Sweden won’t follow UK on migration

Sweden’s migration minister Tobias Billström has said the country is unlikely to follow Britain and Ireland in restricting migration from Romania and Bulgaria when they join the European Union in January.

“We have not seen negative effects following the expansion in 2004,” Billström told The Local.

The British and Irish governments both announced measures on Tuesday, with the UK restricting migration of unskilled workers from the two countries to the agriculture and food processing sectors.

The move means that Sweden will be alone among the 15 pre-2004 EU members to allow Romanians and Bulgarians unfettered access to its labour market.

“Sweden has been looked on as a country that people from these countries don’t even want to migrate to due to high labour costs and other factors. This is perhaps the greater problem for us now.”

“The UK and Ireland are in a very different position. One large factor is that Sweden is not an English-speaking country. Swedish is a small language.”

Billström said that while prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has made clear that he was keeping the policy under review, there was little likelihood of a change of heart.

Up to April 2006 only around 10,000 people from the ten countries that joined in 2004 had applied for work permits in Sweden, of which most were from Sweden’s neighbours Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

Britain, on the other hand, has received an estimated 600,000 migrants from the new EU members, while Ireland has attracted 200,000.

One factor that influenced the British decision was that there had been downward pressure on wages in some sectors. But Billström said that this had not been a problem for Sweden.

“We haven’t seen anything like that in the past, and I don’t think we will in the future,” he said.

“Enlargement has had a positive, but very marginal, effect on the Swedish labour market.”

He also said that there had been no abuse of Sweden’s benefit system, so-called social tourism.

Eskil Wadensjö, professor of labour market policy at the Swedish Institute for Social Research said that if there were more jobs created in Sweden, more immigrants from the new EU countries would be likely to come. He also said that events elsewhere in the EU could affect progress in Sweden.

“When we had this discussion last time the EU expanded it was started by a discussion in other EU countries,” he said.