For several hundred years, Sweden was a country with a higher rate of emigration than immigration. This was particularly the case during the 19th and early 20th century, when a large number of Swedes emigrated to North America due to poverty and famine in Sweden. However, during the interwar period, Sweden changed from being an emigrant country to an immigrant country. Up until the 1970s, there were mainly labor migrants arriving in the Nordic country, but gradually, there were more refugees and asylum seekers arriving. For instance, a high number of refugees from the former Yugoslav countries arrived in Sweden during the Yugoslav War in the 1990s. However, the number of immigrants to Sweden peaked in 2016 with the high number of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe that and the previous year. Sweden was the European country that accepted the second highest number of refugees during the first half of the 2010s.
A high number of Syrian immigrants
In contrast to its neighboring countries, Swedish immigration policies were less strict up until recent years, and many refugees thus found their way to Sweden in the wake of the Syrian Civil War in 2015. As a result, Syrians constitute the largest foreign-born group in Sweden. However, following the high number of refugees arriving in Sweden in that period, the Swedish government implemented more strict immigration laws. As a result, but also because fewer refugees arrived in Europe, the number of asylum seekers decreased drastically in recent years. Next to asylum seekers and refugees, people born in Sweden returning to the country made up a large number of people immigrating to Sweden. As Sweden is a member of the European Union, people from other EU countries can live and work in the country without having to apply for a residence or work permit.
Men dominate among asylum seekers
Of the immigrants seeking asylum in Sweden over the last 10 years, there were constantly more men. Following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, Ukrainians made up the largest group applying for asylum in Sweden that year just ahead of Afghans, even though they did not have to apply for asylum to stay in the country. Meanwhile, the highest number of total decisions that year were made on Afghan asylum seekers. Moreover, a high number of the people applying for asylum in Sweden in 2015 were unaccompanied minors, but this number has dropped radically in recent years.
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Einar H. Dyvik
Research expert covering Nordics and global data for society, economy, and politics