Sweden moves to allow freer flow of labor


In an attempt to tackle the effects of an aging population and a shrinking future labor force, the Swedish government Tuesday presented proposals aimed at making it easier to move to Sweden to work.

Migration Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters he had no estimate of how many people would be interested in applying for work permits, but said “key groups” at present included construction workers and health workers. Currently, work permits can be granted for up to 18 months but a parliamentary commission last year suggested increasing the period to 24 months. The new proposed system would allow foreign workers to stay up to four years if they had employment, Billstrom said.
The proposal included allowing foreign workers, who could prove their qualifications, to seek a three-month visa at a Swedish embassy and then seek employment in Sweden. Employers would also be allowed to look for labor abroad. The proposal presented by Billstrom was to be debated by trade unions, employers and other interest groups.

Compared to last year's proposal from a parliamentary inquiry headed by former Social Democratic cabinet member Lena Hjelm-Wallen, the trade unions would have less means of blocking applications. Billstom stressed that the trade unions would still have an important role “in determining wages, collective agreements and insurance terms.”
Dan Andersson, chief economist with blue-collar trade union federation LO, has voiced doubts over the trade unions' reduced influence in saying what jobs were impacted by labor shortages. Billstrom said the proposed system would follow legislation that specifies that positions should first be filled by workers in Sweden, and if that fails by workers from other European Union members or workers from the European Economic Area. In the globalized world economy, Sweden faced challenges recruiting labor Billstrom said, mentioning factors like language and climate as hurdles. He said the proposal would also allow foreign students who have graduated from a Swedish university to seek work in Sweden without first having to return to their native country, as is the case now.

In neighboring Finland, Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors also touched on work visas in an interview published Tuesday. “The government aims for a good employment policy, but there are already sectors where the domestic labor force is insufficient,” Thors was quoted as telling the Finnish news agency STT. By introducing work visas, some of the delay in the present system where authorities have to investigate if there is a work shortage or not before giving their approval would be reduced, Thors said. Random checks could be introduced to ensure that the system is upheld, she said. (

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