‘Every global citizen should work in Sweden’

'Every global citizen should work in Sweden'
Sweden's efforts to liberalize rules governing labour migration are meant to ensure that working in Sweden becomes an obvious choice for every global citizen, argues migration minister Tobias Billström.

Continued openness to the outside world is critical to our future development. Mobility, both migration and international trade, promotes our economic growth.

It must also be noted that Sweden is a small country on the edge of Europe with a climate that isn’t altogether welcoming for part of the year. Sweden has therefore taken a leading role in international migration. When others lower the barriers, we open more roads. In the global competition for labor, Sweden should be able to attract the people who move across borders.

The government’s policy is based on getting more people working and creating the conditions for more and growing businesses. At the same time, there is a labour shortage in some occupations and industries, current unemployment notwithstanding.

The increasing proportion of elderly people in the population also represents a serious long-term challenge to the sustainability of our welfare system. To successfully address these challenges requires foresight and political action. Our premise is that mobility is something positive.

Labour migration is a way to, in the short and long term, prevent a shortage of labour. Following reforms enacted in 2008, the prerequisites are in place for meeting the needs of the Swedish labour market by now allowing employers decide what skills are needed at the company.

There’s no public authority as well suited as the employers themselves for assessing those needs and therefore there are no restrictive quotas or no requirements for a specific skill or education level.

However, the demands that are very clearly stated are that the pay and employment conditions must not be inferior to collective wage agreements or common practices in the industry. We therefore need to open the supply of jobs to a wider audience, and to widen the supply of labor for firms operating in Sweden.

The OECD noted at the end of last year that Sweden now has the most liberal system for labour migration of all OECD countries. That’s good news because a simple and effective regulatory framework for labour migration can help to make it attractive to actually choose Sweden, both for establishing businesses and for those who migrate.

Sweden’s demand-driven system has attracted interest from traditional destination countries for labour migrants such as Australia and Canada. The point systems and quotas applied there are not able to meet the labour market’s true needs. Meanwhile, labor immigrants’ skills and expertise aren’t always fully utilized.

Today’s globalized labour market means that temporary and recurrent migration, rather than a permanent move from one country to another, has become increasingly common. Past patterns of movement are giving way to what is called circular migration, a movement to a country and then return to their country of origin or another country. Most of us today likely know at least one so-called circular migrant. Nor is it a strictly a new phenomenon, with the great emigration of Swedes to the United States at the end of the 1800s and the subsequent trek back to Sweden serving as an early example of circular migration.

To follow up on labour migration reforms, the government in 2009 appointed a parliamentary committee on circular migration and development. Last year it presented proposals to widen the scope for increased mobility between Sweden and migrants countries of origin. In a globalized labour market, it’s about attracting skills and ensuring that working in Sweden become a natural part of every global citizen’s CV.

People’s decisions and movements across borders aren’t only affected by the regulations governing their entry and exit or their work and residence permits.

Equally important are issues of family, taxation and social security benefits. Labour migrants who come to Sweden today already have the opportunity to bring their families, who in turn are also given access to the Swedish labour market. It’s also appropriate to further develop the possibilities for migrant workers to transfer their accrued rights to countries as well as the portability of Swedish social security benefits. We also need to consider our tax system in light of the international competition for labour.

With this openness and positive view on mobility, Sweden can be attractive not only for labour migrants, but also for employers, foreign investors and entrepreneurs. Perhaps we may eventually see even more international corporations headquartered in the Swedish cities.

Tobias Billström is Sweden’s Minister for Migration and Asylum policy. This article was originally published in Swedish on the Newsmill opinion website.

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