Politics & Policies

Immigration in Sweden – An overview of historical and contemporary migration trends and debates

In 2015 a record-breaking 162,877 asylum seekers entered Sweden, which along with Germany was the preferred destination for a wave of Syrians, Afghans, and others who reached European soil in search of protection and better lives. In response, the Swedish government introduced border controls, followed in mid-2016 by a highly restrictive asylum and reunification law—a major policy shift for a country that has long prided itself on its generous asylum stance. Even as asylum applications and grants plummeted, concerns over immigration grew among the Swedish public. The nationalist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats received 17.6 percent of the vote in September 2018 elections, while the center-left Social Democrats, in power for much of the 20th century, posted their worst results since 1908. Three months after an election that gave neither the center-left or center-right a majority, the country still struggled to form a government.

While Swedish asylum policy has undoubtedly taken a restrictionist turn, with the center-right coalition adopting the terms of the Sweden Democrats, other aspects of the country’s migration policy remain welcoming. Labor immigration has increased since a major reform was passed in 2008. Family reunification numbers have kept growing. And Swedish integration policy remains among the most liberal in the world, although it too has recently moved in a restrictionist direction.

The changes to Swedish asylum law since 2015 are dramatic, to be sure, but they have a historical context and are part of a complex set of migration policies. This country profile begins with an overview of historical and contemporary migration trends and debates, and then discusses two of the most vital migration policy areas today: asylum policy following the refugee crisis of 2015-16, and labor immigration policy post-2008 reform. In doing so, this article shows that Sweden has had a complicated and by turns welcoming and restrictive attitude to immigration—a historical dynamic that continues to shape Swedish migration policy.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Sweden: By Turns Welcoming and Restrictive in its Immigration Policy | migrationpolicy.org


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