According to figures from Statistics Sweden (SCB), seven out of ten foreign-born people with university degrees living in Sweden are active on the labour market compared to nine out of ten for people born in Sweden. In the foreign-born group, around half of those not working were engaged in further education.
The study also found that employment prospects for immigrants vary depending on where they attend university.
While 78 percent of foreign-born workers with degrees earned in Sweden were working at the time the study was carried out in April of this year, only 69 percent of immigrants with degrees from foreign universities were gainfully employed.
In addition, only two thirds of employed foreign-born people with degrees from abroad had a job that wholly or in part suited their education, a substantially lower figure than the 9 out of 10 reported for both foreign-born and Swedish-born people with Swedish university degrees.
According to Olof Åslund, an associate economics professor with the Institute for Labour Market Policy Evaluation (IFAU) at Uppsala University, the results aren’t necessarily a sign of overt discrimination in the Swedish job market.
“It’s not that employers think Swedish universities are better, but rather that they are less certain about how to judge credentials from overseas,” he told The Local.
“This can lead to them unintentionally favouring candidates with degrees from universities in Sweden.”
Åslund added that time out of the workforce associated with the transition to Sweden may also result in an immigrant’s university degree being undervalued.
“Even if you have a great education, if you haven’t worked for a number of years in your area of expertise, employers may see your education as having lost some of its value,” he said.
The study also found that 46 percent of foreign-born workers with university degrees found it hard to find work which matched their education, compared with only 16 percent Swedish born degree holders.
According to the study, immigrants cited a dearth of professional contacts as the most common problem they faced in finding a job in Sweden, with 73 percent listing the lack of a network as the biggest obstacle to finding work.
Respondents also regarded having a non-Swedish name and a foreign background as complicating factors in their job search, something which Åslund said has been shown to result in qualified candidates being passed over in favour of native Swedes.
“We know there is discrimination in the labour market,” he said.
The study’s respondents also listed difficulties with the language as another reason they felt they had been unable to find work.
Nevertheless, nearly 80 percent of unemployed immigrants with advanced degrees reported having the ability to speak Swedish very well or well enough, according to the SCB study.
Nearly 7 out of 10 also said they could argue, persuade, and give oral presentations in Swedish, and around two-thirds felt they could write written reports in Swedish very well or well enough.
Åslund emphasized, however, that it’s hard to say how the report might provide guidance to policymakers working to help foreign-born workers enter the Swedish labour market
“There’s no simple explanation” for why so many highly educated non-Swedes are out of work, he said.
“But it’s a big problem and a waste of resources,” he added.
“It’s not that politicians aren’t aware of the issue, it’s just that it’s a complex problem to solve.”