Sweden has a remarkable track record in sustaining a high level of well-being of its citizens. The country performs above the OECD average in all dimensions of the OECD’s Better Life Index, and these good outcomes are typically shared widely across the population. Sweden is one of the leading countries in receiving refugees and a strong supporter of ambitious global goals to fight climate change and implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. However, for this success story to continue, the country needs to reverse the declining educational performance of its youth, speed up labour market integration of newly arrived immigrants and address infrastructure deficiencies, particularly in the housing sector. Also, Sweden’s high ambitions with respect to environmental protection call for further policy action to advance the transition to a low carbon and circular economy.
Sweden should address housing shortages, begin integration activities early, and improve the support for those with low skills to speed up the effective integration of refugees, according to a new OECD report.
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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Much thought has gone into the design of migrant integration policy in recent years, but migrants’ labour market outcomes continue to lag behind those of other Swedes, notably because of low educational attainment and literacy proficiency.
In December 2013, the Swedish population reached 9 million of which 1.5 million (15.9%) were foreign-born and about 468 000 Swedish-born with two foreign-born parents.
Sweden’s 2008 reform of its labour migration policy, now one of the most open in the OECD, has helped businesses hire foreign workers quickly and cheaply, without hurting conditions for local workers, according to this report.