June 11, 2015 3:58 pm
Updated: June 11, 2015 4:03 pm

WATCH: Why Sweden is studying Canada’s immigration system

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WATCH: Sweden’s employment minister, Ylva Johansson, talks to Global’s Leslie Young about her fact-finding trip to Canada.

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As Canada makes changes to its citizenship laws and again contemplates banning niqab at citizenship ceremonies, another country is looking to us for advice: Sweden.

Sweden’s Minister of Employment, Ylva Johansson, is visiting Canada this week to learn about our immigration system: meeting with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and various officials and settlement organizations to figure out how we integrate newcomers.

And they’re not looking at face coverings.

Immigration is currently a huge issue for Sweden. For a small country of fewer than 10 million people, it punches well above its weight when it comes to immigration. It accepted 31,220 asylum seekers last year alone, according to statistics from the Swedish Migration Agency. By comparison, Canada accepted 13,206 in 2013 (2014 numbers are still unavailable) – though Canada also accepts a high number of economic migrants, which only form a small proportion of new arrivals to Sweden.

“So of course this is a big challenge for housing and schooling and the labour market but it is also a big opportunity of course,” said Johansson.

“We could be the only European country that could face the demographic challenge with a smile if we can actually do the integration process quite well.”

This influx of asylum seekers, many of them from Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Iraq, is a hot-button issue in Sweden right now, with many suggesting that Sweden is taking in too many refugees. An anti-immigration political party, the Sweden Democrats, brought down the government over the issue last year – though a snap election was eventually avoided through political deals between various other parties.

As employment minister, Johansson is also responsible for newcomer integration. She says one of the biggest challenges to integrating new arrivals into Swedish society is finding them a job.

“The new arrivals are almost every one a refugee, so some of them have traumas and some of them come from countries with low-skills, maybe no education at all and so on, but many of them right now come from Syria and Iraq and they are quite well-educated. The challenge we face is how can we speed up the process into the labour market,” she said. The Swedish system is a bit ad hoc, she said, so she hopes to come up with more solid programs, including a fast-track system to match skilled newcomers to jobs which use those skills.

“What is impressing me most is how this is regular in Canada. For universities, for municipalities, for employers to be part of this integrating newcomers into the society and into the labour market. This is not the normal case in Sweden.”

She is also impressed by the resources available to new immigrants to Canada. “I also learned about this program with settlement workers in schools that can help parents and children in schools and also help teachers. I think that should be valuable also for the Swedish society. And also how you can cooperate with the employers to build these bridges together with the educational institutions. We are trying to do this but I think you have come further with that.”

She does think that Canada could improve in a few ways though. Namely, she doesn’t understand why Canadian politicians think that the way to get newcomers into the job market is to simply select more desirable newcomers in the first place.

“What struck me is when I asked many of those I met here, ‘How can you be better at helping people into the right job where they can use their skills and their education and their knowledge?’ I usually get the answer of how you can make the selection better.” These are two different issues, she said.

And additionally, she thinks Canada could be doing more to help refugees. Canada recently pledged to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. Last year alone, Sweden resettled 16,386 Syrians.

“Canada is doing a lot when it comes to refugees,” said Johansson. “But I think that the case in the world, we have fifty million people that are refugees in the world right now. We’ve never ever had that situation since the Second World War, so I think that every country has to perform better for humanitarian reasons in this case, and I think also that Canada can do it.”

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