August 1, 2018 / 2:29 PM / 16 days ago

REFILE-Sweden Inc. sounds alarm as election signals jobs clampdown on immigrants

 (Clarifies that data reference in paragraph 19 is to real
wages)
    * Labour shortages leave firms reliant on foreign workers
    * Hitting many industries, from tech to healthcare
    * Major parties signal labour restrictions on foreigners
    * National election due on Sept. 9
    * Big gains expected for anti-immigration Sweden Democrats

    By Esha Vaish, Johan Sennero and Johan Ahlander
    STOCKHOLM, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Uncertainty surrounds next
month's Swedish election but one thing about its outcome seems
clear: immigrants will find it harder to get jobs and the
consequences will rebound on local businesses too.
    A shortage of qualified graduates and an ageing population
are squeezing the supply of Swedish labour, leaving technology
blue chips and blue-collar employers especially in need of more
foreign workers.
    But the rise of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, who
propose ending all job-creation subsidies for foreigners, has
spooked other major parties into drafting immigrant labour
clampdown measures of their own before the Sept. 9 ballot.
    After introducing curbs on asylum seekers, the governing
centre-left Social Democrats - polling just ahead of the
nationalists on around 24 percent of votes - proposed barring
firms in sectors not classified as short of staff from offering
work to non-EU nationals.
    Unions welcomed the proposal but it stunned many businesses
which, worried that shortages of engineers, truck drivers and
mechanics will only increase as a jobless rate of 6.3 percent
trends lower, say it would add more red tape to an already
unwieldy system.
    "Short term, we are absolutely dependent on immigrants to be
able to expand," said Robert Sobocki, CEO of truckmaker Scania's
Swedish retail business which has had to turn down work due to a
lack of mechanics.
    One of its recent hires is Muhsen Mousa, 42, a mechanic who
fled Syria for Sweden in 2015 and typical of the kind of
immigrant who politicians are increasingly looking to turn away.
    "Sometimes I get worried a little bit," Mousa said through
an translator. "But then I think to myself ... if I work and I
support myself no one will do any harm to me."
    Mousa, who repairs engines and gears at the company's
workshop outside Stockholm, is far from alone. About 35-40
percent of the Scania Bilar Sverige mechanics in Sweden's three
biggest cities are foreign. 
        
    LABOUR DEFICIT
    In sectors of shortage also including education and health
care, foreigners accounted for about 90 percent of jobs growth
last year, according to the Swedish Public Employment Service.
    IT and telecoms face a deficit of 70,000 staff by 2022 if
measures including immigration are not promoted, the sector's
employer association estimates.
    That would impact the local arms of tech firms including
Spotify          and Tieto           , but also heavily
IT-dependent companies such as consultants PWC here
 and retailer H&M here
         .
    Elsewhere in the engineering sector, consultancy group Sweco
           wants to hire 2,000-3,000 engineers and architects
every year, which also requires access to workers from abroad.
    "We are depending on it," CEO Asa Bergman told Reuters.
    While the pre-election proposals of the Social Democrats and
Sweden Democrats are primarily intended to make it tougher for
refugees and unskilled workers to settle in Sweden, businesses
say the measures would also mean more hurdles for skilled
immigrants.
    Employment Minister Ylva Johansson argues Sweden needs to
tighten labour immigration laws that have so far been the most
generous in OECD countries, as some firms have bent rules to
hire cheaper labour rather than plug shortages.
    "(Immigration) is needed in many professions, and for those
professions it should be easy, but ...we must put a stop to it
in the professions where there is no labour shortage," the
Social Democrat told Reuters.
    Peter Karlsson, labour market expert at employers
organisation Swedish Enterprise, said companies were simply
looking for the right staff who were not necessarily available
in the local market.
    However, from January 2016 to June 2018, average annual real
wage increases fell to 0.7 percent from 1.7 percent between 2000
and 2015, according to Nordea analyst Torbjorn Isaksson.
    
    DEPORTATION RISK
    Even where shortages are acknowledged, the rightward shift
in political rhetoric - which has also seen a hardline
anti-immigration faction emerge in the centre-right Moderate
party, polling third on around 20 percent - has already made
life tougher for foreign employees, companies say.
    The time it takes non-Swedes to be hired has jumped as new
job requirements - including degree checks, certifications and
language courses - have been phased in.
    Minor paperwork errors have even led to foreign staff being
deported, prompting calls for change from 32 large firms
including telecoms group Ericsson            and bank SEB
          in an open letter to the government in February.
    "We feel this is threatening Sweden's competitiveness," said
engineering company ABB Sweden's          CEO Johan Soderstrom.
    Employment Minister Johansson acknowledges the problem,
which procedural changes at the migration agency had so far
failed to address.
    "When people are extradited for rather trivial mistakes the
employer made, it gives a bad image of Sweden and the Swedish
labour market," she said. 
    ABB Sweden's latest deportee, 38-year-old Iranian sales
engineer Ali Omumi, has a last-ditch appeal pending against that
ruling.
    If that fails, "I will lose Sweden, and Sweden will lose, at
least, a taxpayer," he said.  

    
 (Reporting by Esha Vaish, Johan Sennero and Johan Ahlander in
Stockholm, additional reporting by Olof Swahnberg)
  
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