Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Swedish Immigration and Integration Contracts

The immigration issue is up for debate again here in Sweden. I’ve written about this a few times. Most recently, the post about Sweden’s immigration minister Tobias Billström and his open letter in Dagens Nyheter. One of the points brought up by Billström was the idea of Swedishness.
Tobias Billström is a member of the governing party in Sweden at the time, Moderaterna, the Moderates. Moderaterna are considered to be a conservative party here in Sweden. And it is Moderaterna who are now proposing some new immigration reform.

Moderaterna propose that immigrants to Sweden sign a contract. A Swedish integration contract if you will. A signature on the contract will state that the signee is familiar with Swedish laws, customs, mores. Swedishness. The idea, according to Moderaterna, is to make sure that those coming to this country understand what they are getting themselves into. It is a way of making Swedish expectations clear.

As it stands right now, the proposal would not require those seeking asylum in Sweden to sign the contract. It also would most likely not require signature from people coming from EU countries who are working in Sweden. That leaves a lot of questions, because a large number of immigrants to Sweden fall under those two categories.

One of the party members involved in the proposal, Per Schlingmann is paraphrased as saying “att underteckna ett sådant papper ska inte vara ett villkor för att få stanna i Sverige.” Basically, the signing of such a contract should not be a requirement to be allowed to stay in Sweden. Which leaves the contract with absolutely no teeth.

Let me quickly summarize, right now the contract would not need to be signed by asylum seekers or EU members working in Sweden, which make up a large part of all immigrants to Sweden. Of those who should sign the contract, it will not be viewed as a requirement for being allowed to stay in Sweden. So really it’s just a piece of paper.

In 2007, nearly 84,000 people were granted resident permits in Sweden. Of those, about 18,000 were granted permits on the grounds of asylum. Another 19,000 on the grounds of EU citizenship. Nearly half then would not have to sign the contract.

However, in an attempt to have some sort of incentive for paying attention to the contract, Moderaterna have come up with an idea. And it hinges on Sweden’s social welfare system. Of course. They have decided to use economic consequences. Billström has said that after two and a half years, only 20% of immigrants to Sweden are able to support themselves. The rest are living off the state. So economic consequences could be severe. The idea is that if immigrants to Sweden do not follow Swedish customs, Swedish laws, Swedish values, then they will see their social welfare checks decrease.

Of course this brings up plenty of questions as to who will be deciding if people are integrating into that idea of Swedishness. And what Swedishness actually entails. And how in the hell the country is going to keep tabs on the Swedishness of thousands upon thousands of immigrants. Plus, how long do they have to embrace this Swedishness? Is there a grace period? When do they graduate to a point that they will not need to be checked up on? There are plenty of questions.

Obviously, many government officials have opinions about the proposal. The main opposition party, Socialdemokraterna, the Social Democrats, have differing opinions. Some believe the plan hasn’t really been thought through. That it goes against the rights of immigrants because in a country that prides itself on equality, asking immigrants to sign a contract isn’t fair because not everyone is asked to sign a contract. Others within the party actually think that making expectations clear is a good thing and should be considered. Some argue that, while there are obviously problems in integrating immigrants, a contract won’t solve anything. Still others think that it is just plain racist.

I don’t see this as racist. I see it as poorly executed, short-sighted, and without any teeth, but I don’t see it as racist. Expecting certain behavior from people is not racist. Expecting that people follow the laws of your country is not racist. Expecting that people, at the very least, respect your values and customs is not racist.

Obviously, issues exist with the influx of immigrants to Sweden. There is bound to be culture clash. Especially with so many coming from countries that have different values than Sweden. One of the main issues repeatedly brought up in this discussion is the treatment of women in other countries as opposed to Sweden. Sweden prides itself on equality. Other countries marry off their daughters against their will. Or kill them in so called honor killings because they disobeyed their family’s wishes. That doesn’t really jive with the Swedish train of thought. Which is understandable. Moderaterna think that a contract for immigrants will take care of that problem.

There are a few countries that have integration contracts. France and Denmark both require immigrants to sign a contract while Gordon Brown of Great Britain has stated that those who want to become citizens of the UK must sign a contract as well. In the US, there is no signed piece of paper when immigrating. However, in terms of becoming a citizen there is a test to be taken about American history and government. Requirements also include being able to speak English, as well as a swearing in ceremony in which you affirm your allegiance to the United States.

I don’t have an answer to this. Immigration is an incredibly difficult subject. I believe that immigration is absolutely essential to the diversity and continued advancement of a country. However, I also believe that immigration must be legal and controlled. Without controlled immigration, problems are bound to arise. Economic problems, as can be seen in Sweden with only one fifth of immigrants being able to support themselves after two and a half years, and social problems, which can be seen in various walks of life, for example prejudice in the job market. An historical example of course being the US and the NINA signs in shop windows in the northeast just a few generations ago. No Irish Need Apply.

I will say this though, the fact that this issue is being discussed more and more is a good thing. It demonstrates that people realize that immigration reform is necessary. It demonstrates that people are paying attention. And it also demonstrates that people want to make it work. If the discussion could avoid devolving into who is racist and who isn’t, it might go somewhere. And of course if the government could come up with something a bit better than a contract that has no balls.

Welcome to Sweden. Please sign on the dotted line.

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  1. Yeah, it is a pretty lame proposal. It is better to give some short course on how the Swedish society works. For citizenship a simple test would be good, like in Germany.

  2. Im definitely a fan of the test for citizenship.

    but a contract for just immigrating... well it just doesn't seem like the right answer to the issues.

  3. If "native" swedes don't have the same knowledge, is our welfare cut as well? I'm aware of swedes who have less knowledge about their own country than immigrants do. Why aren't they punished?

    The idea of informing newcomers of laws is good. But the way the want to punish people is indeed racist.

  4. @Mattias: The idea with a citizenship test is not to flunk people but to make it easy enough that people are encouraged to learn. It is not racist since it has nothing to do with race. It is not racist that citizens have rights that non-citizens do not have; otherwise the whole idea of citizenship would be worth nothing.

  5. Sv: Then what do you propose?

  6. Personally i think a class that gives us some Swedish History and etiquette would be fun! I would support that, but i do not propose cutting off benefits.
    I have met too many families from war torn countries that are so scared and shell shocked when they come to Sweden, they need a few months to get to the point where they can relax. So if one fifth of the immigrants need more than 2 years to assimulate, i am not upset.
    Swedes never brag, but i am an American, so i will say it. Sweden has done a great job to give these people a chance. I have also seen alot of success stories, it's healing, and inspiring.

  7. I'm really fed up with the issue of immigration in Sweden (and EU, in general). It is at the very least hipocrisy. Europeans have gotten so softy in this matter and at the same time choosing to be "politically correct". It is very frowned upon to say that the european culture is rich and that immigrants must learn it and obey european rules.

    And there's also the "selection" of who can immigrate to Europe. I'm a Brazilian born of 100% european background(all my great-grandfathers were western europeans), but simply can't have a temporary residence permit in any european country. I'm simply a unwanted citizen there. While a lot of people from all over the middle-east can simply fly over to europe and demand(yes, demand!) asylum, and can live with government benefits, and of course, most of them don't try even to speak the language properly, don't want to learn the customs, laws, or integrate into society.

    And of course, anyone who simply states this is promptly labeled a "nazi" or "racist". I simply think that European culture is amazing and it should be more valued.

  8. @mattias – I’m with jesper on this one Im afraid. Citizens very simply should be afforded rights that non-citizens have.

    Its hard to cut the welfare benefits of Swedish citizens because they have grown up paying taxes in the system for those very benefits. So while there may be plenty of Swedes who are ignorant of Swedish laws and customs, they have done their time if you will.
    @jesper – well said.

    @susanne – well that’s the question. And as I said in the post, I don’t really have an answer. I would like to see citizenship require some sort of test though. Although the issue of just straight immigration before citizenship is a bit trickier.

    I will say though that, if youre going to come out with a contract then it either needs to have teeth and be enforceable and required of everyone coming to the country, or you just shouldn’t have one. This half ass idea of a contract that some people might be asked, but not required, to sign is just kind of silly in my opinion.

    @anonymous – a class focusing on history and etiquette and culture and values would be excellent. And I don’t think it fair that all of this be expected to be covered in the SFI classes. Those classes are meant to focus on the language. To then try to cram a bunch of other information down peoples throat seems overwhelming.

    I would like to point out that it is four fifths of people who need more than two and a half years before they are living on their own. Only one fifth are able to support themselves after two and a half years. Not sure if I wrote that incorrectly in the post. I’ll go back and check.

    But you are right, Sweden has done some excellent work with granting asylum to, for example, Iraqis. I won’t argue with that.

    @anonymous – it is an interesting issue. And I agree. Swedes at least are want to say that they have a culture and a Swedish identity. They seem afraid to embrace that because it might smack in the face of other cultures.

    You’re also right about the immigration policies. What you see in Sweden is that if you come from an EU country its pretty easy to get in. Or if you come from a war torn country its easy to get in. Otherwise… well, tough luck.

  9. Isn't this the same administration that cut the military spending and sold off assets? (goodbye Absolut)Also unemployment benefits are now paid for seperately with extra fees that used to be included in the taxes. Now they are concerned about social spending?
    These things may look nice on a budget sheet temporarily, but running a country is not like running a corporation. Sweden is not the US, where people are happy to pay taxes for nothing in return, or see the money spent for things they don't agree with. Swedes do not see wellfare the same as Americans. They see it as social insurance, you pay into the insurance and it's there for those when they need it, not IF but when.
    In Sweden there are different degrees of social help,rental assistance, parent leave, i will count unemployment benefits, and higher education and job training too. Does this number of immigrants include people who use any one or combination of these programs?

  10. Actually, I think the idea with this is not so much concern with social spending but with immigration and integration. Social spending just happens to be something they can use as an incentive to promote integration.

    And you’re right, Sweden is nothing like the us. Especially when it comes to taxes. The us would pick up arm if the government imposed a tax burden of about 47%.

    Im not sure I understand your last question though. You ask “Does this number of immigrants include people who use any one or combination of these programs?” what number are you talking about?

  11. The plan seems very not thought through. I do agree, however, that some contract, test or other requirements for aquiring citizenship in Sweden is neccesary.

    For example, I think we should follow the American (for once, huh?) line a bit and demand that people who are moving into this country either have to know Swedish adequatly when applying for citizenship, asylum or whatever or that they should be required to sign some contract stating that they will learn Swedish here, maybe through SFI.

    I mean, how the hell are they going to integrate without knowing the official language (sorry, I forgot that Swedish isn't the official language of Sweden, since that would be racist) of the country?

    The problem, though, is that when Folkpartiet talked about a language test for people seeking Swedish citizenship they were labelled 'racists' by a lot of people and were even made fun of in a sketch, shown regurarly before and after commercial breaks, during TV4:s "nollrasism"-campaign where the comedian Özz Nûjen made a supposed imitation of Folkpartiet and said something like "a language test! That should teach those motherfuckers!"... What I'm trying to say is exactly what you stated in your post here, there is still a danger of being labelled 'racists' when coming up with propositons like these. I just don't know if Sweden is ready yet...

  12. @Jesper

    You didn't read my entire post. I wrote "The idea of informing newcomers of laws is good. But the way the want to punish people is indeed racist."

    I'm not against helping newcomers to understand the laws of the country they've arrived in. I'm against monetary punishment, by cutting welfare.

  13. @Hairy Swede
    We should be afforded the right to not have any knowledge of swedish law, while immigrants must?

  14. @robban – Im glad you’re back, it seems like its been a while. And I agree with what you say. The idea of everything being racist because it involves immigration will only serve to make any development in immigration policy damn near impossible. It’s a shame.

    @mattias – no I believe that people who have citizenship should be given the benefit of the doubt. For the most part, people who have Swedish citizenship have lived in Sweden for a while. There are exceptions. I could be argued to be one of them. Although at this point, adding up all the time Ive spent here Im approaching 10 years in Sweden.

    Anyway, the point being that, if you are a citizen, you probably live in the country. If you live in the country, you have probably absorbed quite a bit of the laws. The culture. The values of that very country.

    So yeah, citizens should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to those sorts of things.