Access to services key to labour market integration

In mid-December a Social Platform delegation will go to south Sweden for a fact-finding visit to learn about some good examples of economic inclusion of migrants, which will be our focus next year. I therefore read with great interest a chapter about Sweden in a report by Bertelsmann Stiftung that has mapped labour-market integration support measures for asylum seekers and refugees in nine European Union Member States. It concluded that only Sweden provided sufficient evidence to allow for policy recommendations, while most countries lack systematic follow-up and impact evaluation.

In Sweden most asylum seekers have the right to work, and all newly arrived immigrants are entitled to free language training and access to labour market services. From 2000 to 2015, almost 500,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden (162,877 in 2015 alone). The main challenge is the limited capacity of the municipalities, which consequently increases the waiting time for new arrivals with residence permits at reception centres, and delays their entrance to the labour market and integration.

Refugees have lower labour market integration compared to other migrant categories. Education level is a part of the explanation, and human capital characteristics is another. Young people with higher education have a better chance of finding a job, and having children affects the probability of being employed positively for males and negatively for females.

Refugees and their families are entitled to an introduction programme within two years of their residence status being granted, for a maximum of 24 months. In June 2015 (latest available data) 47,702 refugees participated in such a programme. About one-third of them have fewer than nine years of education, with women having a lower education level on average. The authors of the report pointed out that that there is a growing debate on whether language proficiency is really required for effective labour market integration, or if it is rather an outcome of integration. The Swedish government has put in place two key instruments. Firstly, economic compensation and incentives based on “active participation” in the programme, which does not affect the income of other household members. Secondly, introduction guides who receive payment on the basis of their success at helping new arrivals find a job. The latter has not proven particularly effective. Another tool is so-called new start jobs, available for anyone who has been out of work for a long time, where the employer receives an economic incentive of the amount equal to a normal employer’s fee. These jobs are mainly within the low-skilled sectors such as hotels and restaurants, retail, healthcare and other services.

In fact, few migrant-specific introduction measures has proven to be effective. On the contrary, the key to success is the general approach by Sweden to ensure access to services and resources for migrant newcomers, and removing structural barriers hindering labour market mobility.

The authors also identified six general factors of success that are applicable for all countries: a short asylum process; early interventions and access to the labour market; tailor-made measures, especially for those with specific needs; public-private partnership, for instance between employers, local authorities and NGOs; connecting practical work with vocational education and training; and access to housing.

I look forward to complementing the findings of the report with a few concrete local experiences from our visit to Sweden.