A new political era awaits Sweden as Ulf Kristersson (Moderate) has officially been elected the new Swedish Prime Minister with the support of the right coalition bloc consisting of the Swedish Democrats, the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals. The four parties published the “Tidö Agreement,” presenting their main reforms in six major areas: healthcare, energy, criminality, migration, education, and economy. The Swedish Democrats will not be a formal part of the actual government, yet they will be in a government cabinet, which means they will still be present in most governmental meetings. Furthermore, the party’s policies are evident in the newly published agreement, especially concerning criminality and migration, defined by vigorous law enforcement and growing austerity. The agreement is not legally binding yet, but its aspirations indicate Sweden’s new and tense migration policy aimed at decreasing the number of migrants, promoting repatriation, and heightening the requirements for citizenship.
The Tidö Agreement outlines four main goals for migration reforms:
- Create a paradigm shift in the Swedish asylum system. Protection for refugees should be offered temporarily and for those fleeing from close regions. Sweden should not be more generous than the minimum obligations the EU or other legal international agreements have set.
- Migration politics should be responsible.
- Implementing a requirement-based integration. Those who seek to stay in Sweden should be responsible for becoming a part of Swedish society.
- Tackle the “shadow society.” (referring to a parallel society)
A Shift in Public Opinion
The views on Swedish immigration have changed drastically during the last decade. During the centre-right coalition government (2006-2014) led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (Moderate), the view on migration was characterized by a famous speech held by Reinfeldt himself in 2014, where he described it as to “open our hearts.” In the speech, Reinfeldt drew similarities to the migration flows following the war in Yugoslavia during the 1990s. He reminded the Swedish public that Swedes should continue to welcome and help those who flee wars. The number of those seeking refuge in Sweden continued to increase. Unsurprisingly, Sweden ranked first in Europe in terms of its migration and integration policies, according to NIEM.
Yet, since the migration crisis struck Europe in 2015, domestic criticism has been growing in Sweden. The Swedish Democrats have steadily gained more votes since 2010, pushing for more restrictive immigration policies as the Swedish public seemed to shift towards a more stringent view on migration. The last eight years of government by the Social Democrats have also revealed a changing attitude toward migration policies. Growing issues concerning criminality and integration have been connected to a failed migration policy, calling for a shift towards a more ‘responsible’ migration. Former Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson states that the “paradigm shift” that the Tidö agreement mentioned already happened in 2015.
Decrease the Number of Migrants
One aspect is emphasized throughout the Tidö agreement when discussing migration: keeping asylum legislation to the legal minimum. The Tidö agreement states that Sweden should only receive 900 quota refugees, which is the minimum in accordance with Swedish obligations to the EU. It is a drastic decrease compared to the 6401 quota refugees that arrived in Sweden in 2021. Looking at data from 2019, 2020, and 2021, Sweden was among the top four countries receiving the most quota refugees. While the US receives the most quota refugees, Sweden, Canada, and Germany are other common destinations. Further aims of the proposed reforms are to limit the rights of asylum seekers to a minimum level, which might impact, for example, the right to an interpreter, state-funded legal assistance, and access to other aid and representatives provided by the government. There is also an emphasis on strengthening border controls and limiting the permanent residencies for asylum seekers. Experts are concerned that implementing these reforms might become messy since the EU is currently redefining its “Pact on Migration and Asylum,” which may impact the “legal minimum.” Furthermore, the proposed reforms also target the migration of relatives and increase the requirements for labor immigration, predicted to result in a decreasing number of immigrants.
Sweden has one of the most liberal systems regarding labor migration, according to an evaluation made by OECD in 2011. The requirements are, for example, a minimum salary of 13 000 SEK (≈ 1200 euros) and that the employer provides the needed insurance. One of the proposals in the Tidö agreement is to increase the required salary to equal the median in Sweden, which is more than 30 000 SEK.
Looking at statistics, Sweden has a growing elderly population and a decreasing fertility rate, similar to most of Europe. So far, in 2022, 7 364 children have been born, which is the lowest number since 2006. Yet Sweden is one of the top European countries in terms of fertility rate which stands currently at 1,67. This doesn’t mean a fully positive outlook. The life expectancy in Sweden becomes higher and the expected population of workers becomes fewer. Therefore immigration may be important as it may rejuvenate the Swedish population, and especially labor immigration could be important to sustain modern society today. Sweden has had a similar amount of labor immigration during the last decade, with around 30 000 per year. Labor immigration to Sweden is relatively evenly mixed between high- and low-education workers. The most significant change in immigration trends is asylum immigration which went from 12 000 in 2010 to 70 000 in 2016.
Promoting Repatriation and Deportation
Another key aspect of the agreement is the intensified work for repatriation and enabling more deportations. The parties promote strengthening the organization between Swedish authorities to make repatriation more effective. One given example to secure repatriation is the implementation of an accommodation obligation that will restrict the movements of an individual who has received a rejection of an asylum application. Other ideas target the incitement for voluntary repatriation, such as investing in more information about the possibilities of repatriation and investigating the options of creating further incitements for people who have not been integrated into Swedish society.
One of the most criticized reforms proposed in the Tidö agreement is the issue of deporting foreign citizens for “misconduct” (Swedish wording: “bristande vandel”). People in Sweden must respect Swedish laws and values, and those who misbehave should risk being deported. The document mentions several types of misconduct, such as association with criminal gangs, extremist organizations, drug abuse, and prostitution. Many NGOs have highlighted this particular part of the Tidö agreement, saying it is a backlash against women’s rights as it equates crime victims and criminals. Since 1999 it has been illegal to buy sex in Sweden while selling sex is not considered a crime. However, if prostitution is punished by deportation, this view will be changed, as selling sex will be seen as misconduct or even a crime. Experts also worry that people who experience traumas, are addicted, and are sick will be punished rather than treated. There is an overarching concern that the proposed reform of deportation due to misconduct will risk being misused, as it is difficult to set fixed guidelines in many cases. However, Migration Minister Malmer Stenergard (Moderate) ensures that there will be a thorough investigation before implementing this type of reform, and those who follow Swedish laws and rules do not need to worry.
Requirements for Citizenship
To tackle the failed integration and parallel society present in Sweden, the government has proposed a requirement-based integration. The requirements include learning the Swedish language, knowledge of Swedish society and culture, self-maintenance, ‘good character assessment’ (expanding to crimes committed within the EU), and a mandatory ceremony consisting of a declaration of loyalty or formal conversation on citizenship. Citizenship would be based on knowledge tests and character assessments and become something you ‘earn’ rather than something you ‘achieve in time.’ Furthermore, the Tidö agreement states that there is an aim to decrease the attraction to Sweden by limiting the benefits for non-citizens. Benefits such as access to the welfare system and economic relief are mentioned as targets for change. There is an emphasis on qualification for those types of benefits; one should gradually earn these through personal efforts such as legal settlement, work, and paying taxes. The government wants to limit economic support to newly arrived immigrants, which is expected to make Sweden less attractive. The Tidö agreement establishes new rules for social orientation and social introduction, making such education mandatory for economic aid and other forms of support.
Even if Sweden is ranked as one of the most successful in migration and integration according to NIEM, the Swedish public does not seem to feel this success. There is a debate about the emergence of a parallel society. There may be a dissonance between the targeted policies and the actual outcome. One aspect is the unemployment among immigrants, especially refugees and immigrating relatives, which is higher than the rest of Swedish society. One explanation can be that there is a mismatch in the supply and demand in the labor market, as a population with a lack of education cannot be employed for the higher educational labor that is demanded.
Another and more plausible explanation is ”segregation” in Sweden is, which has increased since the 1990s and permeates all parts of society, such as living accommodations, schools, and the labor market. Segregation is caused by both structural forces, such as growing income inequality, city planning, and discrimination, and individual preferences, such as lifestyle and social/cultural identification. Socio-economic segregation is the most decisive aspect in Sweden, but it is closely related to ethnic segregation as a high number of residents in low-income areas are foreign-born. For example, refugees and immigrating relatives are usually more economically vulnerable than natives; therefore, they often reside in low-income areas when arriving in Sweden. Furthermore, the lack of education for refugees and vulnerable socio-economic groups results in fewer opportunities to change their economic status and living conditions. There are a lot of factors involved when discussing segregation and its cause. However, immigration is important for Sweden, and integrating immigrants into Swedish society is crucial for positive developments. Today, Sweden is experiencing challenges such as growing segregation which causes tensions and differentiates people from people. Even if integration and segregation are two separate processes, a successful integration may impact segregation, and a less segregated society may facilitate better integration.
While the Tidö agreement is not a legal document, it outlines the new government’s intentions regarding migration. The high number of immigrants, an argued failed integration, and growing segregation have challenged Swedish society, resulting in more restrictive reforms discussed by most parliament parties today, including the Social Democrats. Stricter migration policies have been expected, looking at Sweden’s shifting public opinion and political development during the past decade. Migration, integration, and segregation are closely linked. A large number of immigrants and integration issues might have caused the segregation we see in Swedish society today, as policies have failed to create a positive outcome. The integration has failed to face the problems of vulnerability, education, and access to work, and with growing segregation, future integration becomes more difficult. Migration is important to society and therefore policies need to be well-functioning.
The Tidö agreement can be described with the word “austerity.” The aim is to regain control of migration through more rigid rules and regulations. One step is to decrease the actual number of immigrants to a legal minimum. Sweden has been one of the most generous countries in Europe, looking at, for example, quota refugees, which will change if the Tidö agreement becomes law. Other reforms aim to make Sweden less attractive for immigrants as they will no longer be offered the same aid and support in the asylum process. Furthermore, Sweden will demand more from newly arrived immigrants and those seeking citizenship both in terms of social integration and economic capabilities. The idea of a social contract is reinforced, stating that welfare benefits should be earned rather than simply given. While there is a political consensus that Sweden has a problem with criminality, migration, and integration, specific parts of the Tidö agreement have been widely criticized. It is still early to say the results, but the agreement reveals a change in the view of other people. Sweden will likely no longer “open its heart” to refugees without clear obligations in exchange. There is a change of focus to how individuals must contribute to society rather than the society providing unconditional support for people.
 Quota refugees refer to those who have fled their own country and have been chosen by the UNHCR for resettlement in a third country that can offer them protection. The program is based upon state voluntarism and Sweden has been part of the program since the 1950s.
Betty Wehtje is a research intern at Beyond the Horizon ISSG. She is currently on an exchange programme in Global Studies at the University of California, Berkeley as part of her studies in Peace and Conflict Studies at Lund University.