The introduction of immigrants is failing

Failures in the support offered to immigrants to Sweden are forcing many into unemployment. The SFI Swedish lessons are a key problem, argue four of Sweden's most senior local politicians.

The introduction of immigrants and asylum seekers in Sweden is failing and forcing far too many people to remain outside the labour market. This makes it hard for those that come here to get a foothold in Swedish society.

One of the key problems is SFI (Swedish for immigrants), which often becomes a dead end instead of a good introduction to Sweden.

In a report that we recently presented we introduce twenty proposals on how to reform the introduction system including the scrapping of SFI and making the introduction more individually based. The need for reform is especially urgent as Sweden is facing increasing demands on immigration due mainly to the conflict in Iraq.

In the early 1990’s, the then government set the aim of making sure all newly arrived immigrants should be self-supporting within three years. The ambition was admirable and perhaps possible at the time. But society and the demands on the municipalities have changed. Few immigrants are today able to fully finance their own upkeep inside this time limit.

The introduction of immigrants should therefore be more suited to the individual in order to ensure that every person can support themselves as soon as possible. All elements of the introductory process must increase the possibility of an early entry onto the labour market. This includes an asylum process that provides good language training as well as giving people the opportunity for further training and possible work placements.

But with today’s grossly underfinanced and rigid system this is not possible. Today the municipalities receive 178,000 kronor from the state in order to help introduce a newly arrived immigrant to Sweden. This covers only a very small part of the actual costs and is therefore mainly spent on basic upkeep and social benefits instead of proper training. Around 80 per cent is spent on social benefits. For relatives of immigrants who arrive in Sweden two years or more after an immigrant has been granted asylum or permanent residence the municipalities receive nothing.

Considering that this group makes up 50 per cent of immigrants today we are left with an astonishing hole in budget. The state needs to rectify this immediately.

The financing is, however, not the only problem. The introduction itself is too rigid, offering those with a senior professional background and those with little or no education the same introduction.

We believe that it would be much more efficient if the introduction was directed towards a person’s actual needs and skills. We should make sure that every person who arrives in Sweden is given the training most suited to them. Following a basic introduction to the Swedish language a doctor should, for example, be given the opportunity to study the professional terms needed to get a job in their profession, as should a baker or an engineer.

For this to happen we must scrap SFI. We must ensure that language training is not a school issue, but an integration issue. We must see to it that branch organizations and universities are brought into the introduction process early to give the most efficient and individually based training for all. We believe this will ensure much faster entry to the labour market.

In the end a system in which more and more people are self sufficient will be better for the economy and will, most importantly, offer people a more dignified welcome to Sweden. We call on the government to act and stand ready to participate in the reform process.

Ilmar Reepalu, Chairman of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities

Anders Knape, 2nd deputy chairman of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities

Lars Isaksson, Chairman, Federation of Swedish County Councils

Henrik Hammar, deputy chairman, Federation of Swedish County Councils

On 27 March the Swedish Association of Local Authorities merges with the Federation of Swedish County Councils to become the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions.

Read the full report (in Swedish only) here: