Dagens Nyheter analyzed data from all but four of Sweden’s 290 municipalities in 2015, and the results from the 3299-person sample suggest that it took an average of two years to complete the A course in the state-funded SFI (Swedish for immigrants) programme.
The A course is designed for those with little to no formal education, and while the average completion time for men was 1.4 years, for women, it increased to 2.5.
One explanation for the slow pace of learning is that many students opt to take breaks from the course rather than completing it in one sitting, according to SFI bosses.
“That’s a big problem. Taking breaks prolongs the study time because you lose a lot of the language when you’re away,” Malmö SFI area manager Anders Fredriksson told DN.
“It’s especially serious in bigger cities like Malmö, where many are segregated from a language point of view. By that I mean that the dominant the language isn’t Swedish,” he added.
The research suggests that taking breaks from the course was significantly more common for women than men, with seven percent of male students taking more than three years to finish the classes, compared to 20 percent among women.
That gender discrepancy may correlate to an imbalance between the number of women that opt to take state-funded parental leave compared to men, breaking down at 51 percent among females compared to 20 percent among males, per DN's figures.
The Swedish state offers newcomers to the country the right to take up to 480 days’ subsidized parental leave per child, but parental benefit is only paid out for the time that a parent is physically with his or her child.
That means any parent who is studying SFI will not receive benefit for the hours they spend in classes. According to women interviewed in the study, that situation combined with poor childcare options was causing them to take prolonged breaks from their SFI courses.
Integrating foreign-born residents in the midst of the refugee crisis is proving to be a major challenge for Sweden, with number-crunching agency Statistics Sweden revealing in April that half of all jobless in the country were born abroad.
That followed a prediction from national employment agency Arbetsförmedlingen that by 2017, 60 percent of unemployed people in Sweden would have foreign backgrounds.