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Foreign-born workers miss out on pensions

Published: 28 Oct 2013 12:34 GMT+01:00

Every February the Swedish Pensions Agency sends out millions of "Orange Envelopes". The envelopes contain information calculating how much the recipient will earn from the national public pension scheme (allmänna pensionen) after retirement.

But many foreign-born residents aren't taking out their pension, or aren't receiving as much support as they are entitled - most likely because they don't understand the contents of the envelope.

"At least some hundred of thousands aren't getting full benefits," pension agency expert Arne Paulsson told The Local. "We have a lot of immigrants here who are not so good at the Swedish language and don't read the information they get in the orange letters."

The agency is now launching a campaign in eight different languages, including English, with the message that everyone who lives or works in Sweden has a right to a pension.

"These people need to know that if you work, and of course pay your taxes, or just live here, then you are entitled to a pension," agency information manager Sofia Wagner told The Local.

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In order to receive a full-scale pension in Sweden, people must work a minimum of 40 years. For this reason foreign-born workers in Sweden risk scraping by on nominal sums after retirement. Foreign-born workers in Sweden receive on average 275,565 kronor ($43,600) in pension, compared with 918,710 kronor ($145,400) for those born in Sweden.

"It's just basic security, a garantipension (guarantee pension)," Paulsson explained. "You are supported in a way you can survive, but you are not able to afford many things."

But Wagner said there is additional support available for those who know where to find it.

"Quite a few people are afraid when they near retirement, wondering, 'How will my retirement be? I don’t have enough money'. And if you come here when you are 40, of course you will have a lower pension. But there are security systems in Sweden to see to that you do have enough money to live off, at least so that you can cope," Wagner told The Local.

"For instance, there are housing allowances to help you pay your rent. But there are certain rules for this and you need to apply to it."

Wagner said a 2012 review estimated that 140,000 people are eligible for a housing allowance, but haven't applied for one. She hopes the educational campaign will change that.

"We have multilingual staff who are giving out folders with contact information in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. We are also educating the staff at community centres, since these language groups often go there for society information. For Arabic and Somali speakers we are also giving out informational calendars with both Swedish and Muslim holidays."

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Even those who have worked or lived in Sweden but then moved abroad are eligible for Swedish pensions, but only if the agency can track them down – an obstacle which prevents thousands of retirees from getting benefits.

"Every year we send about 230,000 orange envelopes abroad to people who don’t live in Sweden but have earned towards Swedish pensions," agency spokesperson Mattias Bengtsson Byström told The Local.

"But there are 300,000 people who have moved abroad who we just can't find. People who moved away in the 1970s and have moved around since then and didn’t update their addresses at the Swedish tax agency (Skatteverket)."

Byström added that many of the these pensioners may already have passed away, but the agency lacks information about their deaths. Their pension money would normally go back into the system and contribute to other pensioners' plans, but since the agency cannot confirm their deaths the situation is more complicated.

The new campaign consists primarily of online and radio advertisements in Arabic, Farsi, Polish, English, Spanish, Turkish, Croatian, and Somali. The ads will be displayed on international news sites reached by computer IP addresses in Sweden, and prime-time radio announcements will be featured on popular Persian radio channels in Sweden.

"There are many immigrants who don't know that much about the Swedish pension system and it's really important that they feel secure," Wagner told The Local.

"We don't want anyone to feel vulnerable."

Solveig Rundquist

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