Country Profile Sweden: Introduction

Sweden, the biggest country in Scandinavia with a population of just under ten million people, is today a multicultural society. In recent years, the immigration of people in need of protection, family members of migrants already resident in the country, as well as foreign workers and international students, has increased. In addition, European Union (EU) citizens, Norwegians and Icelanders are free to settle and work in Sweden.

Pedestrian zone in Malmö. By comparison with the rest of Europe, Sweden takes in many refugees and actively encourages new labor migrants without prejudice to their qualifications. (© picture-alliance/dpa, dpaweb)

While less than 60,000 people (foreign and Swedish nationals) immigrated to Sweden in 2000, annual immigration levels have been above 100,000 since 2012. In 2014, almost 127,000 people moved to Sweden. Following this trend, the share of foreign-born residents among the total population has risen from around 11.3 percent in 2000 to roughly 16.5 percent in 2014.[1]

Open Immigration Policy

Despite the fact that, since 2010, the xenophobic "Sweden Democrats" party (Sverigedemokraterna) has managed to strongly increase their presence in the political system, Sweden has so far maintained a relatively open immigration policy. In a factsheet about migration policy, the Swedish government confirmed in 2014 its ambition to maintain a "sustainable migration policy that safeguards the right to seek asylum and, within the framework of regulated immigration, facilitates mobility across borders, promotes demand-driven labor migration, harnesses and takes into account the effects of migration on development and deepens European and international cooperation." It also affirmed its conviction that immigration "helps to revitalize the Swedish society, the labor market and the economy as immigrants bring new knowledge and experience from their countries of origin."[2]


As a result of a strongly increasing number of asylum seekers arriving in Sweden in recent years, and subsequent immigration of family members of those asylum seekers who are granted protection, Sweden faces some challenges. There is a shortage of affordable housing for newly arrived migrants, and it is also difficult for them to find jobs. Unemployment levels among immigrants from non-EU countries are high.[3] Despite these challenges, Sweden’s integration policies are still often considered successful, and even exemplary. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Sweden has an outspoken policy of equal rights. All legal migrants who stay, or can be expected to stay, in Sweden for at least one year have access to health care, social security and other welfare benefits in the same way as Swedish nationals, regardless of where they come from and irrespective of the purpose of their stay.[4] There has also been an ambition to increase the presence of people with a migration background and immigrants in public life, thus symbolizing the openness of the multicultural society. Not least, this is true for many mainstream media, such as public television, political parties, and the government. In the current government, which is based on a minority coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party, there are several ministers with a migration background.[5]

By comparison with the rest of Europe, Sweden takes in many refugees and actively encourages new labor migrants without prejudice to their qualifications. Recently, the Swedish Parliament introduced legislation aiming at encouraging circular migration, thus committing to facilitate inward and outward mobility.[6]

The country profile first looks at historical developments of migration to and from Sweden, followed by an overview on recent immigration trends. It then focuses on immigration policy placing special emphasis on labor migration and approaches to circular migration. Said chapters lead up to (statistical) information on Sweden's current immigrant population and the question on how to integrate immigrants into mainstream society – an issue that is closely related to possibilities of citizenship acquisition. Following this, the country profile draws a closer look at both refugee migration to Sweden, including the country's asylum and refugee protection policies, and irregular migration. Finally, future challenges with regard to immigration are discussed.


Background Information


Capital: Stockholm
Official languages: Swedish (and recognized minority languages Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani, Sami and Yiddish)
Area: 447,435 km2
Population (2015): 9,784,445
Population density (2014): 24 inhabitants per km2
Population growth (2014): 1,08%
Foreign-born population as percentage of total population (2014): 16.5%
Labour force participation rate (2014): 66.2% (15- to 74-years old)
Percentage of foreign born in the labour force (2014): 16.7% (15- to 74-years old)
Unemployment rate: 7.9% (2014), 8.0% (2013), 8.0% (2012), 7.8% (2011), 8.6% (2010)
Religions: 64.6% Lutheran Christians, 35.4% other or no religious affiliation

Source: Statistics Sweden, Eurostat (unemployment rate), Church of Sweden (religions).
This text is part of the country profile Sweden.
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Source: Statistics Sweden. (http://www.scb.se/en_/Finding-statistics/Statistics-by-subject-area/Population/Population-composition/Population-statistics/Aktuell-Pong/25795/Yearly-statistics--The-whole-country/26040/)
Government Offices of Sweden (2014). (http://www.regeringen.se/content/1/c6/24/55/93/625193d0.pdf.)
In June 2015, approximately 6.5 percent of the Swedish-born population was unemployed. Among foreign-born people, unemployment was 17.4 percent. Source: Statistics Sweden. (http://www.scb.se/Statistik/AM/AM0401/2015M06G/AKU201506_1574.XLS)
Swedish Migration Board (2014).
http://www.government.se/government-of-sweden/ (accessed: 8-24-2015).
European Commission/European Migration Network (2015), p. 72.

Bernd Parusel

About the author

Bernd Parusel

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: bernd.parusel@migrationsverket.se

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