Sweden: Labour market effects of temporary residence permits
Asylum seekers have been eligible only for temporary residence permits in Sweden since Parliament voted in June 2016 for a three-year freeze on their right to immediate permanent residency on arrival. During widespread public debate about the decision, unions have expressed fears that this is hindering the integration of some immigrants into the labour market.
In response to the increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Sweden in 2014–2015, the Swedish Parliament passed a new temporary law, the aim of which was to synchronise Sweden’s regulatory framework on migration with the minimum levels stipulated in EU law and the UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention.
The new law is valid for three years, until June 2019. It has changed several important aspects of the previous regulations for immigrants. The key change was that those with refugee status would be granted a residence permit for three years, and those eligible for subsidiary protection would be granted residence for just 13 months.
To be given an extended temporary residence permit, the applicant would have to be assessed as being in continued need of protection. However, those who have found a job or started their own business before their temporary permit expires could be granted a permanent residence permit. The aim of setting work-related conditions for the granting of permanent residence was to strengthen the incentives for immigrants to participate in the Swedish labour market.
Impact on labour market
The new asylum law has now been in force for over a year and the first temporary residence permits expired in August 2017. This has led to a preliminary examination of how the temporary law has affected the labour market.
Recent figures (PDF) from The Swedish Public Employment Service (PES) suggest that the proportion of new participants with permanent residence permits, who have taken part in the PES programme that is designed to accelerate and facilitate their labour market integration, decreased from 97% in January 2016 to 47% in June 2017. At the same time, the proportion of new participants with temporary residence permits increased from 3% in January 2016 to 52% in June 2017. This reflects the change in regulations which made temporary permits the norm.
In August this year, 9% of people with temporary residence permits had a job, compared with 4% of those who have a permanent residence permit. This indicates that participants with temporary residence permits taking part in the introduction programme tend to find jobs faster than people with permanent residence permits. However, although these numbers appear to demonstrate a positive impact, the PES highlights the fact that temporary residence permits increase pressure to find work and this might not lead to a firm anchorage in the labour market. Instead it may encourage a short-term focus on employment. The PES reports that it has become more difficult to motivate participants to complete a more long-term introduction programme.
Others have been critical of the principle of linking permanent residence to jobs, given that most jobs in the Swedish labour market require a minimum of upper secondary school education, while the people most affected by the new law generally have low levels of education.
The Swedish Migration Agency has expressed concerns that the temporary law could prompt an increase in fake employment contracts and in illegal contract trade. The agency has also pointed out that the law does not make it possible to monitor the working conditions of applicants and ensure that contractual obligations are being met. Instead, it is up to the person seeking a residence permit to prove that he or she has a job that meets the minimum requirements.
Another problem is that the law specifically prevents those applying for permanent residency from offering evidence of government-subsidised jobs as proof that they are working. Such jobs often are offered as part of the PES introduction programme as a stepping-stone into the labour market for many newly arrived immigrants.
Recent figures from the Swedish Migration Agency showed that, as the first temporary permits expired, around 250 people applied for permanent residence on the basis that they are able to support themselves through work. So far, only one has been granted a permanent residence permit.
Social partners’ reactions
The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) was reported to have stressed that the figures only show how many people have applied for a permanent permit, but not how many have tried to reach the minimum requirements. They also do not show how many have opted to work and, as a result, have been forced to abandon education, language training or other labour market activation measures that are supposed to facilitate and accelerate their establishment in the labour market, and that are often recommended as part of the introduction programme. The figures also cannot reveal how many temporary permit holders found work on short-term contracts which were never extended. LO argues that the law should be repealed because it actually hampers integration, given that it tends to drive people towards temporary or precarious work and away from education or learning Swedish before they have permanent residency.
While the enactment of the temporary law was being discussed in 2016, The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) expressed concerns that the temporary residence permits would have significant consequences for the Swedish labour market. TCO’s Social Policy Director Samuel Engblom said that participation in the PES introduction programme was closely related to the residence permit. Given that temporary permits prevent holders from planning for more than 12 months ahead, they risk jeopardising the holders’ integration in the Swedish labour market. TCO has also highlighted the risk of highly educated immigrants taking any job offered rather than trying to find work more in line with their education.
The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) has chosen not to comment on the issue, saying it does not consider the temporary asylum law to be primarily a labour market issue.