Swedish integration policy has internationally been regarded both as one of the most ambitious and successful.
Challenges Regarding Immigrant Integration
Strongly increasing immigration, especially since 2010, has raised questions as to whether the Swedish labor market has been strong enough to absorb newly arrived migrants. There is also a severe lack of affordable housing. While this has been a problem in the larger metropolitan areas within Sweden for a long time, even less dynamic municipalities in remoter regions now face serious shortages. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the Swedish Migration Agency normally uses ordinary apartments as accommodation for asylum seekers. Those who are granted protection are required to move out of the Agency’s reception facilities, but in practice, they will most often need the same type of housing even after the asylum procedure. Thus, there is competition between similar groups of newly arrived migrants at different stages of the immigration process for a more and more limited segment of the housing market.
In earlier periods, such as during the 1960s and 1970s, immigrants had less difficulty finding jobs and a place to stay in Sweden. To be attractive as employers, companies with labor needs sometimes provided recruited immigrants with accommodation and trade unions assisted with integration measures. In school, children from foreign families had the right to be taught in their mother tongue for a certain number of hours a week. This still exists, but due to a lack of resources and the broad variety of languages spoken among immigrants today, municipalities are sometimes not able to provide sufficient mother tongue tuition. Municipal libraries have also played an important role for integration, in earlier times by, for example, purchasing lexicons, newspapers and books in the major immigrant languages.
Political Thought Guiding Integration Policies
In the 1960s and 1970s, Sweden was markedly influenced by social democratic thought, and policies were based on the assumption, that immigrants would stay. As early as 1968, the egalitarian approach already outlined was anchored in the first governmental bill about immigrant policy objectives: immigrants were to have the opportunity to achieve the same living standards as the rest of the population.
In the 1980s and 1990s, when the influx of refugees and family members migrating to Sweden for reunification was growing, the image of generosity and equality that had developed over the years was increasingly felt to be a burden. The government felt obliged to demonstrate that Sweden was able to restrict immigration. Stricter immigration control was now deemed a prerequisite for successful integration. In line with restrictions in asylum and immigration legislation introduced at the time, the strategy adopted with regard to integration was also changed; whereas previously multiculturalism had been stressed and at times fostered by the state, this policy was considered to have accentuated cultural differences between Swedes and immigrants, thereby gradually reinforcing mental and social boundaries. The new policy was intended, instead, to play down such differences, stress similarities and focus on social cohesion.
"All Sweden" Policy
To prevent disproportionate concentrations of the immigrant population in certain places, the government once attempted to disperse newly arrived asylum seekers and recognized refugees throughout the country under what was known as the "All Sweden" policy. This was intended to counteract a strong trend in more remote regions, especially in central and northern Sweden, towards ageing populations and the de-population of smaller towns as a consequence of young people moving to the cities and the South of the country. In the course of the last decade, however, the "All Sweden" policy has brought about a dilemma: municipalities in regions suffering from emigration and ageing declared their readiness to take in asylum seekers and refugees; however, there was often a shortage of jobs in such places, with the result that migrants accommodated there often tried to move on to bigger cities as quickly as possible. In cities such as Gothenburg, Malmö or Stockholm there may indeed be more jobs available, but there is limited low-cost housing, leading to an increased concentration of migrants crowded into the suburbs, which contributes to social tension. High-rise buildings in the suburbs of Stockholm and other cities are symbolic of this situation, having been erected between 1965 and 1975 under the so-called "Million Program" (Miljonprogrammet). Today some of these areas are run-down. As the rents are comparatively low, many socially disadvantaged groups live there, such as migrants, low-income single parents and poor pensioners. Social scientists speak of this as marginalization and social segregation.
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