Sweden: Why labour market integration of refugees is harder compared to that of labour migrants

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Why integration is hard

Labour market integration of refugees in general, and resettled refugees in particular, has been characterised as having a slower pace, compared to that of family reunion migrants and labour migrants. Of course, refugees – unlike labour migrants – are not selected primarily for their skills. It will naturally take longer for them to match the demand in the host country.

There are also other reasons why it’s harder for refugees to access the job market. For example, the skills and credentials of refugees quickly depreciate due to difficulties in getting their qualifications accredited in Sweden. Refugees are also treated less favourably than labour migrants or family reunion migrants by their host countries, and may have health issues due to the persecution they have suffered.

Studies on the integration of refugees in Sweden and other immigrant-receiving countries, such as Canada, the US, the Netherlands, the UK and Australia, also reveal substantial differences among immigrants based on their country of birth. In Sweden, for example, immigrants from former Yugoslavian countries show higher employment rates than those coming from Turkey, Iran or Iraq.

Successful integration rates also differ between subcategories of refugees: asylum refugees versus resettled refugees. The main difference between asylum refugees and resettled refugees is that the former apply for asylum at the border of the destination country whereas the latter are resettled from UNHCR refugee camps or elsewhere.

In 2007, the employment rates of male and female resettled refugees who had lived in Sweden for ten years were 67% and 74%, respectively, whereas the corresponding numbers for asylum refugees were 79% and 78%. These figures do not show the employment of reunited family members of refugees, as they are included under the family migration category.

The employment gap between the two refugee categories has been explained by differences in settlement policy. Resettled refugees are, upon arrival, located in municipalities where housing is available but where employment opportunities are often lacking.

Asylum refugees, on the other hand, are given a choice of where to live, and often choose bigger cities where they have relatives and friends who can help them through networks, contacts and advice. So asylum refugees tend to do better when it comes to integration.

Better integration

There is no doubt that the heavy refugee inflow into Sweden has put extra pressure on the Swedish job market.

Specific policy initiatives to speed up the labour market integration of newly-arrived refugees could include placing them in municipalities with low unemployment rates, better evaluating their skills, and improving language courses by connecting the courses directly to the needs of the job market.

Integration policies should address the specific knowledge gaps of newly arrived refugees in relation to labour market demand in order to reduce the mismatch between their skills and those needed in the Swedish job market.

All this will be beneficial not only for refugees but also for Swedish society as a whole.

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