Germany was the top destination country by far for refugees arriving in the years between 2014 and 2017. But much-smaller Sweden received more asylum applications in relation to its population. The other two Scandinavian countries – Norway and Denmark – also saw significant numbers of asylum seekers in relation to their small populations. Since then, Scandinavian countries have turned to the sizable task of integrating new arrivals into the labour market. Refugees have struggled to find work in the Scandinavian countries. Figure 1 shows the employment rate (per cent) among adult refugees in Sweden, Denmark and Norway by years after arrival in the host country. As shown in Figure 1 only between 20 and 35 per cent of male refugees are working two years after arrival. The share in work increases with each year after arrival but employment generally plateaus after ten to fifteen years, significantly below the employment rate among the overall population. Female refugees need more time than males to find work. They usually have less schooling than their male counterparts and often bear children after arrival.48 Employment among female refugees picks up after some time though.
Refugees have long faced several barriers to finding work in Scandinavia, including lower average levels of education than the domestic workforce, lack of host-country language skills, a limited professional network and discrimination.49 These challenges, combined with the large number of arrivals in 2015–16, increased the willingness of Scandinavian governments to promote faster tracks to employment. In Denmark large reforms of integration policies were introduced in 2016. This led to substantial improvements in labour market outcomes.