Sweden: Fast-track initiative to help asylum-seekers enter labour market
The Swedish Government has launched a fast-track initiative to match newly arrived immigrants with jobs in sectors with skill shortages. The healthcare and restaurant sectors have already implemented the new system. Many employers and trade unions have shown an interest in participating while others have been more sceptical.
In February 2015, the Swedish government launched its fast-track initiative to help newly arrived immigrants (Snabbspåret). It is targeted at those who have been granted Swedish residency permits and have work experience or an education connected to a sector that is currently facing a labour shortage. Newly arrived immigrants can, for example, have their professional credentials validated using their native language rather than Swedish. It is hoped this will allow them to become established more quickly in the labour market in their field of expertise. Immigrants will also now be able to receive general Swedish language training when staying in asylum housing and have access to profession-specific Swedish language training. Immigrants will also be offered an internship as well as a mentor, a guidance counsellor and language tutor. It is expected that:
- immigrants will establish themselves in the Swedish labour market within two years;
- the acute skills shortage in targeted sectors will be reduced.
The social partners were invited to take part in tripartite discussions with the Swedish Public Employment Service (PES) and other agencies to create fast-track procedures for migrants in other sectors lacking skilled workers. The first two initiatives were launched in December 2015. The first initiative targets newly-arrived immigrants who have training and experience as chefs (in Swedish). This initiative was created through tripartite discussions involving the Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union (HRF), the Swedish hospitality industry (Visita) and the PES. The partners agreed that migrants’ credentials could be validated directly at a workplace and by using the native language of the immigrant. They also agreed to lower the minimum level of Swedish language skills normally expected of a new employee.
The second fast track was introduced in the healthcare sector as a result of negotiations between three employers’ associations and seven sector trade unions, as well as the PES. The initiative targets healthcare personnel, including doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists (in Swedish). While this fast track is focused on the most common healthcare occupations among the newly-arrived immigrants, it can also be used for all 21 regulated healthcare professions. It includes faster and better information about the validation process of the National Board of Health and Welfare (SoS) and profession-specific language training through the PES.
The City of Stockholm has also initiated a fast-track procedure targeting teachers (in Swedish). The aim is to give migrant teachers a Swedish teacher’s certificate within two years. They will get intensive language training, and mentoring from a qualified teacher in the immigrant’s native language.
Tripartite discussions and views of the social partners
In March 2015, the first tripartite discussion on the fast track initiative was held, involving the confederations of unions and employer organisations. Ensuing discussions specifically involved sectors with personnel shortages. Several public agencies have also taken part in the discussions, including the SoS, the PES, the Swedish Council for Higher Education, and the Swedish National Agency for Higher Vocational Education. To date, tripartite discussions have been held with representatives from the following industries: pharmaceuticals, tourism, health care, municipal, manufacturing, care and welfare, transportation, painting, wood processing, graphic design, property, energy and electronics, construction, and forestry and agriculture.
However, Byggnads, the Swedish construction workers’ trade union, has declined invitations to formalise a fast track (in Swedish). The union says disagreements with the Swedish Construction Federation (BI) about the form such a fast track would take have made adoption of the scheme impossible. Byggnads argues that employers would find the newly arrived workers much cheaper to employ because their employment is often subsidised. Johan Lindholm, chairperson of Byggnads, suggested that a better way to offer newly arrived immigrants a way into employment in the sector would be for employers to develop a proper system for trainee positions (in Swedish). However, the BI has denied Byggnad’s claim of a disagreement and reports that there have been no discussions about a fast track for the sector. The BI added that the industry will need around 100,000 new workers in the coming years.
The Union of Commercial Employees (Handels) has also declined an offer to participate because, it says, the commercial sector has no personnel shortages.
Criticism of the fast track initiative
Both trade unions and employers have largely welcomed the fast track initiative. However, some social partner representatives have been more sceptical. Anders Weihe, Chief Negotiator at The Association of Swedish Engineering Industries, has said he would like to pursue fast track discussions if it is understood that the government has the main responsibility for integrating migrants. He said there was a tendency for governments to shift responsibility for such matters to the social partners (in Swedish). He added: ‘It is not the task of the employers to create jobs. Instead, businesses’ commercial needs are what steer the demand for labour, and education and job-matching must remain the government’s areas of responsibility.’
Next year, the Government is adding SEK 376 million (€40.5 million as at 26 January 2016) to the fast-track budget. Costs for 2017 are estimated to rise to SEK 532 million (€57.3 million); for 2018, to SEK 422 million (€45.4 million); and for 2019, to SEK 339 million (€36.5 million).