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Historical Development of Migration to and from Sweden | Sweden |

Sweden Introduction Historical Development Current Trends Immigration Policy Immigration / Circular Migration Integration Policy Citizenship Asylum and Refugees Irregular Migration Future Challenges References

Historical Development of Migration to and from Sweden

Bernd Parusel

/ 3 Minuten zu lesen

Sweden is a country of immigration with a multicultural society. The country actively promotes the immigration of foreign labor. Instead of pursuing a "guest worker policy" as other European countries did, the Swedish government already in the 1960s assumed that labor migrants would stay, integrate and finally become Swedish citizens.

Migration Movements before the 20th Century

Immigrants from Galicia 1910. In the past Swedens regents supported immigration and regarded emigration as a loss. (© picture-alliance, Mary Evans Picture Library)

Sweden has existed within its present territorial boundaries since 1905. Prior to that, Sweden and Norway had been united under one monarch. The year of the dissolution of the union marked the end of the decline of Sweden from the status of major European empire with control over wide areas of Scandinavia as well as of the Baltic, Russia and Germany. At the time of the empire, which flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries, there had already been migration movements. In those days, Sweden was a multilingual, religious and ethnically heterogeneous kingdom, whose leaders supported immigration and regarded emigration as a loss. Immigrants with capital and specialist skills were especially welcome; they contributed to making Sweden an important political power in Europe. During the period when Sweden was a major power, 17 languages were spoken domestically.

The dissolution of the empires of Denmark-Norway and Sweden-Finland in the early 19th century created four nation states in Northern Europe that still exist today. A dominant majority population and a Lutheran state church emerged in each of the four states. Contrary to the period of the great powers, however, a sense of nationality based on ethnicity now emerged, with each ethnic group resorting to its own history and language.

Migration in the 20th Century

During the rapid industrialization of the early 20th century, waves of emigrants headed for the even faster-growing economies of Denmark and Norway, as well as America.

Social unrest, political conflicts and espionage between the warring powers during the First World War prompted the Nordic countries to tighten control of migratory movements, among other means by way of visa regulations and the creation of central state immigration authorities and registers of foreigners. About 1917 the Scandinavian countries took in refugees from the former Tsarist Empire and organized summer vacations for children from the territories of the former Habsburg monarchy. During the Second World War, in which Sweden was not directly involved, Sweden became a place of refuge for about 180,000 refugees, in particular from Finland, Norway, Estonia, Denmark and Germany.

In 1954, following the formation of the "Nordic Council", Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland introduced a common labor market. Similar to the freedom of movement enjoyed by citizens of the more recently established EU, citizens of the northern European countries wishing to work in a Nordic partner country have since been able to move freely across internal borders without a work or residence permit. The agreement was also later joined by Finland. By then Sweden had developed into the North’s leading economic and industrial nation. After the Second World War and until the early 1970s, labor migrants were actively recruited, first in the Netherlands, West Germany, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Greece, and later also in Hungary, Yugoslavia and Turkey. Bilateral agreements were concluded with Italy, Austria and Hungary, and the Swedish labor agency Arbetsmarknadsstyrelsen opened recruitment agencies in Turin, Athens, Belgrade and Ankara. Many migrants also came from Finland, which at that time was less prosperous than Sweden. Unlike countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, the Swedish government did not pursue a "guest worker policy", but rather assumed from the outset that immigrant workers would stay, integrate and eventually become Swedish citizens.

In 1972/73 the recruitment of foreign workers was stopped as the economy slowed. Even after that, however, migratory movements continued. Instead of recruited workers, immigrants since then have mostly arrived to join relatives already resident in Sweden (family reunification/family formation) and as people in need of protection (e.g. refugees). Since joining the European Union in 1995, the principle of freedom of movement for EU citizens has also applied to Sweden. In addition, Sweden has acceded to the Schengen Agreement, thus abolishing controls at borders with other signatories. As a result, Sweden today does not conduct border controls at any of its land borders.

This text is part of the Interner Link: country profile Sweden.

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Dr. Bernd Parusel is a political scientist and migration and asylum expert. He works for the European Migration Network (EMN) at the Swedish Migration Agency and as a research officer at the Swedish Migration Studies Delegation (DELMI) in Stockholm. Email: E-Mail Link: