Immigrants need time to learn Swedish: OECD

AFP/The Local
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Immigrants need time to learn Swedish: OECD
A Swedish class for immigrants in Stockholm. Photo: TT

Sweden needs to do more to help its immigrants and refugees learn Swedish so they can become fully-integrated members of society who hold down jobs, the OECD has argued.


The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) highlighted immigrants' difficulties in learning the Swedish language in its report on the Scandinavian country.

The government subsidises two types of employment for non-European Union immigrants, one which requires evening courses in Swedish, entitled Step In Jobs, and one which does not, entitled New Start Job.

The OECD - an international body that promotes policies designed to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world - would like to see more immigrants in Step In Jobs.

"For some immigrants, the short-term benefit of going into a New Start Job may come at the cost of failing to develop the language skills that would improve the chances of successful integration in society and the labour market in the long term," it wrote.

The issue is crucial to Sweden, as "the immigrant population is set to increase further in the coming years, and many immigrants are asylum seekers and refugees who need more help to integrate than those who migrate for employment."

Some 81,000 people sought asylum in Sweden last year, representing 0.8 percent of its population.

Most of the asylum seekers were fleeing countries torn apart by conflicts, such as Syria, Iraq and Somalia, or authoritarian regimes such as Eritrea.

READ ALSO: Sweden must be able to attract global talent

The Scandinavian country, known for its generous refugee policy, already has vast Swedish-language courses set up for its immigrants, offering all foreign adults unlimited lessons free of charge.

According to government statistics, the number of students enrolled in the Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) classes has more than tripled in 15 years, to 114,000 in 2013.

Those who pass at least one of the six levels usually require hundreds of hours of classes, with women who speak no European language tending to fare least well.

In Sweden unemployment is significantly higher among foreign born residents at 17.2 percent, compared to 6.3 percent for those born in the country.

The OECD also noted that adult immigrants are not the only ones suffering from a lack of Swedish language skills -- immigrant children also have significant difficulties in school.

"The reception of immigrant children and how they catch up, especially in the Swedish language but also in other subjects, is crucial. It requires effective provision of extra support and well-functioning reception classes," the OECD said.

READ ALSO: Inside Sweden's busiest asylum centre

Other suggestions in the report included lower entry-level wages for young people and make teaching more attractive.

The OECD’s outlook for Sweden is sunnier than the government’s, with the group expecting GDP growth of 2.9 percent this year and three percent next year. 

Unemployment is expected to fall to 7.5 percent this year and 7.3 percent in 2016. 

The OECD forecasts an inflation rate of 0.5 percent this year, rising to 1.5 percent next year.


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