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‘Integration is not that simple: Swedes are shy’

Whether you think of integration as an equation, a process, or an aspiration, there's one thing we can all agree on: it has to happen.

‘Integration is not that simple: Swedes are shy’

There are probably few people in Sweden who haven't had a discussion about integration. Since the refugee influx in 2015, the word has cropped up repeatedly and much has been made of the need for newcomers to make the effort to assimilate to their new society.

Refugees try to approach Swedes by joining fika breaks, dinner tables and apps specifically created to match up newcomers with locals. This has become just as much a part of the process of adapting to Sweden as mastering the language and learning the social mores.

But for Kinan Alfahel, a Syrian HR specialist, the assimilation process is more complex than merely reading books, comprehending customs or just turning up to a fika chat aimed at Swedes and refugees. 

He believes newcomers must first understand critical behavioural traits in Swedes; that they’re shy and can be skeptical toward strangers at first glance.

Swedes may need to integrate too, he explains.

“If you join an integration programme, you’ll hear teachers telling newcomers to cope with this, by approaching Swedes and talking to them. Otherwise, Swedes won’t approach you on their own. They’re likely to be shy,” says Alfahel.

The 34-year-old moved to Sweden in 2013 and started to observe these traits of shyness and skepticism a year after moving to Gävle, where he was looking for work.

“I applied for many jobs in HR, IT, and others at cafés and restaurants. It didn’t work. Eventually, I realized that the Swedish shyness and over-sensitivity may exist in the job market too,” he explains.

“Employers don't trust their decision to employ a newcomer; they ask for recommendations.”

“If they’re not aware of who you are, they try to search for any proof that you have something from or related to Sweden, even if it's just a driving license,” Alfahel believes.

So what's the solution? After all, integration isn't possible without participation from Swedes. 

Initially, their role might be more passive and receptive in the assimilation process compared to that of newcomers, who are required to do much more in order to fit into the new community.

Nonetheless, Alfahel believes that for this amalgamation to succeed – and fast – it has to go both ways. Swedes need to turn active and learn about newcomers too. 

“We’re asked to understand all about Sweden in order to become part of it, and that makes sense.”

“However, there’s a question in my mind that I often asked my integration teachers: why aren’t you running similar culture-oriented courses to Swedes? Are you informing Swedes about newcomers, their background and culture too?” wonders Alfahel.
“I think the community, and especially employers, need to know more about us.”

“When a Middle-Eastern newcomer is invited to a job interview, Swedish recruiters might perceive that interviewee as a burden. I think most employers may not know a lot about the refugee job-seeker, other than being a ‘refugee’.”

“But that refugee may well be a very competent employee,” he adds.

Back in Syria, and Kuwait where he worked in HR administration, Alfahel had built up seven years of experience, which he hopes to use in Sweden as soon as he gets the chance. 

Since moving here, Alfahel has taken part in several integration programmes and internships, and has been applying for jobs at the same time, though he hasn't found one yet.

“I think finding jobs is a matter of luck,” he says. “But I’ll keep trying to approach Swedes, my new community, until I find my place in work and among people.”

“I hope my new community is going to accept me too!”

 

For members

READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”

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