Working Together: Skills and Labour Market Integration of Immigrants and their Children in Sweden

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13 May 2016
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This review is the first in a new series on the skills and labour market integration of immigrants and their children. With 16% of its population born abroad, Sweden has one of the larger immigrant populations among the European OECD countries. Estimates suggest that about half of the foreign-born population originally came to Sweden as refugees or as the family of refugees and Sweden has been the OECD country that has had by far the largest inflows of asylum seekers relative to its population. In all OECD countries, humanitarian migrants and their families face greater challenges to integrate into the labour market than other groups. It is thus not surprising that immigrant versus native-born differences are larger than elsewhere, which also must be seen in the context of high skills and labour market participation among the native-born. For both genders, employment disparities are particularly pronounced among the low-educated, among whom immigrants are heavily overrepresented. These immigrants face particular challenges related to the paucity of low-skilled jobs in Sweden, and policy needs to acknowledge that their integration pathway tends to be a long one. Against this backdrop, Sweden has highly developed and longstanding integration policies that mainly aim at upskilling immigrants while temporarily lowering the cost of hiring, while other tools that work more strongly with the social partners and the civil society are less well developed and need strengthening.

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  • Foreword and acknowledgements

    This review of the skills and labour market integration of immigrants and their children in Sweden is the first in a new series conducted by the International Migration Division in the OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs (DELSA). It builds on previous country-specific reports by the OECD in the series Jobs for Immigrants (Vols. 1, 2 and 3).

  • Acronyms and abbreviations
  • Executive summary

    With 16% of its population born abroad, Sweden has one of the larger immigrant populations among the European OECD countries. About half of the foreign-born population originally came to Sweden as refugees or as the family of refugees. Furthermore, among all OECD countries for which comparable data are available, Sweden has had by far the largest share of humanitarian migrants in total migration inflows over the period 2005-14.

  • Assessment and recommendations

    With 16% of its population born abroad, Sweden has a large immigrant population. This is partly a result of Sweden’s longstanding humanitarian tradition, which throughout its recent history has brought Sweden to the forefront of the provision of international protection. Indeed, about half of the country’s foreign-born population originally arrived either as refugees or their families. And in spite of a reform in 2008 which introduced the most liberal labour immigration system in the OECD, individuals seeking international protection, and those who arrive to join family, remain much more important in relative terms than in most other OECD countries.

  • Migration in Sweden and the context of integration policy

    Sweden has a long history of providing a home for migrants and offering shelter to those seeking international protection. As a result the country has a large immigrant population and advanced integration policies. Sustained output growth, robust productivity, and a sound fiscal position have ensured that Sweden is in a strong position to accommodate new immigrants. And Sweden invests heavily in integrating immigrants knowing that, in the context of an ageing population, if well integrated in society and on the labour market, immigrants can help alleviate the ageing-related challenges the country expects in the coming years. This chapter provides the context for the report outlining i) the labour market context, and the strengths and challenges this presents, ii) the integration context, and the characteristics and composition of Sweden’s foreign-born population that influence their integration outcomes, and finally iii) the recent developments in integration policy within this context.

  • Settlement of migrants in Sweden and the introduction programme

    Early and efficient settlement can have long-term implications for the integration process, yet bottlenecks have developed in the settlement process in Sweden that risk jeopardising the progress towards integration in the critical months following arrival. This chapter examines the settlement process, the actors involved, and the root causes of delays. The chapter then turns to the impact of the challenges arising from settlement delays have upon integration activities, in particular the country’s flagship Introduction Programme. The system of financing integration is central to the relationship between settlement and the introduction programme and the incentives it engenders have implications on the degree of co-operation between the various actors involved in integration, but also on the incentives for municipalities to provide refugees with a home. This chapter investigates these incentives, and discusses the extent to which funding formulas may need to be re-examined.

  • The supply of migrant skills in Sweden

    Successful integration is heavily dependent on the skills of immigrants, and on the extent to which they can build the skills necessary to operate in Swedish society and on the Swedish labour force. This chapter examines the effectiveness of the routes migrants can take to acquire these skills. It begins by examining the success of the education system to integrate young migrants, to help them to navigate the system and to leave school with the qualifications required by the labour market. Next section then goes on to examine the extent to which adults arriving with very limited levels of education are able to build the functional and vocational skills that will enable them to find sustainable employment in Sweden. Finally the chapter turns to the development of language skills.

  • Strengthening the demand for migrant skills in Sweden

    Demand for low-skilled workers is weak in Sweden. And while all lowskilled workers face this paucity of low-skilled jobs, migrants face particular hurdles. Private sector employers may be uncertain of how to assess qualifications and experience obtained abroad, and prefer to avoid the risk; they may be reluctant to hire migrants due to concerns over their productivity; or they may simply choose not to hire immigrant workers on the basis of discrimination. This chapter investigates these constraints on the demand for migrant skills as well as the policy responses that attempt to tackle them including wage subsidies and anti-discrimination policies.

  • Helping migrants find work in Sweden

    Where previous chapters have examined both the supply of skills embodied in Sweden’s foreign-born population, and the demand of Swedish employers for these skills, this chapter focusses on finding work; on matching migrants with skills to employment opportunities that require those skills. The heavy reliance if job search in Sweden on networks can put migrants, who have more limited access to such networks, at a disadvantage and the Swedish PES, upon whom migrants rely more heavily than their native counterparts, has limited contact with employers. This chapter begins with an examination of the public support available for those seeking a job before proceeding to examine the hurdles facing, and support available for those seeking to have their qualifications accredited and their prior learning recognised in order to find the right job – that is a job that utilises their existing skills and experience.

  • Wage subsidy net cost calculations

    This annex gives an overview of the net cost calculations underlying the numbers quoted in Chapter 4.

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