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IMMIGRATION

‘Immigrant areas have fewer social problems’

Some areas of Sweden with low levels of immigration have more pronounced social problems than towns with higher numbers of immigrants, according to the conclusions of a new report based on the UN Human Development Index.

'Immigrant areas have fewer social problems'

“The 20 best towns have more immigrants than average, that is to say 14.4 percent. There is no tendency whatsoever for towns with high numbers of immigrants to have worse results than others,” said Stefan Fölster, head of the Reform Institute which published the new report.

In a debate article in the Dagens Nyheter daily, Fölster pointed out that central Sweden has regions where unemployment, welfare-dependency and private credit problems are close to the levels of Greece and Spain.

Fölster noted that many of these areas also have lower levels of immigration.

“In actual fact the integration problems which are commonly associated with immigrant areas are at least as common in areas which have fewer immigrants,” Fölster.

Fölster exemplified Munkfors in central Sweden where youth unemployment tops 36 percent, and Töreboda in western Sweden where 21 percent are subject to Enforcement Agency (Kronofogden) orders for non-payment of debts.

The development index used in the report is based on the UN Human Development Index with 18 different categories adapted to Sweden.

The five main categories considered are: schools, employment, health, money and ‘hopelessness and alienation’.

Several areas of Sweden which have significant immigrant populations performed well in the index, including small regional towns such as Älmhult and Mullsjö in southern Sweden.

“The conclusion is by no means that the integration problems for some immigrant groups are negligible. It is instead we see that there are many Swedes in towns with few immigrants whose ‘integration problems’ are at least as serious as among some immigrant groups,” Fölster said.

Furthermore the survey indicated that mental health problems, caused for example by depression and bullying, are less common among 16-year-old’s living in areas with above average numbers of immigrants.

Fölster argued that the surprising results indicated that the debate about Sweden’s social problems needs to be broadened from its immigrant focus.

“A pseudo-debate about the effects of immigration is allowed to hide the fact that Sweden has large and growing social problems in areas with few immigrants.”

Fölster, who was previously employed as chief economist at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), proposed a range of measures to address the “high thresholds and the lack of enterprise” that exists in many areas.

Some of these areas are post-industrial towns where factories have closed shop and the population has moved away to larger urban areas, such as Söderhamn in northern Sweden.

Fölster however argued that there are several successful examples of regeneration in towns which suffered a similar fate, such as Åtvidaberg and Hallstahammar in central Sweden.

The report observed that the problems in many Swedish towns are caused by a number of mechanisms, including falling property prices, high construction costs and poor competitiveness on the wage market.

Fölster also argued that the Swedish system of municipal equalization in which tax revenues are re-allocated from richer to poorer areas, is negative for growth in poorer localities.

He furthermore called for a more open and honest debate on the challenges facing many deprived areas of Sweden.

“Sweden’s political parties are very reluctant to discuss these fundamental mechanisms, which has opened a pseudo-debate about the impact of immigrants.”

Peter Vinthagen Simpson

Follow Peter on Twitter here.

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SWEDISH CITIZENSHIP

‘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.” 

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