Working Paper

Swedish Labour Immigration Policy: The Role of Unions, Employers and Political Parties

Published 17 November 2015 / By Frida Boräng & Lucie Cerna

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For several decades, Sweden – a country characterised by high union density rates and a strong degree of corporatism – was one of the most restrictive Organisation of Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) countries in terms of labour immigration policy. This was drastically changed in 2008 when a new immigration law was passed that was employer-driven and very different to the previous one. Why did one of the most restrictive countries in terms of labour immigration suddenly become one of the most liberal ones? The paper argues that it is necessary to consider labour market institutions and their consequences in terms of power relations on the labour market. These factors will influence the preferences, strategies and chances of success for various policy actors. A decline in union power and corporatism in Sweden had important consequences for its labour immigration policy because of the de facto control unions held over this policy area. This created opportunities for mainly employers and centre-right parties to become more active and adopt more liberal policy positions than previously. The paper analyses policy developments since the 1960s and draws on official documents, position statements, party manifestos, media coverage and original elite interviews.

Read the associated blog post here.

Key Words

Employers’ associations, labour market institutions, labour migration, political party, public policy, Sweden, unions


Frida Boräng, University of Gothenburg, Department of Political Science and the Quality of Government Institute, Box 711, 40540 Gothenburg, Sweden. Email:

Lucie Cerna (corresponding author), OECD, 2, rue André Pascal, 75775 Paris Cedex 16, France, and COMPAS, University of Oxford. Email:


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