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26.11.2015

Irregular Migration in Sweden

Sweden attracts many immigrants. Yet, not all of them have a valid residence permit. Especially rejected asylum seekers abscond to avoid forced return to their countries of origin. Swedish society and the Scandinavian welfare state, however, do not leave much room for irregular stays.

Swedish police clear an illegal camp in Malmö. The scandinavian welfare state with its comprehensive and detailed record of the population does not leave much room for irregular stays. (© picture-alliance/dpa)


Quantifying the Irregular Immigrant Population



To quantify the extent of irregular migration to Sweden is a difficult task. An inquiry committee that was tasked by the government in 2010 to present proposals on how to regulate access to health care and medical services for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants estimated that there were between 10,000 and 35,000 migrants staying in Sweden without valid residence permits or visas.[1] Meanwhile, the Migration Agency assumes that most undocumented migrants who come to Sweden apply for asylum after arrival. When they are rejected, they often abscond in order to avoid forced return. It also happens that asylum seekers go into hiding to avoid to be transferred to other EU Member States under the Dublin regulation.[2] In 2014, the Swedish Migration Agency handed more than 11,000 cases over to the police for forced return, mostly rejected asylum seekers. 7,350 of them subsequently disappeared from their registered places of residence, which means that removals could not be enforced.[3] If it is assumed that this happens in several thousand cases each year, Sweden may gradually build up a growing stock of irregular migrants. It is very unclear, however, if all rejected migrants who abscond really stay in Sweden. As the country belongs to the Schengen area, and is surrounded by other Schengen states, there are no border controls at land borders. Hence, it is impossible to know whether disappeared persons are hiding within the country, or have left Sweden for other countries. It is of course also virtually impossible to monitor arrivals. Some migrants may enter Sweden without giving notice to authorities.

In general, it can be assumed, however, that the number of irregular migrants in Sweden is smaller than in central or south European countries. This is attributable to the fact that Swedish society leaves little room for irregular stays.[4] The Scandinavian welfare state stands out by, among other things, having a comprehensive and detailed record of the population. All citizens and legal immigrants have a personal identification number comprising the date of birth and four further digits that clearly identifies each person in the municipal tax registers.[5] Without such a number it is not possible to open a bank account, receive social security benefits or claim other social services, or apply for a telephone line. This makes it difficult to live without legal residence status, and due to the cold Scandinavian climate, it is not possible to live on the street during most of the year. In addition, a high degree of unionization among Swedish workers makes it difficult for an irregular worker to remain undetected.

Regularization



In 2005, Parliament reformed Swedish asylum law; thereby bringing Sweden in line with EU asylum legislation that had entered into force in previous years. In this context, a measure was introduced for regularizing rejected asylum seekers and people living in Sweden for some years under a deportation order that had not yet been carried out. Those concerned were given the right to submit a new application for asylum by March 2006. The Migration Board was required to apply particularly flexible criteria when assessing these follow-up applications. According to the Migration Agency, about 30,000 applications were submitted, of which just 60 percent were approved. The approval right was as high as 96 percent for applicants from countries to which it was impossible to carry out deportations.[6]

Access to Health Care and Education



Access for irregular migrants to health care and education for undocumented children have been important topics of discussion in Sweden. As equal access to social services is an important issue, as are children's’ rights, a new law entered into force in Sweden in July 2013, giving irregular migrants access to basic health care on the same terms as registered asylum seekers. At the same point in time, it was also clarified by law that children without legal residence in Sweden have the same right to education as legal residents. Both issues were previously not legally regulated.

This text is part of the country profile Sweden.
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Fußnoten

1.
SOU (2011b), p. 31.
2.
Migrationsverket (2011), p. 2.
3.
Source: Swedish Migration Agency (2015b), p. 20.
4.
Geddes (2003), pp. 110f.
5.
A precondition to the issuing of a personal identification number is obligatory registration with the Tax Agency at the relevant municipality. Upon registration the following personal data are stored: name, age, sex, marital status, spouse and children below legal age (if applicable), town of birth, country of birth, nationality, date of immigration or emigration with country of origin and destination, current address. Municipal tax registers can be accessed by other government organizations.
6.
Migrationsverket (undated press release): Resultat av den tillfälliga lagen om prövning av beslut om av- och utvisning, Norrköping: Migrationsverket.

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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