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.