A Good Command of Swedish – The Path to Employment for Immigrants?

Stefan Eriksson Dan-Olof Rooth

The poor command of Swedish exhibited by immigrants leads to problems in relation to labor market integration. These days, a good command of Swedish is required even when it comes to low-skilled occupations, according to Stefan Eriksson and Dan-Olof Rooth in a new SNS report.

A Good Command of Swedish – The Path to Employment for Immigrants, English summary 65.0 KB PDF

Many long-term unemployed individuals in Sweden are born outside Europe. Swedish language skills are often said to be crucial for their chances of getting a job. In the SNS report A Good Command of Swedish – The Path to Employment for Immigrants? economists Stefan Eriksson and Dan-Olof Rooth analyze the importance of a good command of Swedish in terms of immigrants getting established in the Swedish labor market.

They find that almost nine out of ten recruiters view poor Swedish language skills as an obstacle to hiring immigrants. More than eight out of ten view a good command of Swedish as crucial in their workplace, which also applies to low-skilled occupations.

“The pattern is clear among the employers included in our study: the likelihood of moving on to the next step in a hiring process increases significantly when the applicant exhibits a higher level of written or oral Swedish language skills. In addition, the demands in various occupations regarding such language skills appear to have increased over time,” says Dan-Olof Rooth, professor of economics at Stockholm University.

The report also shows that a large portion of immigrants exhibit significant shortcomings in their Swedish language skills. The beginners’ course Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) has a low rate of completion, and the majority of participants never complete the last course in the program. This means that they are not entitled to further adult studies in Swedish at primary and secondary school levels.

“There is a clear imbalance between the demands of employers and the Swedish language skills of immigrants. Changing this situation requires measures aimed at both the supply and the demand side. The most important measure is that Swedish language skills are improved by means of more and better training in Swedish within the framework of SFI and other forms of adult education aimed at immigrants,” says Stefan Eriksson, associate professor of economics at Uppsala University.

The researchers also point to the importance of clear incentives for completing Swedish training in a reasonable period of time. Another solution is to reduce the costs for employers hiring individuals who lack Swedish job experience.

about the report

The report is based on a unique data material originating from two surveys aimed at more than 800 recruiters at small, medium-sized and large organizations in the private and public sectors. In these surveys, the recruiters were asked to assess fictitious written job applications and video sequences from simulated job interviews. The job applications and video sequences were designed by the authors in collaboration with a linguist to reflect typical second language features. The report also analyzes administrative data on the Swedish language skills of immigrants, including study results from Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) and other adult education programs in Swedish aimed at immigrants.

about the authors

Stefan Eriksson is an associate professor of economics at Uppsala University.

Dan-Olof Rooth is a professor of economics at the Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University.