Tobias Billström

The Swedish immigration policy is not based on quotas or aimed exclusively at highly qualified labour.

Migration is a positive force in our increasingly globalised world. In order to promote cross-border mobility and make better use of the knowledge and experience of labour immigrants, it is time to change perspectives. We must recognise the ambition and potential of individuals who wish to travel abroad to live and work. This is why the Swedish government, in one of the most significant reforms of immigration policy in several decades, has decided to open a new path for those wishing to come to work.

This week I am visiting India together with a delegation of representatives from Swedish enterprises and labour organisations to inform myself about the views of the Indian government and enterprises and to present the Swedish reform.

Tradition of immigration

In 2007 nearly 1,500 Indian citizens were granted work permit in Sweden. In the years to come, we would like to welcome more labour immigrants. Immigration is of vital importance for Sweden’s ability to meet both present and future challenges in the labour market. At the same time, it contributes to a more culturally diverse and open society.

Sweden has a tradition of labour immigration. In the decades following the Second World War, immigration made a major contribution to our prosperity. Sweden was still a labour immigration country at the beginning of the 1970s, but the general perception of immigration changed subsequently as the flows to Sweden came to be dominated by asylum seekers. Apart from asylum seekers and their relatives, the number of people who have been given the opportunity to come to Sweden to create a better future for themselves has been relatively small.

Sweden has now decided to re-open the path for those wishing to come to work. In stark contrast to immigration regulations in many other countries, Swedish policy is not based on quotas or aimed exclusively at highly qualified labour. Instead one of the main features of the reform is that it focuses on the employers’ demand for labour, high as well as low skilled workers. In doing so, Sweden is setting an example which hopefully others in Europe will follow.

Even today, in times of financial instability, there are labour shortages in several occupations and sectors of the Swedish labour market. In addition, our population is getting older and many will soon be leaving working life. This demographic trend presents a challenge for future growth and the sustainability of our welfare system. Labour immigration is one of several instruments in efforts to prevent labour shortages and to maintain the supply of labour in the short and long-term. Increased labour immigration constitutes a complement to measures which aim to utilize the labour already in the country.

An area in which labour immigration sooner can play a vital role is where there are problems recruiting employees with the right skills. Already today, many companies are facing recruitment problems. The reality is that some skills cannot be found in Sweden, even though there is still unemployment. Doctors, nurses, engineers, electricians, IT-technicians and welders are examples of professions where there currently is a shortage in Sweden. The recruitment difficulties prevents employers from expanding and ultimately from creating more jobs.

The new rules and regulations are expected to enter into force on December 15, 2008. Thereafter, an employer who is not able to meet labour needs through recruitment in Sweden or in the European Union will be able to recruit labour from any other country. When processing cases involving residence and work permits, decisions will be based on employers’ own assessment of their needs. The Swedish Migration Board will examine whether the terms offered — salary, insurance protection and other terms of employment — are in accordance with the conditions applying to employees already resident in the country. This is to ensure that there is sound competition for jobs in the labour market and to avoid social dumping.

A Swedish work permit will be granted for the duration of the employment or for a maximum of two years. If the person is still working, it will be possible to extend the permit once or several times. The total permit period may amount to four years. After four years, a permanent residence permit can be granted. The examination of an application for an extension of a work permit takes place in Sweden and the applicant will not need to return home to apply for an extension.

Rules for students

The rules for visiting students who whish to stay on and work in Sweden at the completion of their studies will also be simplified. Since the beginning of this decade some 500 Indian students have come to Sweden each year. They will benefit from the amended rules allowing visiting students who have completed one semester or who have completed one term of research education at institutions of higher education to apply for work and residence permits without having to first leave Sweden.

These measures will equip Sweden with an open system for labour immigration, based on the employers’ need for competence. I hope to see a fruitful exchange of competence and experiences between Sweden and India in the future.