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January 2002, Volume 9, Number 1

Northern Europe

During the 1990s, there were often clashes between neo-nazis and anti-racists over the presence of immigrants in Sweden- 22 percent of Swedish residents were born outside Sweden, or have a parent who was born outside the country.

During the 1980s, the anti-immigrant New Democracy party kept immigration in the news. The New Democracy party faded in the early 1990s. However, in 2001, immigration has once again become a political issue, as Swedes debated projections that, after 2008, the Swedish labor force would shrink. The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise wants to promote immigration and integration, and has endorsed the government's call to allow Poles and other Eastern Europeans freedom of movement as soon as their countries join the EU.

The Swedish bank Foreningssparbanken released a report predicting that Sweden will need immigration but will not be attractive to well-educated immigrants because of high taxes, and because Swedish companies are slow to integrate immigrants: "In our Swedish culture we have a difficult time appreciating differences. We must realize that immigration is enriching."

However, Mona Sahlin, Swedish integration minister, says employment prospects for immigrants in Sweden have improved considerably, in part because "the lack of labor has at last got many employers not to discriminate against people with 'strange names' or a 'strange skin color', which is a problem." However, immigrants in Sweden, who on average have more education than Swedes, often wind up in menial jobs.

A poll in July 2000 that found that 54 percent of Swedes believed there were too many foreigners in Sweden, up from 46 percent in 1999. Respondents said that foreigners committed a disproportionate amount of crime and caused problems in schools. Some want to stop drawing distinctions between Swedes and immigrants. One immigrant said: "I am irritated by the debate. We have been hearing this for many years. Children of foreign parents are classified in Sweden as children with special needs. But they are Swedes. Stop treating us differently."

Sweden has reduced the percentage of asylum applicants recognized as refugees from 80 percent in the 1970s and 1980s to 40 percent in the 1990s. Some 16,000 foreigners applied for asylum in 2000, and on several occasions the government used tricks-such as offers of jobs-to entice some of the 2,000 foreigners in hiding to avoid deportation to reveal themselves so they could be removed.

Sweden has been called the weak link against human smuggling in northern Europe because its penalties for smuggling are low- a maximum of four years imprisonment, which has never been imposed- and because phone tapping is illegal in Sweden, except in special cases that do not include human smuggling.

Sweden grants several types of work permits, including permits good for up to 18 months to cope with temporary labor shortages, permits for seasonal workers, and permits that provide work experience as part of international exchange programs. An additional international exchange work permit is available for academics and researchers that allows about 1,000 foreigners a month to enter Sweden for up to 48 months, provided they have a job offer that pays at least 13,000 SEK a month and have housing. Beginning in 2001, foreigners in Sweden less than five years can exempt themselves from taxes on 25 percent of their taxable income, on the assumption that they will not be in Sweden long enough to collect the benefits financed by Swedish taxes.

About 25,000 Swedes were studying abroad in 1998, and there were 13,000 foreign students in Sweden. Despite seemingly high hurdles to adjust from foreign student to Swedish resident, about two-thirds of the foreign students manage to stay in Sweden, often by getting a job in a public or private research institute- 21 percent of Swedish researchers are foreigners.

Denmark. The Danish People's party published the names of 4,743 foreigners who became naturalized Danes in 2001 to highlight what it regards as an alarming influx of foreigners; the DPP said that 40,000 foreigners were naturalized in the past three years. Every mainstream political party has condemned the advertisement as tasteless.

The DPP is supported by about 12 percent of Denmark's 5.3 million people and is widely expected to prop up the minority Liberal-Conservative government in the forthcoming general election. The DPP claims much of the credit for the "no" vote in Denmark's referendum on whether to adopt the euro.

Norway. Some 6.6 percent of Norway's 4.5 million residents were born abroad; 43 percent hold Norwegian citizenship. The leading country of origin is Pakistan, followed by Sweden, Denmark, and Vietnam.

Nicholas George, "Welfare relies on new blood," Financial Times, December 12, 2001.