutely crucial if the goal is high-end spoken fluency and regular use of the minority language and the family situation is one in which only one parent speaks the minority language (that is our situation), I think an even better situation is one in which both parents speak the minority/less powerful language in question, for instance, German in the U.S. In those instances, I would support a two-parent German at home model, frankly.

What have you found most challenging/rewarding?

In terms of challenges, fighting the system, frankly. The entire U.S. public education system is rigged against multilingualism and for monolingualism. Indeed, it’s specifically designed to ensure the erasure of the languages of immigrants who are educated in English only. Because there is only a tiny percentage of public charter schools in the U.S. that offer language immersion program — far less than 1% of schools in the U.S. offer language immersion — and because “our” language, German, is not a powerful language in the U.S. context, we have been forced to send our kids to a private language immersion school. I’ve estimated by the time my daughters are 13, we will have spent $250,000 out of pocket on their bilingual education. This because the American public education system simply does not support bilingualism. Nor does the larger American values system — if we truly valued meaningful, deep multlingualism for all, we would see that reflected in investment in multilingualism in our education system. The monolingual U.S. public education system is nested within a cultural and political environment that is largely indifferent, often very antithetical, to multilingualism, especially actually lived, everyday multilingualism where people actually use multiple languages on an everyday basis in multiple domains outside of the home.

Are there any books or journal articles you would recommend for other parents wanting to raise their children to be bilingual?

I’m going to have to check on this. While I’ve read quite a few, I haven’t kept track of them, for the most part. That’s because my area of research as a professor at the University of Denver focuses primarily on macro-level issues having to do with language, identity, power, culture, globalization, and, especially, the globalization of English as this affects the larger global linguistic configuration of power as well as the question of multilingualism vs. English-centric bilingualism (for those for whom English is a FL) vs. English monolingualism (for those with English as a MT).

Do you want your daughters to spend time living in Germany while they are young? (to become familiar with the German culture as well as the language?)

Yes. In fact, I hope to be spending a sabbatical year at the University of Hamburg with the entire family next year. I hope that everything works out and we are able to do this. Of course, I am aware of the rather large irony that in order to raise my kids as true/meaningful bilinguals I must escape the deep monolingualism of the U.S. education system and place my kids in the largely German monolingual educational environment in German.

Yes, they are clearly learning English in Germany, the students, that is, and they start at a much earlier age than children here do on learning FLs. But in the end, the general environment in Germany, I would say, is still one in which the ideology of monolingualism, in this case monolingualism + English, dominates, e.g. the “modern” nation state model. I ultimately view as the biggest impediment to meaningful and deep multilingualism for large numbers of people around the globe. That is, English isn’t really the problem, it’s the ideology of monolingualism that’s the problem. In global power domains this translates into English only — at academic conferences, etc. However, it could just as easily be another language, had historical circumstances developed differently. And, frankly, I often wish they had (though, clearly, I would not have wanted to see Nazi German triumph — that’s a whole other issue, Germany’s Nazi past, that complicates the whole attempt to raise one’s kids as German-English bilinguals: The vast majority of German educated elites see English as an escape from that past — and I, and my daughters, are literally swimming against all the Germans rushing to English in our attempt to be German-English bilinguals). In any case, if another language had become the global language, then we Americans would be multilingual — because we’d have to be.

Thank you very much Christof!

You can read more about Christof’s views here at Language on the Move.

Immigration Policy in Sweden: Part One

For those of you who are interested to learn more about Swedish immigration and integration policy, I’ve written a two part summary from WWII onwards – here is part one.


From 1850 to 1930 Sweden was largely a nation of emigration, with over 1.3 million Swedish citizens emigrating to the United States of America, Australia and Canada (Migrations Verket 2009). This trend was to change with the outbreak of World War II and Sweden’s ability to remain, at least officially, neutral. This neutrality shifted Sweden from being a nation of emigration to one of immigration as a result of accepting refugees from neighbouring countries during 1938 to 1948, including 30,000 Nazi concentration camp survivors (Westin 2006).

Immigration to Sweden continued to grow substantially from 1948 to 1971 as a result of labour immigration. This too was as a result of Sweden’s neutrality during the World War II. While most of Europe’s devastated industries were recovering, Sweden’s infrastructure remained intact and the nations’ export industry was experiencing growth (Westin 1996). At this time, Sweden had a free immigration policy regarding labour immigration and during this period 550,000 Finns, 60,000 Yugoslavs and 20,000 Greeks moved to Sweden for labour employment purposes (Westin 2006).

In 1951 an agreement was reached allowing Nordic citizens the right to live and work within any of the other Nordic nations, ensuring a supply of labour from Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Sweden did not have an official integration policy during the 1950s and early 1960s, with labour immigrants expected to integrate themselves into Swedish society. As there was a plethora of available jobs and opportunities, this did not constitute a problem at the time (Westin 2006).


While no formal policy was implemented during this period, that is not to say Sweden ignored immigration policy altogether. Rather, Sweden made the decision at the end of the 1960s that immigrants should be considered permanent residents and that immigration policy was to ensure that these immigrants be on equal terms to native Swedes (Hammar 1985). This consideration of immigrants as potential citizens was in stark contrast to the German Federal Republic and a number of other European countries at the time who implemented guest worker policies.

During this time the government also worked closely with the powerful Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) in order to ensure that foreign labourers were paid the same as Swedes in order to prevent cheap labour importation from other parts of Europe. In 1968 the Swedish Trade Union Confederation was able to influence the Swedish Social Democratic Party to implement more restrictive immigration policies that required non-Nordic citizens to obtain work permits before they arrived in Sweden (Malm 2005). This effectively reduced the amount of non-Nordic foreign labour entering Sweden (Migrationsverket) from this point onwards.

In 1968 the government established the Swedish Immigration Board which was created to regulate migration and was responsible for the integration of immigrants and refugees (Geddes 2003).

In 1975, an immigration policy was implemented which focused on multiculturalism as an important element in Swedish society and was based on the principles of equality, freedom of choice and partnership. ‘Equality’ represented the intent to give immigrants the same standards of living as the rest of Swedish society and ‘freedom of choice’ represented initiatives by the government to ensure that immigrants of ethnic and linguistic minority groups would be given a genuine choice between retaining their cultural identity or taking on a Swedish cultural identity. Lastly ‘partnership’ represented the mutual benefits of immigrant and minority groups working together with the native population (Ålund & Schierup 1991).

This policy also allowed foreign citizens the right to vote in local elections, but not national elections (Ålund & Schierup 1991). Rather Sweden introduced dual citizenship in order to allow previously non-Swedish citizens the ability to vote in national parliamentary elections (Westin 1996). Equality, freedom of choice and partnership allowed immigrants the ability to access the welfare state benefits while at the same time maintaining their cultural identities (Ålund & Schierup 1991 p.3). This multicultural policy also intended to prevent the occurrence of ethnic conflicts and the formation of segregated immigrant communities within Sweden. This policy was considered proof that Sweden was becoming a multicultural society (Westin 1996).

The 1975 immigration policy was primarily aimed at the integration needs of southern European labour migrants. However by the time this policy had been passed, the majority of immigrants to Sweden were not labour migrants. This was as a result of the 1973 oil crisis which reduced the need for the recruitment of foreign labour to Sweden as unemployment levels rose and immigrants were not able to find jobs as easily as native Swedes (Geddes 2003). Rather, refugees from developing countries became an increasingly large group within Sweden from the 1970s onwards, and consequently family reunification increased measurably as well. This resulted in organisational problems in Sweden due to lack of qualified translators and language teachers (Geddes 2003).

During the 1980s asylum seekers arrived in Sweden from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Somalia, Kosovo and a number of Eastern European nations with numbers reaching upwards of 20,000 to 30,000 a year (Lemaître 2007). After 1985 Swedish immigration policy began to shift away from a multicultural focus to one that was based around Swedish language learning and culture.

For those of you would would like to read about this is more details, I’ve included my references:

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

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

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.

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.

Image source

Itchy Feet

For those of us who have moved multiple times, sometimes saying in one place can be the hardest thing of all.

This is especially true for me when times get tough. When I have bad days, when I’m lonely, or frustrated, one thing that always pops into my head is ‘life could be easier if you just moved to (insert city/country that is my flavour of the month)’. It’s not that I actually want to run away from my problems, and in fact I’ve never actually followed though with these thoughts, but they are always there, in the back of my mind – you could just move, leave it all behind, start again – it would be better next time, somewhere else.

I also like to research other countries and cities that I’d like to live in. At the moment for example, I like to read about the thoughts and experiences of people that live in Berlin. I’m sure if I moved there from Stockholm, I’d be looking up what life might be like in another city, and probably missing aspects of life in Sweden. (In an attempt to remedy this desire, I’m going to Berlin to explore/work for a week rather than permanently – to my husband’s great relief, I’m sure).

The same thing goes for language. I used to love the Swedish language when I lived in Australia. I’d watch movies, read books, and look forward to my Swedish lectures at university. Lately – the last 3 or 4 months, I’ve grown tired of learning Swedish. Maybe I’ve hit that point where it’s harder to see progress, where I can do almost everything I need to do in Swedish, and so I stop feeling as motivated – which then leads to me thinking of all the other languages I would like to learn instead. 

It can really be a challenge – this experience of life across so many cultures – you grow to love so many different places, to make friendships with people who scatter across the globe, you become comfortable with the process of being new (an outsider), and almost addicted to it. It becomes hard to settle, to grow roots – or rather, to take pleasure from these roots – they can seem at times stifling, and yet at the same time something you deeply crave.

I sometimes wonder (out of sheer curiosity, and only very very rarely, a hint of envy) how it must feel to have always lived in one place, to be part of a community you have grown up with, to know where you belong and where you want to remain. I have no idea where I will be in five years time, on which continent I will be living, which language I’ll be learning. But the thought of not knowing makes me feel comfortable rather than fearful.

I just hope I can learn to take pleasure from where I am now, this very moment, rather than imagining everywhere else, anywhere but here.