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Sweden to get tough on immigrant benefits

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Sweden to get tough on immigrant benefits
07:05 CEST+02:00
New arrivals in Sweden won't be able turn down a job offer without suffering financial penalties, Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag explained on Monday as he unveiled changes to a programme that aims to get more immigrants into the job market.

"The idea is that if there is a full-time job waiting for you out there, you should be ready to move," Ullenhag told reporters as he outlined the proposal.

The proposal is meant to update the government's establishment reform, introduced in December 2010 to speed up immigrants' entry into Swedish society and which gave the Swedish National Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) a more centralized role in the process.

Under the current system, job seekers are paid 308 kronor ($48) a day in compensation whilst they attempt to find work through targeted employment assistance measures, or are enrolled in Swedish language or societal orientation classes during their first two years in Sweden.

According to Ullenhag, approximately 22,000 immigrants are currently enrolled in various stages of the establishment reform system, with most involved in some sort of job seeking or job training programme.

"It's been a little strange that we haven't been able to place demands that you should take a job you're offered. If you are newly arrived and don't attend Swedish language lessons you can have your benefits reduced, but not if you say no to a job," said Ullenhag.

"Currently, there is no requirement that someone accept a job offer within the framework of the establishment system."

Both the employment agency and the Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) have indicated in reviews of the establishment reform that penalties should be introduced for participants who refuse to take a job.

The situation amounted to "an obstacle to the realization of the major objectives of the establishment reform - a quicker introduction to the labour market and stronger incentives to seek out work actively" the public management agency said in a June 2012 report.

According to proposed changes outlined by Ullenhag on Monday, people who refused to accept a job without providing sufficient grounds would lose their right to establishment reform benefits, although exceptions would be made for those who remain enrolled in continuing education or job training programmes.

Other examples of exceptions to the new requirement include situations where a candidate with a family was offered temporary employment that would require relocation, Ullenhag explained, emphasizing however that such exceptions would be assessed on a "case by case" basis.

The proposal would help align rules that apply to new immigrants to those that apply to other job seekers.

While the situation for foreign-born job seekers has improved in Sweden since 2006, according to Ullenhag, there is still much work to be done.

"Challenges remain in that it still takes too long to enter the labour market and a group remains that isn't making it in," said Ullenhag.

The proposed changes, if ultimately adopted, would come into effect in July 2014.

TT/The Local/pr/dl

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