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'Unstable' firms bringing workers to Sweden

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16:16 CEST+02:00
Many of the companies approved to bring foreign workers to Sweden every year have little or no turnover or go bankrupt shortly after the labour migrants arrive, according to a new report.

In addition, dozens of the companies who seek permission from the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) to import foreign workers do so using very shaky grounds, an investigative report by the LO-Tidningen newspaper reveals.

The newspaper, which is affiliated with Sweden's largest union group, reviewed many of the companies behind the roughly 15,000 work permits issued to foreign labourers by migration authorities between December 2008 and December 2009.

Their investigation revealed that roughly 100 companies offer employment deemed to be "very uncertain" for foreign workers, excluding companies focused on berry harvesting and processing.

Many of the companies reviewed by the newspaper reported having little or no turnover, and several reported having no employees, according to documents submitted to the Swedish Companies Registration Office (Bolagsverket).

One Malmö-based company examined by LO-Tidningen was founded in 2008 and reportedly involved in the book printing business, as well as the sales of household goods.

While the company reported no turnover in its first six months, migration authorities granted a 2-year work permit to man from Turkey to come to Sweden to work for the company.

Shortly thereafter, however, the company was forcibly liquidated by the Swedish Companies Registration Office after failing to submit a mandatory annual report to the agency and the current whereabouts of the company's Turkish employee remain unknown.

The Migration Board claims that it lacks a mandate to perform thorough checks on the companies that submit applications to bring foreign workers to Sweden.

"The law doesn't give us the space to say no simply because the company is new," Alejandro Firpo, head of the Migration Board's division for labour migration, told the LO-Tidningen, adding that the agency isn't charged with keeping tabs on whether or not a company goes bankrupt.

"If a foreigner has an employment offer and fulfills other requirements – like having a valid passport, for example, not showing up in any crime registers and having a job offer in line with Swedish collective wage agreements – we're going to approve it."

In 2008, Sweden updated its labour migration laws, giving companies more leeway in determining whether or not they needed to recruit workers from abroad.

Previously, the Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) made such determinations, which were then used by migration authorities as grounds for issuing work permits.

According to the law, the terms of employment must be equal to or better than those set out in Swedish collective bargaining agreements or what passes for standard practice in a particular industry.

But unions and Swedish border authorities have long expressed concerns that unscrupulous companies abuse the new rules and exploit foreign workers by threatening to withdraw their work permits if they don't agree to work long hours under adverse conditions.

Speaking with the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper in November, Ingemo Melin Olsson of the Stockholm border police argued that labour migration is the next major area of trafficking.

Shortly thereafter, Sweden's migration minister Tobias Billström acknowledged that problems do exist, but nevertheless defended the new laws.

"Abusive employers have always existed and always will exist. It has nothing to do with the labour laws," he said at the time.

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