Refugee jobs reform ‘not working’: report

The government’s much touted integration policy reform has failed to ensure that refugees arriving in Sweden start the process of finding work before receiving welfare benefits from local authorities, a new study has shown.

Billed as the “most radical change to Swedish integration policy in 25 years” when it was announced in December 2010, the government’s reform package gave Sweden’s Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) the main responsibility for coordinating the establishment of new arrivals in Sweden, rather than municipality social service offices.

Instead, remuneration would be dependent on participation in various establishment programmes, which would include a course in society orientation.

Refugees would also receive an establishment guide form the employment agency that would help them draw up a plan for securing employment.

The reform “breaks the handholding mentality and is clearly focused on ensuring that the newly arrived find jobs and learn Swedish quickly” integration minister Erik Ullenhag said at the time.

But a recent study by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR), has found that betweeen 80 and 90 percent of the refugees arriving in several municipalities nevertheless received economic support from social service offices in the first six months of 2011.

The organisation also found the new system remained overly complicated, resulting in confusion on the part of refugees and civil servants alike.

In carrying out the study, SALAR contacted 17 municipalities which account for roughly a quarter of the refugees that arrived in Sweden between December 2010 and May 2011.

The study also found that in ten of the seventeen municipalities, funds provided by the government were insufficient to cover the social benefits paid to new arrivals.

“The association finds it worrying that state handouts don’t cover the costs and are in a relatively large percentage of the municipalities [followed in the study],” SALAR wrote in its report.

“In the future, it risks affecting municipalities’ offerings and quality when it comes to accepting refugees.”

The results also raise concerns that interaction with social services has remained a major focus of newly arrived refugees’ initial time in Sweden, something that the government’s “sweeping” integration reform was supposed to counteract.

According to SALAR, the current system is “hard to understand and unpredictable” which “makes it harder for new arrivals’ ability to plan their finances”.

Among the stumbling blocks identified by SALAR are delays from the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) in issuing personal identity numbers (personnummer), which is a prerequisite for dealings with other public agenices.

In addition, employment agency officials are often slow to draw up establishment plans for new arrivals.

Speaking with the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper after the release of the report, Ullenhag said his ministry was aware of problems and that the reform needed to be adjusted.

“We’re putting a lot of effort into pushing state agencies so that jobs remain the focus,” he told the newspaper.

“You have to remember that with the old system, it could take a year before a new arrival come near the employment agency.”

Ullenhag reiterated that the reforms are only six months old and that his ministry was “following it closely and have been humbled by the difficulties” it has presented.

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‘The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,’ Migration minister says

Sweden's Migration Minister has responded to criticism of the government's proposal to abolish permanent residency, telling an interviewer that the hope is that holders will gain full citizenship rather than get downgraded to temporary status.

'The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,' Migration minister says

“The main idea behind the [Tidö] agreement is that we should convert permanent residency to citizenship,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, from the right-wing Moderate Party, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.”You should not be here forever on a permanent residence permit. A clear path to citizenship is needed.”

I envision that you will receive individual plans for how to achieve this,” she continued. “Learn the language, earn a living, and have knowledge of Swedish society, so that you can fully become a Swedish citizen.” 

Malmer Stenergard said it was still unclear whether a planned government inquiry into the possibility of “converting…existing permanent residence permits” would also open the way for those who have been given a permanent right to live in the country to be downgraded to a temporary residency permit. 

“We’ll have to look at that,” she said. “There is a problem with positive administrative decisions and changing them, which the Migration Agency’s director general Mikael Ribbenvik has been aware of. We also state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law shall continue to apply.” 

READ ALSO: What do we know about Sweden’s plans to withdraw permanent residency?

In the Tidö Agreement, the deal between the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties, it says that “asylum-related residence permits should be temporary and the institution of permanent residence permits should be phased out to be replaced by a new system based on the immigrant’s protection status”.

It further states that “an inquiry will look into the circumstances under which existing permanent residence permits can be converted, for example through giving affected permit holders realistic possibilities to gain citizenship before a specified deadline. These changes should occur within the framework of basic legal principles.”

Malmer Stenergard stressed that the government would only retroactively reverse an administrative decision (over residency) if a way can be found to make such a move compatible with such principles. 

“This is why we state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law must apply,” she said. 

She said the government had not yet come to a conclusion on what should happen to those with permanent residency who either cannot or are unwilling to become Swedish citizens. 

“We’re not there yet, but of course we’re not going to be satisfied with people just having an existing permanent residency, which in many cases has been granted without any particularly clear demands, if they don’t then take the further steps required for citizenship.” 

This did not mean, however, that those with permanent residency permits should be worried, she stressed. 

“If your ambition is to take yourself into Swedish society, learn the language, become self-supporting, and live according to our norms and values, I think that there’s a very good chance that you will be awarded citizenship.” 

She said that even if people couldn’t meet the requirements for citizenship, everyone with permanent residency should at least have “an individual plan for how they are going to become citizens”, if they want to stay in Sweden. 

When it comes to other asylum seekers, however, she said that the government’s aim was for residencies to be recalled more often. 

“We want to find a way to let the Migration Agency regularly reassess whether the grounds for residency remain. The aim is that more residencies should be recalled, for example, if a person who is invoking a need of asylum or other protection then goes back to their home country for a holiday.”