Nordic Integration and Settlement Policies for Refugees

A Comparative Analysis of Labour Market Integration Outcomes

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This report has been commissioned by the Labour Market Committee of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The chief aim is to provide policy-relevant knowledge by conducting a comparative analysis of refugee labour-market integration in Scandinavia. Instead of focusing on the well-known employment gap or the fiscal impact of refugee unemployment, this study investigates the divergent impacts of integration programmes and settlement policies for refugees from different backgrounds. Through longitudinal comparative analysis, this study examines the labour-market integration of refugees in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, searching for explanations of cross-national differences by combining statistical analyses with in-depth analyses of national policies and governance structures.




In 2015, Europe faced one of its worst refugee crises since the Second World War, with one million people applying for asylum (Migration Policy Institute 2017: 15). The refugee crisis peaked in the Scandinavian countries the autumn of 2015; but the number of refugees and refugee family reunifications (hereafter, the two groups are referred to collectively as “refugees”) had been growing steadily since the 1990s (Pyrhönen, Leinonen & Martikainen, 2017, p. 6). Successful integration of newcomers has been high on the political agenda in many countries; and, although contested (Ruist, 2017, p. 184–185), the integration of immigrants into the labour market has been presented as a precondition for the survival of the current welfare state in Western European countries (Djuve, 2016; NOU 2017: 2, 2017; Tronstad & Hernes, 2017, p. 124). With the sharp increase in refugees, designing and implementing appropriate policies for promoting the integration becomes even more crucial (Andersson Joona, Lanninger & Sundström, 2016; Hernes, 2018a). However, integrating refugees into the labour market has proven to be a challenge in all Western European countries. Numerous studies show the persistent gap between the labour-market participation of native-born and immigrants in general, and refugees in particular (Heinesen, Husted & Rosholm, 2013; Pyrhönen et al., 2017, p. 29). This gap has become a major policy issue not only for issues of long-term fiscal sustainability, but also because labour-market integration is widely seen as a path to social integration and cohesion (Heinesen et al., 2013, p. 1). To quote a Danish governmental statement : “It is at the workplace where you learn Danish culture and norms, get training in the Danish language and ultimately create the foundation for self-sufficiency and a good life as an active citizen” (Udlændingeog Integrationsministeriet, 2016b, p. 11).


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