The breathing space or impact of temporary protection on integration from the perspective of refugees

Regeringens avsikt med att bara ge korta uppehållstillstånd är att öka nyanländas incitament att söka jobb. Men i det långa perspektivet har tidsbegränsade tillstånd en negativ effekt på integrationen på arbetsmaknaden. Detta är resultatet av en studie som Yevgeniya Zavela presenterar i dagens gästblogg.

This blog post presents the conclusions of my thesis for the master´s degree within the Refugee and Forced Migration Studies programme at the University of London. The driving force behind the study was to cast a critical eye over the statement that temporary residence permits create an incentive for the migrants[1] to focus on employment. Thus, permanent residence becomes a carrot for getting a job rather than relying on the social welfare system. This was the main argument of the Swedish government to adopt temporary legislative changes to the asylum regulation in force, significantly limiting the possibilities of being granted a permanent residence permit in 2016. The law was prolonged for another two years in 2019 with the possibility to be permanented.

The main purpose of my study was to look at the effects of the temporary residence permit on the labour market integration of the refugees and temporary protection holders to find out if the law achieves the desired effect. My finding that temporary residence has a negative impact on labour market integration of refugees and subsidiary protection holders  was developed based on results of a focus group, which was carried out as an open discussion, aiming to allow for the participants to take the lead. Their answers were later complemented by the individual interviews via a more structured questionnaire. The geographical area of the fieldwork was Uppsala municipality. The participants were recruited partly via an open announcement by the trainers of the municipal course in social orientation and partly via local NGOs. In total, twelve participants contributed to the fieldwork, four women and eight men.

Starting with a spoiler, the study’s most important finding is that temporary residence has a negative impact on labour market integration of refugees and subsidiary protection holders in a long-term perspective, potentially leading to higher levels of social exclusion, making the governmental incentive to motivate immigrants to employment via a residence permit rather futile. While the fieldwork shows high motivation of refugees and subsidiary protection holders to invest in integration in Sweden, the existing imperfections and distortions in the institutional contexts create several obstacles, the overcoming of which are outside of an individual´s power.

The main institutional hinder to being granted permanent residence, mentioned by the participants is that not every type of employment is valid for this. The pre-condition is an indefinite job contract, which may not be subsidized by any kind of governmental grant. However, there is a very low chance for the newly-arrived to get a permanent employment contract. As one participant describes it: “the chance is similar to squeezing water out of the stone”. Migrants tend to be trapped in a circle of marginal employment via state subsidies, lacking security, a decent wage, training or promotion prospects. While the goal of state subsidies is to be a step towards permanent employment for different disadvantaged groups with long distance to the labour market, in reality it tends to be misused by many employers to make economical profits via short-term contracts. Consequently, individuals with already weak position on the labour market drift further away from stable employment.

Self-employment is another way to be granted permanent residence if the refugees or subsidiary protection holders prove that they can support themselves at the moment of submitting residence application and for at least two years after. There are several structural hindrances in relation to self-employment, which are especially challenging for temporary protection holders due to the short period of time they should relate to. First, establishing own business takes time for anyone. Moreover, this form of employment is not eligible for the financial support by the state integration program, so the protection holders lose the financial support the same day they start own business. Second, while it is possible for asylum seekers to change track to apply for work permit instead, this opportunity is lacking for entrepreneurs, who are required to leave the country and apply for a work permit from abroad. Consequently, this alternative is a phantom for temporary protection holders who have from thirteen months to three years at their disposal.

Another noteworthy finding is that the state integration program, or rather its standardised “fit for all” approach with limited consideration to individual goals and competences, can be an obstacle for temporary protection holders to find permanent employment. The 2018 shift from rights-based integration program to labour market political program means that the individual is obligated to accept any job offer from the Public Employment officer, otherwise the so-called sanction-ladder is triggered, stripping an individual of economic support. Thus, the migrants are obliged to participate without possibility to say “no” to subsidised employment, and there is no exception for temporary protection holders. Nor is there a fast track for them taking into consideration that their integration plan covers only thirteen months instead of twenty-four to thirty-six months as in case of permanent protection holders. Basically, they need to achieve the same goals with the same means but during a shorter period.

Summa summarum, the empirical evidence of my study demonstrates that temporary protection holders are under bigger pressure to meet the above requirements compared with those with permanent residence. The other finding is that temporary protection holders express a higher degree of instability feeling, worse health condition, lack of safety and fear for the future compared to permanent protection holders. The fact that permanent protection status is conditioned by permanent employment adds another interesting dimension to this discussion. The current angle of policy on “refugee livelihoods” and “refugee impact”, focusing on individual income-generating activities and, consequently, the state integration program as a means for equipping the protection holders with necessary competences and support for entering labour market, is rather one-sided. This angle fails to present the holistic picture of the institutional context regulated by the law as well as current labour market imperfections, which cannot be solved by putting higher demands on individual protection holders. Without relevant institutional environment for fair employment, the individual will forever be trapped in the situation of pushing the stone up to the hill, which demands a huge effort with very limited chance for success.

The working paper including all the references is accessible on the website of London University via the following link https://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/9453/

[1] The study specifically focuses on refugees and subsidiary protections holders.

Posted in Gästblogg.