If reelected in the forthcoming general election, the Social Democrats say they will bring in a 'language obligation' which would mean both people in the asylum process and those who need to improve their Swedish in order to get a job would have to attend Swedish courses “otherwise their welfare support will be denied”. The obligation would be attendance-based rather than based on a language test.
“Our focus today is language, language, language. I don't think you can overstate the importance of speaking sufficiently good Swedish – you don't need to speak perfect Swedish – but sufficiently good Swedish for entering Swedish society and entering the labour market,” employment and integration minister Ylva Johansson said at a press conference where the language proposals were presented alongside finance minister Magdalena Andersson.
“Many people already do so today, but we want to make it obligatory to take part in language learning,” Johansson added.
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Ylva Johansson (left) and Magdalena Andersson presenting the proposals. Photo: Thommy Tengborg/TT
Along with obligatory attendance at classes, a second proposal is directed towards parents on parental leave, and could see parental compensation rules revised so that those on leave do not need to postpone their Swedish studies in order to claim the benefits.
At present the benefit is only paid out for the time that a parent is physically with his or her child, meaning any parent studying Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) does not receive financial support for the hours they spend in class, and classes are often dropped as a result.
Changing that rule would help new immigrants and in particular immigrant women enter the labour market more efficiently, the Social Democrats say. Research has previously shown that the parental support situation is one reason why immigrant women take prolonged breaks from their SFI courses and therefore longer to learn the language than immigrant men.
A third branch of the proposal meanwhile is to develop specific language training for immigrants employed in the welfare state, a sector which finance minister Andersson said is likely to recruit more foreigners in the future due to labour shortages.
The Social Democrats have been taking a more hard-line approach to immigrants in the build up to this year's election. Last week they vowed to tighten labour immigration rules if the are reelected, which would mean stopping businesses from employing people not already living in Sweden for positions where there is not a labour shortage.
Asked by The Local if the Social Democrats are now singling out people who came to Sweden to work through legal means as a problem, Johansson insisted it is “not the people who are the problem, it's the employers who exploit vulnerable situations that are the problem”.