The employment gap between refugees and the native-born population in the Nordic countries has been highlighted by numerous studies, as has the large variety in the extent of the gap based on country of origin. Studies of earlier migrant cohorts show that the chance of being unemployed decreases over time and it takes on average 5-10 years for people to become fully employed.
The integration process is slower for women, with low levels of education and family conditions, including child care, having a substantial impact. With respect to the most recent wave of refugees arriving in 2015, primarily from Syria and Afghanistan, research has yet to determine the effectiveness of the new measures which have been used in an attempt to close this gap in years to come.
The fact that Sweden has the smallest share of low-qualified or simple jobs (5.2%) in the EU28 is a factor, together with labour market policies and regulations.
Early competence mapping is now occurring at the asylum stage in all the Nordic countries (except Iceland). In Denmark, Norway and Sweden this mapping focuses on language and other skills or experience of relevance to labour market participation. A recent shift in approach to early competence mapping is evident, for example, testing of new methods for evaluating refugees' qualifications. New digital platforms allowing refugees to undertake a skills self-assessment when registering are being trialled in Norway and Sweden, but their long-term effects are yet to be seen. Recent evaluation of the Danish model of personal interviews have shown improved results. In Finland, the competence-mapping process is under reform and will be systematically implemented in 2018.
While countries are preoccupied with making the process more efficient, less emphasis has been placed on the perspective of individual needs, which vary from group to group.
Validation of skills, qualifications and experience (including non-formal and informal learning) is under reform in most Nordic countries and, as such, their success is yet to be evaluated. However, practices of referring validations (i.e. through transfer schemes between different agents in the system), as well as employers' needs, need to be coordinated to secure its effect. While in Norway validation processes have focused on low-skilled workers, the Swedish approach utilises a fast-track method targeted at those with higher qualifications. Testing new methods of validation and addressing rigidity between institutions at various administrative levels is likely to be key to making processes faster and more effective for the benefit of both refugees themselves and for the Nordic economies.
Language learning as part of effective longterm integration and faster labour market integration is offered in each country for varied periods of time. Sweden is an exception here, with no time constraints on access to language courses. There are some indications that the requirements of language courses are, in some cases, inconsistent with the needs of the labour market. More targeted approaches which combine the development of language skills with other professional skills and on-the-job training, as well as modular courses, have demonstrated better results.
All countries are currently experimenting with new education models, seeking to improve the link between language learning and employment. For example, regionally developed courses tailored to local labour-market needs. The Swedish SFI (Svenska för invandrare) model has been criticised, with several studies finding the quality of the courses to be low and highly variable between cities. Retention rates are also a concern.
A myriad of new labour market measures are being taken at the regional and municipal level. There is however scope for employers to become more engaged. Women are still left behind in most Nordic countries when it comes to labour-market integration. In Sweden, this has recently been prioritised and arbetsförmedlingen/AF will make it a focus in the coming years.
Social networks are considered crucial for accessing jobs in the Nordic countries, both for immigrants and in general. Despite this, studies focusing specifically on the role of social networks in facilitating labour market entry for refugees are limited. More general studies find that informal channels remain an important pathway to employment and that many jobs are never advertised publicly. Lack of networks has been described as the greatest obstacle for foreign academics when it comes to finding a job that is well-aligned with their competence and skills.