‘Not utilizing the skills of immigrants is a huge waste of resources’

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.

'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

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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‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
Glad Påsk!
Midsommar drowning  
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.