Foreign grads run threefold jobless risk

Having a university degree is no guarantee for immigrants hoping to succeed in the Swedish labour market, a new study shows.

Foreign grads run threefold jobless risk

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.”

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How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website

How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 

How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 

Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 

What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years.