Please share this post with any of your friends who would like to find a job in another country.

Yesterday I posted about a Swedish job site that was possibly a scam, but I know that many people would love to get a job in Sweden. For some reason, my 20 Things to Know Before Moving to Sweden is incredibly popular (in that it draws a lot of traffic), even though it’s merely a link to another Web site, and I often get emails from people asking me about Sweden. It’s also well known that the Swedish people are very happy (as are Scandinavians in general).

So how would you go about getting a job there? Thanks to changes in the law in 2008, Sweden is actually one of the easiest countries in the world to get a job in if you’re a foreigner.

In reading through the Swedish government’s description of the law (warning: PDF), I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s both pro-business and pro-worker’s rights. On the business side, if you have trouble filling your positions, you’re allowed to hire outside of the EU. What’s amazing is that almost every other country imposes a “labour test”. This test requires that the business prove there are no suitable local candidates available to fill the positions. The labour test has been eliminated for Sweden. When evaluating the position, the government relies on the employer telling them whether or not they need a given position filled.

While this sounds great, warning bells immediately started going off in my mind. What’s to stop businesses from importing cheap labour undercutting wages? Well, the government claims to check to ensure that this won’t happen. Theoretically, these safeguards are also in the US, but the US relevant agencies don’t have the budget to verify this, so US companies are using H1B visas as a source of cheap labour. Knowing that the law and reality aren’t always the same thing, I was concerned. However, in Sweden, they really do check and make sure this abuse isn’t happening. In, the official “Sweden portal”, their explanation of getting a work permit has this to say (emphasis mine):

If you have successfully applied for a job and been offered a position in Sweden, your future employer must provide you with a written offer of employment. This written job offer is important to the permit process; without it, you can’t apply for your work permit. 

The written offer of employment, is an official document, that clearly describes the terms and conditions of your employment such as salary, insurance and length of employment. The offer of employment must be obtained by your potential employer from the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket). The employer then fills it out and sends it to the concerned trade union for approval of the offered conditions and then sends it back to the employer, who sends it on to you. 

Please note that the offer of employment must be signed by both employer and the concerned trade union and submitted along with your application for a work/residence permit.

In Sweden, trade unions are important and no, they don’t let immigrant labour undercut their salaries. However, labour abuses do occur in Sweden and some immigrant groups do suffer lower wages than average. So while things are good in Sweden, they are not perfect and you’ll still want to be careful.

That being said, the OECD has this to say about the new Swedish labour immigration system (but read the entire article):

The Swedish government implemented [labor immigration] reform to better meet the needs of employers while ensuring safeguards for the local labour market. This has largely happened, reflecting both the contents of the reform and the co-operation of social partners in compliance mechanisms. 

So how do you get a job in Sweden? First, states that the job must be listed on the EURES site. You can search for EURES jobs here. For a random search, “Hotel, catering and personal services staff”, I found over 2,000 jobs listed in Sweden. Many of the job descriptions are in Swedish, so I would suspect that not speaking Swedish would be an obstacle, but English is widely spoken in Sweden, particularly in the major cities. Not speaking Swedish will limit your opportunities, but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle.

Another important thing to consider is that if you’re in Sweden and want to apply for a job, you usually have to return to your home country first … unless you’re on their labour shortage list. So what sort of jobs are on that list? There is the usual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine), but also:

  • Bus drivers
  • Cooks/chefs
  • Plumbers
  • Roofers
  • Taxi drivers
  • Truck mechanics

… and many more.

And does this really work? From the OECD report mentioned earlier:

While labour migration to Sweden accounts for only a small part of the total, it provides a significant contribution to employment in a few occupations. Taking into account the duration of stay of labour migrants, inflows relative to total employment are significant in these occupations: 2.3% in food processing, 1.7% in housekeeping, and 1.6 % in computing.

It is now much easier for high-skilled migrants to come to Sweden to work and to stay. So far, especially in IT, most are short-term workers on intra-corporate transfers, but a growing number are remaining. 

The reform also led to increased recruitment in lesser-skilled jobs, especially in restaurants, hospitality and cleaning. These labour migrants tend to come to stay, with longer permit durations and higher renewal rates.

So yes, it’s working.

Of course, actually getting a company to say “yes” is a different story, but if they do, the Swedish government won’t be standing in your way.

Update: And I forgot to mention that all immigrants to Sweden get free language lessons. Also, lots of Swedish job postings and information here.