Education key to Balkan refugee integration

Refugees who came to Sweden during the Balkan war are faring comparatively well almost two decades after migration peaked in 1994, with seven out of ten employed today, although figures were gloomier for the less-educated.

Education key to Balkan refugee integration

The comparable figure for the overall population of immigrants that arrived in Sweden that same year is 63 percent.

“I think the results for Balkan migrants would have been even better if there had been an earlier focus on jobs and linking employment with knowledge of the Swedish language,” Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag told the TT news agency on Monday when presenting the figures.

More than 60,000 refugees came to Sweden in 1994.

Many were fleeing what Ullenhag called “the most devastating conflict in Europe since the second world war,” as he presented an overview of Balkan refugees’ current well-being on Monday.

The 1994 surge was more than double the 25,000 people who arrived here in need of shelter in 2012, many of them from Syria.

The review, put together by Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån, SCB), examined the integration process by highlighting how an increasing proportion of refugees found their way into employment as the years went by.

After six years in Sweden, for example, 65 percent of men from the Balkans had found work. Four years later, after a decade in Sweden, that number had gone up by 9 percentage points to 74 percent.

For women from the Balkans, the hike between six years and ten years spent in Sweden was 15 percentage points – fom 51 percent to 66. Yet that figure then levelled out when looking at employment statistics after 15 years spent in the country.

For men, meanwhile, employment fell somewhat from 74 percent to 72 when comparing employment after ten and 15 years in the country.

The report also showed a clear link between education levels and employment, as the gap between Balkan refugees and workers born in Sweden widened considerably among those who had not finished their high school studies.

Only one in five of the Balkan refugees with only compulsory education were employed in 2011, while about seven out of ten people born in Sweden had found work – a 22-percentage point gap.

Employment figures for refugees with higher degrees was 79 percent compared to 91 percent among those born in Sweden, a 12-percentage point gap.

Furthermore, the report showed clearly that refugees who arrived in Sweden when they were young fared better than their older peers.

The integration minister said there needed to more focus on getting newly-arrived migrants to Sweden into the labour market quickly.

Ullenhag also said that integration efforts needed to be tailored to help migrants with lower education levels. On the other side of the education scale, he argued, Sweden needed to get better at benefiting from foreign-born academics’ experience and knowledge.

He further underlined that the discrepancies between men’s and women’s employment was noteworthy, and that integration efforts needed a clearer equality focus.

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”