A new study by Nordregio shows that the pandemic has increased social and economic inequalities in the Nordics. In all countries, foreign-born employees have lost their jobs to a larger extent than their native-born peers, especially individuals born outside of the EU, with lower levels of education. But some industries have been thriving during the pandemic and now employ more immigrants than before. The report “Integrating immigrants into the Nordic labour markets. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic” reveals a somewhat complex picture when comparing the Nordic countries, and discusses how to move forward.
“Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, were already facing challenges in integrating immigrants into their labour markets, especially those with low education. The COVID-19 pandemic enhanced these challenges even further. Action is needed to ensure that those who lost their jobs during the pandemic do not end up in a situation of long-term unemployment,” says Nora Sánchez Gassen, Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio.
The authors underline the need to quickly reinstate and accelerate on-site vocational training combined with language courses for recently arrived and other unemployed immigrants, to compensate for the less effective online courses offered during the pandemic. If immigrants can obtain skills and competencies that are required or in high demand on the labour market, their chances to find employment should increase.
“We can see that many jobs were lost as a consequence of the pandemic, especially in the hospitality and retail industries. But we have also seen an increase in jobs in certain industries, like for instance utilities services. And it seems that the foreign-born population is a substantial part of that increase,” says Oskar Penje, Cartographer at Nordregio.
In the report, researchers stress that the current crisis has also underscored the need for uniform social insurance systems. Statistics from Norway show that immigrants from new EU member countries in Central and Eastern Europe have been vastly overrepresented among job losers. Hence, the inclusion of these workers in a relatively generous social insurance system has been critical to prevent poverty and minimize demand-driven ‘knock-on effects’ from income decline in industries directly affected by the crisis.
”Our new report shows the importance of having a Nordic perspective on the labour market and share experiences between countries. Differences in business structure are an important factor, but the combination of an influx of low-skilled labour and the higher thresholds in the Swedish Labour market makes the effects of the pandemic more pronounced in Sweden,” adds Nordregio Director Rolf Elmér.
This study builds on a comprehensive report about immigrant integration into the Nordic labour markets that was published by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2019. It revisits some of the conclusions and policy recommendations outlined in 2019 – in relation to the impact of Covid-19 on unemployment among foreign-born. The report is part of the Nordic Cooperation Programme for Integration of Immigrants, initiated in 2016, in which the Nordic Welfare Centre and Nordregio cooperate.