28 June, 2017

The challenge of prejudice in the Swedish job market

 – and how international and multicultural organizations are fighting to change it

Author: Natália Faria

Ad by Initiatives for Change

There are a number of reasons why it is challenging to be a Newbie in Sweden. The access to the job market is certainly one of them. In many cases, even having the dream package (high education, language, and a Swedish citizenship) might not be enough for a person with a non-Swedish background to be hired by a Swedish company.

Discrimination against non-Swedish last names on CVs and stereotyped perceptions about religious and ethnic roots are some of the many ways in which prejudice becomes evident. The good news is: there are some relevant projects that help Newbies (and Oldbies) to be fully integrated in Sweden, like Initiatives of Change.

Initiatives of Change (IofC) is an International NGO that aims to transform society through dialogue. By promoting honest conversations undertaken in an open spirit, IofC helps to build bridges of trust and community between people of similar, different, and even antagonistic backgrounds. IofC Sweden, for instance, leads Hopp I Järva (Hope In Järva), a project that mediates internal and communal tensions.

This summer the organization promoted an event in Kista called Kompetens Utan Fördomar (Competence Without Prejudice) in order to wage a dialogue between local immigrants, entrepreneurs, and representatives of governmental institutions.

The Newbie Guide to Sweden was there to participate and here are some of the things we learned.

Opportunities: what we can celebrate

Governmental services offer a number of tools to help job seekers in Sweden. Besides matching employers and employees, Arbetsförmedlingen (The Swedish Employment Service) offers other services, like workshops on how to put together a CV for the Swedish labour market and how to have a successful job interview. Svenska for invandrare (SFI), Svenska som andraspråk (SAS) and other specialized courses provide access to maybe the most important tool of all: the Swedish language. Migrationsveket also offers training for asylum seekers at different workplaces.

Community efforts have also paved the way for immigrants to grow together in business and education. This is the case in multicultural markets like Tensta Market which promotes a variety of food, crafts, and other products from diverse countries. Another example is Kista Folkhögskola, an institute for Arab and Islamic Studies with a Muslim, interfaith, and public education perspective.

Local entrepreneurs are partners in social integration as well. Liselotte Norén creates opportunities for education, training, and networking through Refo, a company focused on the regaining of clothes. And Blå Vägen creates jobs with Arbetsförmedlingen as the main financier.

However, there is still a long way to go.

Read more
Kortavägen – training program for foreign-born graduates
Professions where workers are needed
How to learn Swedish

Challenges: what needs to change

Who am I?

For many people who have either immigrated to Sweden or are born here with a non-Swedish background, the negotiation between personal and Swedish identity is a process that should go both ways. Otherwise, what is the point of talking about openness and diversity?

Aisha* wears a burka which exposes her to prejudice when looking for a job in Sweden. She says that Moroccans respect European tourists when they use swimwear in Morocco and that she can contribute a lot to Sweden even with Muslim clothing.

“It’s just fabric”, she argues.

Asgar Jafferali faces a different issue, yet still connected with identity. He was born in Sweden but with parents from Uganda and India, something that occasionally makes him out of place as he doesn’t look like a typical Swede. In fact, there is much to be discussed when it comes to identities in Sweden.

“What is the definition of being a Swedish person? Is it the passport, the language, the education, the color? Or is it where you are from and how you dress?” asks Alma Adam, from Migrant Women in Europe.


Arbetsförmedlingen sees a gap between job seekers’ skills and business requirements and argues that higher education is required. However, the process to get higher education often has to pass through language – both for people who are pursuing a university degree and for those who already have one.

Alma explains how sometimes the expectations of Swedish society regarding language fluency don’t meet with what the Swedish system offers.

“If this is the case, I don’t want Swedish for Immigrants, I want Swedish for Swedish”, she says.

Job applications

Discrimination against surnames in job applications is a real problem in Sweden. A recent study by Lund University revealed that letters with the Swedish names often have a higher call back for interviews when compared to Arabic surnames. The study also concluded that Germans are often thought of as cold, and Greeks as less competent.

“It is easier to find a job abroad. I’ve sent over 100 applications in Sweden and didn’t get any interviews. Then I applied for 3 openings in the UK and got all 3 interviews”, says Esmail**.

He is a refugee currently concluding his Master’s studies in Sweden and will probably fly to London after graduating. What would Esmail choose?

“I wanted to stay, but what can I do?” he answers.


Arbetsförmedlingen says that 80% of job openings are found through networks. But which networks? Newcomer Nadia Silva*** explains that in her experience they often turn out to be a closed circle.

“Meetup, for example, creates many opportunities to connect with other professionals. But you are more likely to meet other job seekers who often happen to be immigrants themselves than the actual employers or people who are connected to them”, she says.

Read more
Networking Support
The Newbie Startup Guide

Is there a solution?

Doing your part in order to adapt and integrate into a new country is, of course, essential. But it is equally important to raise discussions like this when necessary. You should also know that there is, in fact, support out there – perhaps more than you imagine.

“The project is aimed at supporting adult educators of migrants and refugees in settling into their new communities, re-building their lives, and eventually contributing to the development of their home countries.” (IofC).

We, from The Newbie Guide, are glad to keep you updated about the Newbie life in Sweden by sharing tools and initiatives dedicated to helping you in this journey. We also want to invite you to spread the discussion. Talk to your friends and family. Let us know about your experience concerning prejudice in the Swedish labour market and share your thoughts and ideas for change.

* Fictitious name. The interviewee didn’t want to be identifed. 

** Fictitious name. The interviewee didn’t want to be identifed. (Edited: September 26, 2017 – 11:13AM).

*** Fictitious name. The interviewee didn’t want to be identified. (Edited: January 2, 2018 – 23:18PM).

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The Newbie Team
The Newbie Team posts news, tips and general goodness that can be useful for all Newbies. We always try to find Newbie related information that will help all Newbies on their new life in Sweden.
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