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How Swedish parties want to tighten up labour migration

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New proposals would make it more difficult to get a work permit in Sweden. Photo: Berit Roald/NTB scanpix/TT
Sweden's work permit rules are expected to become a talking point ahead of the country's general election next year, with several political parties calling for stricter labour migration.

Although multiple parties want to adapt the current system, they have different ideas as to how best to do this.

The centre-left Social Democrats argue that the current system enables exploitation, illegal sale of work permits, unhealthy competition and provides opportunities for organised crime.

They are calling for a reintroduction of arbetsmarknadsprövning – a system scrapped in 2008 where prospective labour migrants wanting to work in Sweden will only have their work permits approved if they are filling a position where there is a national shortage. If this were approved, work permits would be dependent on unions, employers, and authorities confirming that they lack workers in the profession in question.

According to Social Democrat migration minister Morgan Johansson, reintroducing arbetsmarknadsprövning is the “only way” to clean up the system.

“It is unreasonable that we have immigration into positions where we don’t have a shortage, like restaurant workers and cleaners,” Johansson told Swedish news agency TT.

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They also suggest introducing requirements stating that job offers for non-EU migrants must be full-time positions with collective bargaining agreements (kollektivavtal), a move which will be welcomed by LO, the Swedish Trade Union Federation, who have spoken out in favour of introducing these requirements previously.

The right-wing Moderates do not want to reintroduce arbetsmarknadsprövning or the requirements suggested by the Social Democrats, but suggest instead that there should be a lower salary limit of around 27,500 kronor per month, or around 85 percent of the average Swedish salary (32,000 kronor per month). Seasonal workers such as berry pickers would be exempt from this requirement.

The Christian Democrats want to raise this lower limit to 30,000 kronor. Both parties want to introduce a requirement that workers can financially support any family members who accompany them to Sweden, as well as banning labour migration for personal assistants.

Their argument is that low-salaried jobs should be filled by unemployed people already in Sweden, rather than by bringing in workers from abroad. They also believe that it will make it harder for people to abuse the system.

It is unlikely that any significant changes will be made to Sweden’s labour migration rules before the next election in September 2022.

What are Sweden’s current work permit rules?

Several things the parties are suggesting more or less exist in Sweden.

Current rules state that applicants must have a valid passport, terms of employment and a salary at least “on par” with the standard set by Swedish collective bargaining agreements, and a position which enables you to support yourself – the Swedish Migration Agency defines this as anything over 13,000 kronor per month, before taxes.

Employers must also provide health, life, employment and pension insurance for prospective employees. Further rules and exceptions apply for other professions and arrivals from other countries.

Sweden’s work permit rules are relatively generous in comparison to several of its neighbours, with Denmark stipulating that applicants must have a full-time job with a monthly salary equivalent to 50,000 Swedish kronor, or a job in a profession suffering from lack of workers, and Norway requiring that workers are highly educated, in full-time positions with a salary equivalent to at least 33,000 Swedish kronor per month.

Both Denmark and Norway require that work permit holders can financially support any accompanying family members.

However, the Swedish system has also been criticised for bureaucratic rigidity, with words such as kompetensutvisning (competence/talent/skills deportation) being coined in 2017 as a result of a confusing, complicated system difficult for foreign workers to navigate.


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