Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 30/11/20


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Asylum seekers are exempted from the requirement to have a work permit provided that they can provide identity documents or other means to establish their identity, that Sweden is responsible for their asylum application and that there are solid reasons for their application in Sweden. An asylum seeker will not be able to work in Sweden if he or she has received a refusal of entry decision with immediate effect, including if he or she falls within a Dublin procedure or has a claim considered manifestly unfounded.

This right lasts until a final decision on their asylum application is taken, including during appeals procedures, and can extend beyond that if the applicant cooperates in preparations to leave the country voluntarily. If the applicant refuses to cooperate and the case is handed over to the police for expulsion procedures, then the right to work is discontinued.[1]

In 2018 a total 11,651 asylum applicants were granted the right to seek work. 4,110 women of whom 625  were Syrian nationals 413 Iranian, 321 Iraqi 156 Afghan and 151 Georgians were allowed to look for paid work or unpaid work experience whereas 7,541  men of whom 1,243 were Afghan nationals, 654 Iraqis, 544 Syrians, 516 Iranian and 399 Georgians had the same possibility. Statistics are not currently available showing their actual participation in the labour market. By way of comparison, 15,552 work permits were issued by Sweden in 2017.[2] At the time of writing (March 2020) no information for 2019 was available.

The Migration Agency no longer administers work experience opportunities for asylum seekers as from 1 January 2017. Concern has been raised inter alia by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting, SKL) about the fact that those employers having the opportunity to offer internships and work experience placements will have no authority as counterpart.[3] However, the right to work remains for those granted permission to do so. A few municipalities have offered to pay the work insurance that the Migration Agency previously paid in order to facilitate entry to the labour market in cases where an asylum seeker has been able to secure a job offer or work experience placement. However, the main work experience placements will instead be reserved for those with residence permits who are in an establishment programme run by the Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen).

Asylum seekers can generally not work in areas that require certified skills such as in the health care sector, so their choice is limited in practice to the unskilled sector. Jobs are not easy to get because of language requirements and the general labour market situation with high youth unemployment and a general unemployment rate of 6,8% in 2019.[4] Should an asylum seeker obtain a job offer at another place in Sweden, then they can move there and get nominal support towards living costs of 350 SEK (€40) for a single person and 850 SEK (€100) for a family. Those who obtain jobs are able to improve their economic situation and possibly to switch from being an asylum seeker to a labour market migrant if they manage to work 4 months before the decision to reject their asylum application becomes final. If their employer is at that stage able to offer a 1-year contract or longer, then they must apply for permission to work in Sweden within 2 weeks from the date on which the decision to reject their asylum application became final. A successful applicant must have a valid passport and will receive a temporary permit of at least 1 year and at most 2, which can be renewed. After 4 years on temporary permits, a person who still has a job can then apply for a permanent residence permit, provided he or she has sufficient means to support and accommodate his or her family. These temporary permits allow for family reunification and the right of the spouse to work but do not require sufficient income to support and accommodate the family.[5]

The ability to switch from an asylum seeker to a labour migrant was introduced by the government as part of its policy to develop labour migration of third-country nationals to Sweden and to respond to situations where highly qualified persons amongst rejected asylum seekers with skills needed in Sweden and who had shown through work experience that they had the required proficiency and knowledge would have a chance to access the labour market. The fact that such a person has desired labour market skills does not in any way influence the assessment of the asylum grounds.

[1] Migration Agency, Handbok i Migrationsrätt, section AT-UND, 5.

[2]Migration Agency, Annual Report 2017, 72.

[3]SKL, ‘Migrationsverkets ansvar för praktik för asylsökande upphör’, 21 December 2016, available in Swedish at:

[4] The Government Agency Statistics Sweden, available in Swedish at:

[5] Chapter 5 Section 15 a Aliens Act, Chapter 4 Section 4 a Aliens Ordinance.


Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX – I Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation