On December 15 2008, the centre-right government, together with the Greens, liberalised Sweden’s restrictive rules on labour immigration. Hereby it is enough to have a job offer for a person from outside the EU to get a work permit. Previously, it was a government agency that made an examination of the labour market to see if there was a shortage of domestic labour. There is no quota or point system.
Sweden's largest business organisation, the Confederation Of Swedish Enterprise, is very supportive of the reform, since it has "corrected the skills shortages and increased competitiveness in business."
But the trade unions believe that the new system has several problems.
Earlier this year the Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ Union (HRF) inspected 60 restaurants in Stockholm county. None of them followed neither collective agreements, laws, nor regulations, according to HRF.
In addition, many of the restaurateurs had never seen any of the employees who got the work permits. They had disappeared to somewhere else, they were never meant to be working at the designated restaurant. HRF believes that the Swedish rules are abused by people in order to gain entry to the EU.
“We have met ‘brokers’, people who sell manpower,” says Per Persson, union representative at HRF, to news agency TT.
The Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO) have also complained that the system is too easy to abuse and that too many immigrant workers did not receive the wages and conditions that was a prerequisite for the work permit to be granted. The control function has major flaws and there is no way to penalise employers who misbehave, they have written in a debate article in daily Svenska Dagbladet.
Paying large sums for job offers
False job offers has become the new form of human trafficking, claims public broadcaster SVT. People who come to Sweden from outside the EU has often paid large sums to come to work, but when they arrive there promised job has disappeared.
Faedi is a Christian and belongs to the Coptic minority in Egypt. He tells SVT that it has become more common for Christians to be harassed and discriminated against since the Arab spring, so when he heard that it was possible to work in Sweden he decided to leave his home and try to build a new future.
But when he came to Södertälje, outside Stockholm, and made contact with the employer who had signed the job offer, he realised that he had been deceived. There was no work and the money was gone.
He dares not to report to the police, nor tell the Migration Board that he has not received the promised job. The Migration Board may, if he does not find another job within three months, withdraw his work permit and then he is no longer entitled to stay in Sweden.
He has so far made it through by borrowing money from friends and the Coptic Orthodox church in Södertälje helps him temporarily.
According to Ghayis Abdelmesih, a deacon at the Syrian Orthodox Church, it is very common for Egyptians and nationals of other countries outside the EU to have paid large sums of money, SEK 100,000, sometimes 200,000, to get the job offers that are necessary for the Migration Board to grant work permits in Sweden.
And almost as common is that the jobs do not exist when they arrive, or that such wages are much lower than what was promised.
“Human smugglers who previously transported people hidden in vehicles has now shifted to dealing with permits of various kinds, it is their new way to make money,” says Ulla Ahlbäck, inspector at the National Police intelligence unit and an expert on human trafficking, to SVT.
Skilled or unskilled labour?
Another problem that often highlighted is that labour migration largely consists of unskilled labour, and the labour migration thus dumping wages and out-competing unemployed in Sweden.
It's hard to interpret the statistics presented. But among the 3782 non-EU citizens getting a working permit so far this years, 1386, ie about 37 per cent have what would be classed as skilled labour, being for example IT specialists or engineers. 1152 granted working permits, ie about 30 per cent, have been given for clearly unskilled labour, for example restaurant assistants and cleaners. The remaining number is impossible to decipher.