Sweden to limit social benefits for non-European immigrants
Sweden's right-wing government said on Friday it would make it harder for non-European immigrants to receive social benefits, saying it wanted to dissuade migrants from arriving, and better integrate those who do.
Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson's minority government came to power a year ago with -- for the first time -- backing from the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD). It has vowed to crack down on immigration and crime.
Sweden had previously taken in large numbers of immigrants since the 1990s, primarily from conflict-torn places including the former Yugoslavia, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran and Iraq.
But it has struggled to integrate them.
"Since 2012, more than 770,000 people have immigrated to Sweden from countries outside the European Union and European Economic Area (EEA)," the leaders of the three-party coalition and the far-right SD wrote in an opinion piece in newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
"Together with an integration policy that has made almost no demands (on immigrants) and provided no incentive to integrate into society, extensive immigration has created a divided Sweden," they alleged.
The opinion piece pointed to "segregation, social exclusion, unemployment, poor school results and a lack of common Swedish values".
They argued that the Scandinavian country of 10.3 million people, known for its generous cradle-to-grave welfare state, had "significant problems" with foreign-born people who were unemployed and live on benefits.
The piece did not illustrate its claims with official data, nor provide information on the number of Swedish citizens who live on benefits.
The government plans to bring in reforms that will require non-European immigrants to learn Swedish and find work in the country's highly-skilled jobs market, and was launching a probe to work out details of the plan.
Immigrants from EU and EEA countries are covered by Europe-wide rules on freedom of movement. The new measures are targeted at immigrants from other parts of the world.
The government also plans to introduce a ceiling on benefits for non-European immigrants so they cannot receive multiple allowances -- such as for children, housing, unemployment, sickness and parental leave.
Finally, the government said immigrants would have to wait for an as yet undetermined period before qualifying for benefits.
Former migration minister Anders Ygeman, spokesperson on immigration issues for Sweden's Social Democratic Party, said that it was difficult to address the government's plans before all the details were known.
However, he noted that qualifications were already required for various benefits.
"It is obviously important that we have a functioning integration where new arrivals quickly find work, and we should also have a benefits system that contributes to well-functioning integration," Ygeman said in a statement to AFP.
The government opinion piece on Friday said asylum applications to Sweden were down by 26 percent from a year ago, compared to a 30-percent increase in the rest of Europe.
Many non-European immigrants end up living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods outside big cities, where unemployment and crime are high, and where little Swedish is spoken.