OECD Urges Sweden to Review its Refugee Integration Process

May 20, 2016Swedenby EW News Desk Team

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Sweden is renowned for its incredible social system. This has drawn record numbers of refugees seeking asylum to the Scandinavian nation. In 2015, 163,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden, more than in any other member nation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2013 and 2014, another 100,000 came across the country’s borders.

So many people, however, cannot simply be absorbed into a nation without having an impact on its resources and economic output. Unfortunately, while Sweden’s unemployment rates remain below average for the European Union (EU), the gap between natives who are employed and foreigners has grown to one of the largest in the OECD.

After seven year in the country, only half of all immigrants are able to find employment. That is according to the Swedish Minister for Employment, Ylva Johansson.

Nevertheless, the OECD believes Sweden is doing a good job, overall, when it comes to integrating foreign populations into its workforce and culture. OECD Director for Employment, Labor, and Social Affairs Stefano Scarpetta said, “Despite the challenges it is facing, Sweden has been at the forefront of integration…Sweden is better equipped than many other countries to integrate refugees, given its strong economy and tradition of welcoming immigrants.”

Scarpetta and the OECD believe the employment gap is at least partly due to the nation’s already high levels of employment. They also believe, however, the huge influx of refugees has taxed the nation’s integration system to its limits.

Currently, new refugees face a housing shortage. This is particularly problematic, since many of the nation’s social and integration programs only start when one has an address.

Another problem is finding a job in a labor market where 95% of positions require at least an upper secondary level of education. As Scarpetta explained, "Over one third of those who received refugee status in Sweden last year hold lower skills than that.” That would mean having to give them additional support to gain the necessary education in order to obtain employment.

Children also pose a serious concern for the nation. Of the 163,000 refugees last year, 70,000 were children, and many lacked parents. The OECD says that those who come into the nation under the age of 15 usually integrate well. Older children and young adults, however, often have a harder experience, often dropping out of school to start working in an effort to send money home to their families.

Despite identifying a number of areas that may need improvement, Johansson said the review was welcomed and useful. Johansson believes the refugees have actually helped Sweden solve a problem it was facing of an aging population and workforce.

The OECD’s study of Sweden was the first in a series that will study the integration of migrants in OECD nations, particularly in Europe.

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