Sweden's migration policy

"It can be said that immigration policy of Sweden started to be shaped at the end of 1960’s, when ‘labor force’ immigration was under way...."

Sweden's migration policy

Hafsa Orhan Astrom - World Bulletin 

According to recent news published on the Turkish version of World Bulletin (DünyaBülteni), Swedish Migration Board announced that they will give residence permit to eight thousand Syrians. This is yet another brick in the wall of Swedish migration policy.[1]

A brief history of migration

Sweden has been quite homogenous country until World War II. One of the main reasons for that was its relatively low development levels. This was also why mass emigrations appeared especially before World War I from Sweden to U.S. But since World War II, the economic situation of Sweden has been improved rapidly and the country became one of the magnetic fields of immigration. Most of the early immigrations were under the title of ‘labor force’ those came from Nordic countries. Then the type of immigration shifted towards political one. According to Statistics Sweden, the amount of immigrants increased from 20 thousand to 100 thousand per year in between 1960-2012.

Of course there were ups and downs throughout the period, but in general there is an increasing trend, especially since 1990’s. As of 2012, there were around 667 thousand foreign nationals in Sweden most of whom are from Finland, Denmark, Iraq, Poland and Somalia. Meanwhile, at the same year, the amount of people who were born outside Sweden was around 1.5 million, a bit more than 6% of the population. If Sweden-born but foreign-background people are also taken into account, this number would automatically rise. These numbers show that there is substantial amount of people who are the subjects of migration politics in Sweden.

Migration politics of Sweden, then and now

After this general information, let’s turn back to the main issue of how Swedish migration policy has been shaped since the first wave of immigrations. It can be said that immigration policy of Sweden started to be shaped at the end of 1960’s, when ‘labor force’ immigration was under way. According to the information announced by the Migration Board of Sweden, the Parliament decided that the ones who would like to work in Sweden should first attain a visa before they come to Sweden and to be able to get this visa, it should first be approved if there is a need of ‘labor force’ inside the field the work visa is asked for. By decline of ‘labor force’ immigration in 1980’s, the migration policy became mostly related to refugees, family immigrant and asylum seekers.

Today, Swedish ‘migration policy’ covers refugee and immigration policy, repatriation, support for repatriation and the link between migration and development. While dealing with these issues, Sweden has cooperation with EU and international authorities such as UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Despite the existence of meagre critics, it can be argued that from 80s till today the Swedish migration politics has been relatively generous or less restrictive. Such an ambitious argument can be supported by the evidence of the study of Timothy and Williamson that between 1982-2001, Sweden was the top second country in terms of accepted asylum seekers per capita among twenty European and North American countries. Further evidence for the generosity of Swedish migration policy can be found on the web side of Migrant Integration Policy Index.

Why is Swedish migration policy generous?

In general, there can be many determinants shaping the migration policy of a country; historical conditions, culture, economic situation, political experiences, civil society, etc. These are the first and foremost reasons I can think of. However, when it comes to Sweden, cultural and economic situation alone seem less important to explain the relatively generous migration policy since despite the existence of similar culture and economic welfare systems, Swedish migration politics differs from other Nordic countries. Hence, we should concentrate on the other determinants.

In that regard, the research study of Bagheri-Niko and Sanders compare Danish and Swedish migration politics and finds two important reasons for the question of why Swedish migration politics is less restrictive than the Danish one. These two reasons are historical experiences regarding migration and national political opinions. The first reason underlines the fact that Sweden experienced positive aspects of migration, especially via ‘labor force’ immigration; meanwhile, the second reason indicates the dominance of more tolerant Social democratic governments instead of populist right-wing parties. As a matter of fact, the then Swedish government under the auspices of GöranPersson prepared a document in 1997 which is the background of current multiculturalistic policy opinion. It is especially true that political party positions affect the general direction of migration politics.

For instance, on the official web page of Sverigedemokraterna/Swedish Democrats, the right-wing populistic party of Sweden, it is written that the party supports ‘responsible immigration’ and at the same time they oppose the multicultural social structure as it requires fragmentation and alienation. It is obvious that these would be the milestones of Swedish Democrats’ migration politics if they have voice in government. However, I think there is one more reason in case of Sweden which is as important as political party opinions. This is the position of media where one of the feverishly supported ideas is multiculturalism. The position of media is important since today it is basically a political or social suicide to say something or act in a way which can be interpreted as somewhat against multiculturalism. In this context, the effect of media on society is two-fold, one directly and one indirectly through its effects on political parties.

“Swedish multiculturalism is a make-believe project”

Modern Swedish migration policy which has been shaped since 1960s is mostly categorised as being generous. Such a generous policy arises due to different determinants such as historical experience, political party opinions and media. The last two determinants, in my opinion which are stronger than the first one, can also mean that multiculturalist tendency regarding the issue of migration is an elitist, top-down idea. This may be the reason why Swedish journalist and writer Nathan Shachar argues that Ottoman style multiculturalism was genuine and not planned, whereas, Swedish one is a make-believe project.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 03 Ekim 2013, 12:59