A voice for newcomers in Sweden

'Training immigrants is a cheap investment'

A health clinic in Stockholm. Photo: Kristin Lidell/Image Bank Sweden

Published: 03.Feb.2015 15:06 hrs

For this week's debate article we hear from the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Saco), which is calling on the government to make the most of immigrant graduates who have moved to the Nordic nation.

Training an immigrant doctor to practise in Sweden costs just one-tenth of the price of educating a Swede from scratch.
Yet the skills of doctors and other graduate immigrants are being neglected and not taken seriously. Only 70 million kronor was spent on additional higher education programmes for this group in 2014.
That figure allows only a fraction of graduates who immigrate to Sweden every year the chance of completing their studies [so that they can work the field they are trained in, in Sweden].
We feel that this is a waste of resources. 
Most people agree that higher education is an important and necessary investment for a country that wants to use knowledge to compete globally. That is why Sweden spends over 20 billion kronor a year on higher education. 
A higher education also requires completion of primary and secondary education, which is a much larger investment.  Meanwhile between 5000 to 10,000 people with post-secondary education migrate to Sweden each year and they all carry their previous educational experience with them. 
This week Saco has released a report called "How much does an academic cost?". In this report we compare the education costs of a Swedish-trained graduate with the costs of immigrant graduates with an overseas education completing their studies here.
Our conclusion is that the investment put on adjusting the education of academic migrants in way that suits the Swedish labour market is currently too small. At a time when integration proposals of different political parties are coming thick and fast and debates are getting heated, it is time for politicians to do more than just talk.
It is time for action and Saco's report suggests that an improved approach to integration could also cut the time and costs required to shape graduates suited to the Swedish labour market.
We should invest in quick measures that ensure that the skills of the immigrant graduates are put to use in a way that is beneficial to everyone in Sweden. 
More than a fifth of graduates living in Sweden are foreign-born. But few are working in roles that match their level of education.
It's a big waste when our society does not fully exploit the potential of close to 300,000 highly skilled immigrants.
In order to make the most of their knowledge in a way that is beneficial to the Swedish labour market, academic immigrants need to be given the opportunity to validate and complement their foreign education.
The demand for more places will not decline. Sweden wants to invest in becoming a “knowledge country”. So Sweden must include these graduates.
A Swedish graduate who undertakes 4.5 years of college education costs the state an average of 450,000 kronor. If pre-school to high school education is included the sum rises to nearly 2.5 million.
A Swedish-trained doctor participating in one of the longer and more expensive training programmes in the country costs more than 3.2 million kronor.
Saco's calculations show that the cost of training an immigrant doctor to practice in Sweden is just over one tenth of that sum.
Similar calculations can be made for civil engineers, economists and architects.
The cost of educating a dentist in Sweden is close to four times higher than the usual costs incurred when students complete at a reputable foreign dental school.
With this knowledge in the back of our mind, it is difficult to understand why the government is not investing heavily in the short start-up time needed to help the thousands of graduates who come to our country to get into work.
Saco proposes that:
- The government should invest heavily in supplementary university programmes based on foreign graduates' needs
- These additional university programmes should seek long-term financing
- Investment in education can provide innovative and productive workers who contribute to economic growth and increased tax revenues
- Complimentary university programmes should not be treated as an exception or as a labour market policy measure. They should instead be included as part of regular funding for universities
- Helping immigrant graduates is an issue that politicians on both sides of Sweden's bloc boundary should be able to agree on
The question of integration is the most critical issue of our time. At a low cost, we have the opportunity to quickly invest in the Swedish labour market while matching the needs of qualified immigrant workers.
This article is a translated and abbreviated version of a debate piece originally written in Swedish by Göran Arrius, Chairman of Saco and Josefin Edström, Head of Migration and Integration policy for Saco.
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