“Considering we have lots of new arrivals who need to enter the job market, I don’t see any need for cleaning staff or dish-washers from other continents as labour migrants,” Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson told Svenska Dagbladet in an interview ahead of Monday’s presentation of the spring budget.
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“Within the areas where Sweden needs skills; doctors for example, or data engineers, there should be good possibilities for labour migration,” the minister said. “On the other hand, I find it hard to see why we should have the most generous rules in the OECD for unskilled labour migration.”
Last year, around 15,500 people from non-EU countries received work permits in Sweden. Almost a third of those moved for jobs which required less than tertiary level education, data from the Swedish Migration Agency shows.
In the first three months of 2018, around one in seven of the work permits granted fell into this category.
Sweden's existing rules on labour migration, put together by the centre-right Alliance and the Green Party in 2008, state that it falls to employers to determine whether they need foreign workers to fill jobs. Previously this had been decided by assessments of labour shortages from the Swedish Employment Agency and unions.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who like Andersson is a Social Democrat, has also called for changes to the labour migration rules, saying in a speech last February that jobs requiring little or no education should be filled first and foremost by unemployed people already in Sweden. He echoed this sentiment last week, stating: “It is unreasonable that thousands of people come to Sweden each year to do jobs that unemployed people in Sweden could do.”
Although Sweden's unemployment rate is relatively low at 6.2 percent, this is higher than targets set by the government and a long way off Sweden's ambitious goal of achieving the EU's lowest unemployment rate by 2020.
Both politicians faced criticism from Sweden's other major parties, with Jonas Sjöstedt, the leader of the Left Party, comparing Löfven's comments to the rhetoric of the far-right Sweden Democrats.
And in response to Andersson's interview, Annie Lööf, who leads the Centre Party, said the Social Democrats “should be ashamed of the image they're spreading of labour migration which Sweden and Swedish businesses so badly need”.