Swedish labour migration reform working well but needs more monitoring, says OECD


19/12/2011. 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 a new OECD report.


Recruiting Immigrant Workers: Sweden  says that in the first five months of 2011, as the economy recovered and employers grew more familiar with the new system, more than 6 800 permits were issued. Latest data suggest that the number of permits will rise slightly in 2011 from the 11,100 issued in 2010.



While labour migration to Sweden accounts for only a small part of the total, it provides a significant contribution to employment in a few occupations. Taking into account the duration of stay of labour migrants, inflows relative to total employment are significant in these occupations: 2.3% in food processing, 1.7% in housekeeping, and 1.6 % in computing.


It is now much easier for high-skilled migrants to come to Sweden to work and to stay. So far, especially in IT, most are short-term workers on intra-corporate transfers, but a growing number are remaining.

The reform also led to increased recruitment in lesser-skilled jobs, especially in restaurants, hospitality and cleaning. These labour migrants tend to come to stay, with longer permit durations and higher renewal rates.


The Swedish government implemented this reform to better meet the needs of employers while ensuring safeguards for the local labour market. This has largely happened, reflecting both the contents of the reform and the co-operation of social partners in compliance mechanisms. The OECD has identified a number of adjustments to the system to better ensure that the skill needs of all employers are met in the future:

  • Monitor the occupations for which labour migrants are recruited, especially those which do not appear to be in shortage, such as in small restaurants.
  • Verify effective payment of the salary at the time of permit renewal.
  • Require communications of changes in contractual conditions during the first two years to the Swedish Migration Board.
  • Change application processing to bring fees more into line with international standards and accelerate processing. Employer fees could be increased on longer-term and higher-wage or non-shortage occupation applications, as well as paper filing, and the proceeds reinvested in processing capacity and data collection for monitoring purposes.
  • Ensure that multinationals are not favoured in their access to international recruitment relative to small businesses.
  • Grant a job-search permit to graduating students. Foreign students should be allowed sufficient time to find an appropriate job after graduation.

Recruiting Immigrant Workers: Sweden is part of a series of OECD country reports about labour migration policy. Sweden was the first country to undertake this review process, and will be followed by Germany.


For further information, journalists are invited to contact Georges Lemaître (Georges.Lemaitre@oecd.org; +33 1 45 24 91 63) or Jonathan Chaloff (Jonathan.Chaloff@oecd.org; +33 1 45 24 18 49) in the OECD’s International Migration Division.


Journalists are invited to download the report from the password protected site or they can contact the OECD’s Media Division news.contact@oecd.org.


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