'Not utilizing the skills of immigrants is a huge waste of resources'

The Local Sweden
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'Not utilizing the skills of immigrants is a huge waste of resources'
More than half of unemployed people in Sweden are foreign-born. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Almost six out of ten of those registered at Arbetsförmedlingen employment service were born outside of Sweden – and one in two people in this group still did not have a job after eight years, write trade union representatives in this opinion piece.


There were fewer unemployed in Sweden in 2018 compared to 2017, according to figures from Arbetsförmedlingen employment service last year. Among all Swedes born in and outside of Sweden in the age range 16-64, unemployment stood at 7.2 percent in March 2018, a decrease of 0.5 percentage points. It had also fallen among those born outside of Sweden, from 21.4 percent in March 2017 to 20.7 percent in March 2018 – a decrease of 0.7 percentage points.

At the same time, there is a sizeable gap between those born in Sweden and those born abroad. In March 2018, 58 percent of jobseekers registered were born outside of Sweden, despite the fact that the group's proportion of the population is only 23 percent.

Unionen is Sweden's biggest trade union on the private labour market and the biggest white-collar trade union in the world. We have 660,000 members, of which 30,000 are elected representatives, in over 60,000 companies and organizations. Unionen has members in all kinds of private companies, from major international groups to small family firms. Our vision is to ensure security, success and satisfaction in working life.


As representatives of white-collar workers, we have both the interest and the responsibility to ensure that the labour market establishment of newly arrived immigrants with a university education is as successful as possible.

In 2018, Unionen in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö launched a book and report that analyzed the percentage of university-educated immigrants working in the "right" field (performing work equivalent to their level of education).

The results have been the subject of debate in Sweden and particularly in Stockholm, where establishment was less successful than in Malmö and Gothenburg, with no logical explanation. We have therefore worked together with innovative, knowledge-based companies such as We Link Sweden to investigate whether Stockholm's failure in this area is a result of a lack of contact with the labour market.

The major cities in Sweden – Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg – are the cities with the highest number of jobs on offer, including for immigrants. Our report shows that immigrants move to these areas as soon as they get their residence permits.

What is interesting is that the immigrants who move to the larger cities are also employed to a greater extent than immigrants living in the rest of the country. As early as two years after receiving their residence permit, 60 percent of immigrants living in the larger cities are employed. After 10 years, this figure increases to 90 percent. This is noteworthy and very positive.


However, it is troublesome that many of these immigrants with a university education work in fields that do not correspond to their level of education. In our opinion, this is a waste of skills and resources. After 15 years in Sweden, 35-50 percent have jobs equivalent to their level of education in Sweden.

Unionen wants to contribute to the debate and emphasize the underutilization of skills: this huge waste of resources affects both the individual and society, and as a consequence, people with a university education have jobs that could be taken by people at a lower educational level.

Unions and employer organizations have come to an agreement that is supported by the Swedish government. The model has been constructed to be as simple as possible. Employers can employ people who are experiencing great difficulties in entering the labour market at a lower cost, and the individual will receive a grant that enables them to have a reasonable income. The state provides training and deals with the administration. The unions are given influence so that the systems are not abused. This proposal aims to simplify and facilitate the establishment in the labour market of both immigrants who have recently arrived in Sweden and the long-term unemployed.

What Unionen wants:

  • In Sweden there should be accelerated opportunities for academics born abroad to have their qualifications assessed. The waiting period at the Swedish Council for Higher Education is four to eight months. For professions requiring a licence, such as pharmacist, it takes even longer for the person's knowledge to be assessed and a Swedish licence issued.

  • Improved surveys and matching. A well-functioning and professional survey of previous education and professional experience is a basic requirement for being able to match an individual with the right job and one job only.

  • A greater number of supplementary and relevant educational programmes and courses at university colleges, vocational colleges and municipal adult education, while courses need to have more flexible start times so that jobseekers do not have to wait too long.

  • Language training at SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) needs to be initiated at an earlier stage and be possible to adapt to the person's educational and professional background. The language is often the key to the door to the Swedish labour market.

  • The Arbetsförmedlingen employment service needs to be governed regionally, and labour market policy needs to link employers, employees, municipalities and the education sector more closely with the governance of labour market policy measures.

Exclusion and a lack of establishment on the labour market may not have been a conscious choice. However, inclusion is a conscious choice in terms of trade unions, private sector companies, social innovators and the government working together to create an inclusive society and labour market.

This opinion piece was written for The Local by Peter Hellberg, vice president, Unionen; Maria Nilsson, president, Unionen Stockholm; and Anders Holger, president, Unionen Gothenburg.


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