For members


How could a new skills shortage test for work permits impact foreigners in Sweden?

Sweden's government has announced their intention to introduce a skills shortage test for work permits, which would mean work permits would only be awarded to those applying for a position in a sector where there is a national shortage. How could this impact foreigners?

How could a new skills shortage test for work permits impact foreigners in Sweden?
Healthcare workers are likely to be featured as an approved profession under a possible shortage list system. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

What is the shortage test?

The shortage test, known as arbetsmarknadsprövning in Swedish, is a system where prospective labour migrants wanting to work in Sweden will only have their work permits approved if they are filling a position where there is a national shortage.

Sweden has had this system before. It was scrapped in 2008 by the then-Moderate government led by Fredrik Reinfeldt, a move which migration minister Anders Ygeman said had caused issues in Sweden, such as extensive labour immigration for low-qualified jobs for which there is no shortage of labour nationally.

“Deregulation has led to serious consequences for the country,” Ygeman said at a press conference on Thursday, going on to say that there “have been many warning signals over the years”.

Who will be affected?

Firstly, this would mainly affect people who are not currently working in Sweden and applying for their first work permit in the country.

The law would only affect non-EU, non-Nordic people wishing to work in Sweden. EU and Nordic citizens have the right to live and work in Sweden without having to apply for a work permit.

It’s hard to say at this stage which professions would be affected, but a look at Denmark’s version of the system, the “positive list”, may provide some insight.

Denmark’s list for those with a higher education includes architects, healthcare professionals, teachers and programmers, and their list for skilled workers includes laboratory technicians, chefs, electricians, social and healthcare assistants and hairdressers.

It’s unclear how the law could be applied to those who are already working in the country, but it could mean that you run into issues when it’s time to renew – although, it should be stressed that any change in law is unlikely to happen for at least a year and a half, if it happens at all.

READ ALSO: How will the new work permit law just passed in Sweden affect foreigners?

What do Sweden’s political parties say about the shortage test?

Unsurprisingly seeing as they scrapped it last time they were in government, the Moderates are still against the shortage test. 

The Centre Party, Liberals and Green Party are also against reintroducing the shortage test, arguing that employers are better placed to decide whether they have a labour shortage than government authorities.

The Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and Left Party are backing the Social Democrats, with all three in favour of reintroducing the shortage test, but for different reasons.

The Left Party argues that it will prevent the exploitation of foreign workers, whereas the Christian Democrats and Sweden Democrats believe it should be introduced for all positions with a salary of less than 35,000 kronor per month, with no shortage requirement on positions with a higher salary.

When will it be introduced?

It may not be introduced at all. So far, the government have said that they plan to investigate the reintroduction of arbetsmarknadsprövning, but the investigation won’t start until the summer, after which it is expected to take at least a year.

That means that any change in law is unlikely to happen before the second half of 2023, making the return of the test reliant on the Social Democrats winning September’s election.

If the opposition parties were to win September’s election, it is even less likely that this law would be introduced. A more likely scenario in that case would be the introduction of a lower salary cap on work permits, meaning that applicants would have to secure a salary above a certain limit before they can be granted a permit.

It’s unclear what this salary would be, although the Moderates have previously argued it should be at least 85 percent of Sweden’s median salary, which would place the limit at aroung 27,500 kronor a month.

The Sweden Democrats and Christian Democrats are in favour of a higher cap, which would require prospective immigrants to earn at least 35,000 kronor to work in Sweden.

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For members


EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.