Using figures from Sweden's employment agency Arbetsförmedlingen and migration authorities Migrationsverket, SVT reported on Tuesday that 494 asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 have managed to find a job to support themselves while waiting for their application to get processed.
A person who arrives in Sweden with valid identification documents and has applied for asylum is normally allowed to work despite not yet having a work or residence permit, if Migrationsverket grants them an exception.
Such an exception is called the 'at-und' and usually gets processed automatically, reported SVT. However, only a third of asylum seekers aged 20-64 were given one in a year when Sweden received an unprecedented number of asylum claims.
“It was an incredible number of people applying for asylum in Sweden and so that we would be able to register all of them, we had to de-prioritize certain tasks, and that was the matter of jobs,” Migrationsverket officer Lisa Bergstrand told SVT.
The centre-left Social Democrat-Green government wants to hand out mainly temporary residence permits in the next three years, which would step up the pressure on asylum seekers to find work. A permanent permit could be offered after the first expires, if the person is able to support themselves.
But figures suggest that the gap between Swedes and foreign-born is likely to grow. In April, the unemployment rate among people born in Sweden was at its lowest since before the global financial crisis in 2008, falling to 4.7 percent. The equivalent among residents born abroad was 14.9 percent.
Long waiting times for residence permits, today up to a year, makes the matter all the more pressing. But Arbetsförmedlingen has little means of supporting asylum seekers looking for work.
“They may be registered in our database as unemployed, but they are only entitled to basic services, that is using our online services and talking to advisers. But there are no programme-based alternatives, that is no courses and no traineeships,” Fredrik Möller, integration officer at Arbetsförmedlingen, told SVT.
Meanwhile, other initiatives are slowly emerging in Sweden. Earlier this month The Local wrote about Sana Abdullah, 30, an IT engineer who got a job after only seven months in Sweden through Sync Accelerator, a recruitment agency helping startups connect with asylum seekers.
“There are a lot of people coming from Syria who are very talented and have a lot of experience especially in the field of IT. It's good to use these qualifications and it will benefit Sweden too. I know a lot of people who want to work, not just learn the language,” she told The Local at the time.