Sweden, like the United States, has an asylum policy in which refugee immigrants are accepted and protected from persecution or deportation. Refugees flee their home countries for fear of being harmed based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group . In 2015, Sweden’s asylum policy caused a dramatic spike in immigration. A larger amount of people immigrated to Sweden than were born there that year . The recent influx of immigrants into Sweden has caused some new economic challenges for the country, leading many native Swedes to favor a more restrictive immigration policy.
Sweden uses the Nordic model for distributing economic resources, which is a system that relies on the population’s willingness to pay high taxes and have jobs, in return for extensive social welfare programs that work to establish a fair income distribution and social equality. Immigrants are entitled to the use of this system just as much as natives. For example, many immigrants are eligible to receive monthly introduction benefits, which come from Swedish taxes, that help pay for their housing and other costs of living. Introduction benefits may be up to SEK 5,700 (about 597 U.S. dollars) a month. Immigrants may also be eligible for an additional supplementary benefit of SEK 1,500 (157 U.S. dollars) for each child under 11-years-old they bring, up to three children . For perspective, in 2018, the Swedish central government spent SEK 17.3 billion on expenditures toward the introduction of newly arrived immigrants combined with gender equality efforts . Another factor that worries native Swedes is the unemployment rate of immigrants; immigrants have a right to unemployment benefits through tax-payer funding. The issue is that there are extreme differences in unemployment between domestic-born and foreign-born residents, as the level is more than three times higher among the foreign-born group. For example, in the third quarter of 2017, the levels were 3.9 percent for domestic born residents, compared to 14.8 percent for foreign-born residents . These high rates mean that more unemployment benefits are required for immigrants than native Swedes, while native Swedes are the ones fronting the cost through taxes.
The main challenge impeding immigrants from immediately getting jobs is that many don’t speak Swedish, leaving only low-skill level sector jobs available to them. However, the country’s economy is centered around high-skill, high-paying sector jobs in order to avoid creating a low-income working class. This focus on high-skill level sector jobs leaves even less jobs available to immigrants who are only eligible for low-skill sector jobs. Immigrants who don’t have jobs cannot pay taxes, but can still benefit from the social welfare programs, putting strain on the economic system, and worrying taxpayers. Some Swedes believe it is unfair that immigrants who don’t have jobs, or pay taxes, are using the country’s resources. As one member of the Sweden Democrats Party in Filipstad put it, “People don’t want to pay taxes to support people who don’t work… Ninety percent of the refugees don’t contribute to society. These people are going to have a lifelong dependence on social welfare. This is a huge problem” . This negative view of immigrants and their failure to contribute to the economy has caused a recent rise in support for the Sweden Democrats party.
The Sweden Democrats Party, a social conservative party based on nationalism, prominently advocates for more restrictive immigration policy in Sweden. The party advocates for what they call a “serious migration policy” that includes a protected border in order to shield the country from immigrants, especially those who come to Sweden to “take advantage of the system, commit crimes, or put citizens in harm’s way” . Many native Swedes have recently been joining the Sweden Democrats party, making it the third largest in public opinion polls, with an increase from 5.7 percent in 2010 to 17.5 percent in 2018 . As a result of this shift in attitudes toward immigrants, Sweden has begun practicing a stricter asylum policy by accepting fewer refugees. For example, in 2016, 67,000 immigrants were granted asylum in Sweden, compared to 11,000 in 2018 . Although Sweden has gravitated toward a more restrictive immigration policy due to fears of strain on the country’s economic system, Sweden should be accepting of immigrants, as they are necessary for the country’s economic growth and stability as a whole. Immigrants in Sweden can improve the economy by paying taxes and contributing to the system, alleviating the labor shortage, and solving the low birth rate issue.
Although some Swedes, like members of the Sweden Democrats, may argue that immigrants will abuse the system and deplete the resources without contributing, I believe that after taking the necessary steps (teaching immigrants Swedish and helping them earn higher education), immigrants will improve Sweden’s economic growth and stability. At first, the main challenge will be the language barrier. Without speaking Swedish, it will be difficult for immigrants to get well-paying jobs or get a higher education. As of 2009, Swedish is Sweden’s official language, and according to Sweden’s official government website, most of the population speaks Swedish as their first language, and nearly everyone living there (about 90%) can speak Swedish . It is difficult to find data on how many immigrants speak or don’t speak Swedish currently, but it is clear that Sweden is successful in providing the required programs to help non-Swedish speaking immigrants learn the language. Presently, Sweden utilizes a program called Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) which helps immigrants who have residence permits learn Swedish for free. For immigrants who have not yet obtained a residence permit, there are a multitude of voluntary organizations that offer help for immigrants who wish to learn Swedish . Immigrants who are fluent in Swedish can more easily obtain a higher education and a higher-skilled job.
In addition, many refugees seeking asylum in Sweden were highly educated professionals like doctors and lawyers in their home countries . It is estimated that 40 percent of the total immigrants in Sweden have a background in higher education, including bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctorate degrees . Once these highly educated immigrants learn Swedish, they will be able to resume their professions and contribute to society by adding to the country’s professional sphere. In turn, professional immigrants will be able to pay taxes and contribute to the benefit of the economic system.
The next step, after teaching immigrants Swedish, is to help those without a higher education earn degrees to enable them to be employed in higher paying jobs. Presently, immigrants can obtain higher education at a university if they have a residence permit and can prove to be self-sufficient. For example, the maintenance requirement for people applying during 2018 was at least SEK 8,190 per month. Applicants must prove that they have secure money available in their own bank assets. For example, a study grant from their country of origin . Since 2016, obtaining a residence permit and showing proof of self-support is the only path immigrants have available to them for obtaining a tertiary education . In order for Immigrants to earn a higher education and contribute to the high-skill level sector, the Swedish government must enact legislation that either makes obtaining residence permits easier, or creates an additional path immigrants can take toward obtaining a degree. It may take years and an abundance of resources to educate the substantial amount of immigrants, but it will considerably benefit the country in the long term. Refugees will no longer be forced to work low-paying, or low-skill jobs, and will be able to pay taxes, alleviating some of the strain on the economic system by using fewer resources.
An additional challenge Sweden is currently facing is a labor shortage for professions in healthcare, information and communication technologies, engineering, education, and mining . Once immigrants who already have a higher education learn Swedish and join the professional field (and those who don’t already have a higher education are able to earn one) immigrants can help fill in the gaps in the labor shortage. Although some natives believe that immigrants will hurt the economy, they are actually necessary for protecting the economy from further harm. According to the country’s employment agency, Sweden requires 64,000 immigrants a year to prevent economic struggles due to the labor shortages . As previously stated, in 2018 only 11,000 immigrants were granted asylum, due to recently enacted restrictive immigration policy. Sweden should reverse its restrictive immigration policy to ensure that the required 64,000 immigrants are granted asylum a year to protect Sweden against economic struggles noted in labor shortages.
Another issue immigrants can help solve is the extremely low birth rate in Sweden. In 2018, the crude birth rate was the lowest it has been in thirteen years, at 11.4 births per 1,000 people . With a low birth rate and a declining population, the labor shortage will only increase. A result of the low birth rate is the disproportionately large elderly population. Twenty percent of the current Swedish population have passed the retirement age of 65 and it is projected to reach twenty three percent twenty years from now. By 2040, almost one fourth of Sweden’s population will be over 65 . Because the elderly can not work or pay taxes, future stress on the economic system is likely. Younger generations are necessary to supply money toward caring for the growing elderly population. In 2014, the total cost of elderly care in Sweden was SEK 109.2 billion (USD 12.7 billion) . With young immigrants moving to Sweden and improving the birth rate, the population can be re-proportioned and working immigrants can help contribute to the high costs of elderly care.
Once immigrants are assimilated and taught the Swedish language, immigrants with higher education and professional backgrounds can resume their professional careers. Others without a higher education may receive one and eventually earn higher paying jobs. This will also help with Sweden’s labor shortage, by letting immigrants resume professional careers and training immigrants to work in shortage professions like healthcare, information and communication technologies, engineering, education, and mining. Once jobs are secure, immigrants can contribute to welfare programs and the economy by paying taxes. In addition, immigrants are necessary for stabilizing the country’s birth rate, re-proportioning the population and contributing to the high costs of elderly care. Without Immigrants, Sweden’s economic system will only face more challenges.
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