‘Foreigners give more to Sweden than they get’

Foreigners in Sweden bring in more to the country's economy than they take out, according to a new report from the OECD that measured the fiscal impact of immigration.

'Foreigners give more to Sweden than they get'

The report, based on an analysis of 27 countries, compared the taxes paid by foreigner households to their cost to society in terms of social benefits, pensions, and other societal services.

The report concluded that the net difference makes for a positive contribution to society for the majority of the countries involved by an average of €3,000 (26,000 kronor) per year and per household.

In Sweden, foreign households were found to produce a net contribution to society, generating around 1,000 kronor ($153) per year to the state in net fiscal gains. Switzerland topped the tables, however, with the country’s migrants bringing in around €15,000 per year and per household.

Immigrants in Sweden without Swedish citizenship were found to be an even bigger asset to society, primarily due to lower pension costs, bringing in a net gain of €5,000 compared with a €6,000 average across the 27 countries in the report.

Sweden’s Integration Minister took to Twitter to voice his support for the study, writing that he is “often asked on Twitter about the costs of immigration. Now, even the OECD is supporting the answer I usually give.”

The OECD noted that for countries with higher immigration levels such as Sweden, raising the levels of employment among foreigners to one on par with native-born population would generate “significant economic returns”.

Sweden has seen a large increase in immigration in recent years, though numbers dropped slightly in 2011 compared to 2010. The nation’s population reached 9.5 million in 2011 after a increase of 67,000 from the previous year.

“Governments must do everything they can to improve immigrants’ job prospects,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría, said in presenting the report in Brussels together with EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström.

“Tackling high and long-term unemployment now is essential. Continuing to help immigrants integrate will also ensure they can play their part in driving growth as the global economy recovers.”

Foreigners account for 15 percent of Sweden’s population, or roughly 1.4 million people, a figure that has seen a spike since a 2008 reform which made it easier for employers to recruit labour from non-EU countries.

The report also pointed out that Sweden was one of the top nations when it came to destinations for asylum seekers, with the country recording 44,000 applications in 2012 compared to just 30,000 the year before.

The Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) predicted a further increase for 2013 in light of the unrest in Syria, where 13 percent of the 2012 asylum seekers to Sweden hailed from. A further 13 percent came from Somalia, with 12 percent from Afghanistan.

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INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.”