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Work is top priority in integration of Sweden's new arrivals

| Text: Gunhild Wallin

As soon as newly arrived refugees are granted permission to stay in Sweden the process of getting them established in society begins. The goal is to cut the time it takes to get settled into the labour market. Those who want to can use personal guides who'll help them with work and integration.

In December 2010 Sweden introduced a comprehensive integration reform. Before its introduction it could take up to one year from someone being granted permission to stay until they came into contact with the public employment service. Now this happens nearly immediately. The Migration Authority employs a job counsellor who instantly books the new arrival a time slot for a conversation at a local job centre about how to establish themselves in Sweden.

Greater Stockholm has received 100 people since the launch of the reform. The Farsta job centre is one of two in Greater Stockholm with responsibility for newly arrived refugees who have been given permission to stay.

"Now we can begin talking about a job from the very beginning of their stay. We should have an introduction plan within two months, and this plan is central to how a person can settle in quicker. It's our ambition to cut from seven to two years the average time it takes to settle in Sweden," says Margareta Sörqvist who heads the Farsta job centre.

Taking back responsibility

The employment service has been responsible for the integration of new arrivals before. This responsibility was shifted from them to the immigration authorities and municipalities in 1985.

The return of this responsibility to the employment service allows for a renewed focus on work, while many other parts of the integration process stay with the municipalities. They will be responsible for language training through Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) and for society and culture training. The municipalities will also guarantee accommodation to the set number of refugees they have agreed to receive. Schooling and child care is also a municipal responsibility, as is the responsibility for refugees under 18 who arrive alone. The majority of family reunion cases will not be affected by the reform, as those who already know a person with connections to the country are expected to manage better. 

"We are the main actor, but we cannot do this on our own without cooperating with the municipalities, the county administration and employers. We will be the spider in the web. Our main advantage now is that we have a national mandate which allows us to match people to the labour market in the whole of Sweden," says Margareta Sörqvist.

The all-important personal number

One thing which has slowed down the integration process and made things harder for new arrivals has been the personal number. Without it you won't get far in Sweden and many new arrivals have had to wait for a long time to get one, which again has made any contact with the authorities more difficult. The employment service will now prioritise the speeding up of this process in cooperation with the tax authorities.

"We do what we can to make it go quicker. I think it will be easier to speed up the process when two major authorities like ourselves and the tax authorities can work together," says Margareta Sörqvist.

There is also renewed focus on people's skills - activities will be tailored to the individual person's strength and abilities. All plans include Swedish For Immigrants and society and culture training, plus a range of individually tailored measures - from finding work, following children to nurseries or taking part in health promoting activities. 

The employment service can grant an introduction benefit of 231 Kronor (€26) a day while the introduction plan is being worked out, and 308 Kronor (€35) a day after that. If someone chooses not to follow the job centre plan, they risk loosing that benefit. Within six months there must also be a decision on where in the country a person might apply for work after an evaluation of the need for his or her skills in a particular location. The problem is that the availability of jobs rarely corresponds with the availability of places to live.

A new player

Another new measure is individual professional help for refugees. These 'guides' will coach people and help them see their introduction plan through until they are properly established in Swedish society. This is a voluntary service. The guides will all be hired externally by the employment service, and compensation will be linked to how well they manage to help in the establishing process. Each individual household member has the right to this support.

"This is a wide, large and exciting task. It is important for people who come here to be able to contribute, and Sweden has a lot to gain. We are facing a massive generational shift and it is important for our welfare and society as a whole that we manage to take care of our labour force," says Margareta Sörqvist.

Between 11 and 12,000 people are expected to be granted permission to stay in Sweden this year. The employment service is facing negative attitudes among the Swedish work force.

Greiff"But it's not like everyone of these people are knocking on our door at the same time. They have skills and these can be developed over time," says Bengt Greiff at the employment service head office's department of integration.

Easier to follow up

The employment service has already organised 140 meetings nationally to help various authorities discuss and prepare for the reform. The mood has been generally good among our partners and ourselves, says Bengt Greiff.

"Giving a state organisation the overall responsibility has its advantages. It allows a comprehensive follow up of which measures work in the establishing process. This has not been so easy as long as responsibility has rested with the municipalities," he says.

Bengt Greiff feels the reform is a great challenge both in terms of its goals and in terms of getting all parties to be flexible and to pull in the same direction. It's a positive sign that people have started talking about work and that everyone has begun figuring out what can be done collectively as soon as a person has been granted permission to stay.

"Our challenge is to make sure new arrivals get jobs faster and to cooperate with many different partners to achieve that task. This means we need to get accommodation and other structures in tune with the labour market. Another challenge is to encourage people to move to the regions where their chance of finding work is higher," says Bengt Greiff.

He highlights the importance of cooperation between municipalities and central authorities in order to reduce the time it takes for someone to establish themselves in Swedish society. It is also important to build on the experiences which municipalities have gathered over many years.

"We will also approach the voluntary sector. We welcome all the help we can get," he says.

Facts about the reform:
  1. On December 2010 the Swedish Public Employment Service was given the responsibility for newly arrived refugees who had been granted permission to stay.
  2. The reform's aim is to shorten the time it takes for refugees to establish themselves in society.
  3. A person who has been granted permission to stay will immediately be linked to a job centre, which will assess the person's skills. The job centre will also recommend a place to live and within two months it must present an introduction plan.
  4. The new arrival will then be free to choose a place to live.
  5. The job centre will decide on a possible introduction benefit which can last up to two years.
  6. This will be paid out by the social insurance office, which can also decide whether to pay supplementary introduction benefit for housing.
  7. Municipalities retain the responsibility for language training (Swedish For Immigrants) and for society and culture training.
  8. They also retain responsibility for accommodation, schooling and child care.
  9. The county administration will coordinate the different parties and is responsible for evaluation. 

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