Only 50 percent of immigrants with college degrees were employed in 2007, compared to 85 percent for Swedish-born graduates, according to a study carried out by the white collar labour union Jusek, whose members include graduates in law, business, economics, computer science, human resources, and the social sciences.
Jusek also found that immigrants had a six-times greater risk of being out of work than Swedes. In 2001, by contrast, the difference was only twice as great.
“It’s easier for employers to hire someone who is more like them,” Jusek chair Göran Arrius told The Local.
Despite a 31 percent increase in the number of immigrants with college degrees in Sweden between 2001 and 2007, there was a 6 percent drop in the number of foreign-born graduates with jobs, compared to a 5 percent increase for college graduates born in Sweden.
“We now live in a society that takes a harder view toward immigrants,” Jusek chair Göran Arrius told The Local, although he refused to speculate as to why.
“Employers seem to be more discriminatory than they were before.”
Swedish employers’ preference for home-grown college graduates isn’t only restricted to hiring decisions, but also shows up when it comes to salary, the study also revealed.
While nearly a quarter of Swedish social science graduates earn 500,000 kronor ($70,000) or more, only about one in ten non-Swedish social science graduates earn as much.
In addition, nearly 60 percent of foreign-born social science graduates find themselves stuck in the study’s lowest income bracket earning 240,000 kronor per year or less, compared with only 30 percent of Swedish-born graduates.
Arrius pointed out, however, that discriminatory attitudes on the part of employers are just one of several factors which make it harder for non-Swedish graduates to gain a foothold in the Swedish job market.
“I think language is the main cause. If you’re a lawyer, language is critical to your work. But current SFI courses aren’t appropriate. There needs to be something at a higher level,” Arrius explained, referring to the Swedish for Immigrants language courses offered to immigrants to help them integrate into Swedish society.
He added that Jusek is calling for the creation of specialized Swedish language courses for immigrants that are geared toward educated professionals.
Degree-holding immigrants also face the challenge of getting Swedish employers to recognize and approve credentials earned in other countries.
The study highlighted the case of Ahmad Ghasimi, an Iranian economist who arrived in Sweden in 1994 with 20 years of experience and ended up working as a part-time language instructor in part because he was repeatedly told to give up any thought of working within his speciality.
“The employment advisor said time and again that I should forget any type of work within economics,” Ghasimi said in the report.
He eventually earned a Swedish university degree in political science before his Iranian economics degree was validated ten years later, finally allowing him to land a job in the finance department of a municipality.
There are many cases similar to Ghasimi’s, according to Jusek’s Arrius, who argued that more needs to be done to allow degree-holders from other countries to augment their education to suit the Swedish system without having to repeat it entirely.
“We also need special equivalency courses that allow lawyers and economists and the like to gain recognized credentials without having to repeat the whole of their higher education in Sweden,” he explained.
Arrius suspected that age may also be a factor contributing to the lower employment rate for foreign-born college graduates, 41 percent of which are under 25-years-old, whereas very few Swedes complete their studies before turning 25.
But the comparative speed with which immigrants complete their education doesn’t seem to help their chances of landing a job in Sweden.
“Being young and an immigrant doesn’t work in your favour if you’re a college graduate,” said Arrius.
The lack of a network and contacts with potential employers is also a big stumbling block for many foreign job seekers with college degrees.
“Networking and creating networks is critical,” said Arrius.
“One of the most important things to finding a job is having a good network.”
He added that Swedish workers have “nothing to fear” when it comes to foreign workers, pointing out that the Swedish labour market will becoming increasingly dependent on foreign labour in the years to come.
“They shouldn’t be afraid of foreign degree holders because the generation born in the 1940s is retiring and there is a great need for well-educated workers to take jobs in companies and the public sector,” he said.