As the number of foreign-born inhabitants edges towards two million, Swedes’ once-positive attitude to immigration is shifting.
At the beginning of 2019, approximately 19.1 percent of Sweden’s population, 1,960,000 people, were born outside Sweden, according to Statistics Sweden.
Between 2000 and 2019, the number of first-generation immigrants has almost doubled, from about 1 million or 11.3 percent of the population at the turn of the century. In 2018 alone, this group grew by 80,000 people, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported.
For a long time, Finland provided the most immigrants to Sweden. However, after decades and even centuries of work immigration, the Finnish-born group is steadily declining. Instead, Syrian- and Iraqi-born immigrants are now the most populous minority groups at 190,000 and 145,000 respectively. Poles and Iranians conclude the top five.
Syrians top the first-generation immigrant statistics in virtually all Swedish counties, except for the northernmost ones (Finns) and Värmland (Norwegians).
There is also a marked divergence along gender lines. While Afghanistan and Syria provided the highest percentage of men, Thailand and Finland provided the highest percentage of women.
The town of Botkyrka outside of Stockholm has the highest proportion of first-generation immigrants at 42.1 percent. Second is Haparanda in the country’s northernmost Norrbotten County at 41.6 percent, trailed by Södertälje at 40.1 percent. The latter is often colloquially referred to as Mesopotälje after the historical Mesopotamia region due to its significant population of Syrians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans.
By contrast, Piteå, Lekeberg, and Öckerö recorded the lowest percentage of foreign-born at 6.5, 6.8, and 7 percent respectively.
In absolute numbers, though, first-generation immigrants tend to cluster in the country’s major conurbations of Greater Stockholm, Greater Gothenburg, and Greater Malmö, where their share hovers between 21 and 25 percent.
Meanwhile, immigration has become an increasingly polarising topic for Swedish voters, as more parties depart from the free-for-all pro-immigration rhetoric that dominated their agenda for many years. Following the migrant crisis of 2015, Swedes are increasingly negative towards receiving more immigrants. Today, a clear majority wants to see a more restrictive policy, the SOM Institute pointed out. In all, 53 percent of Swedes want to receive fewer migrants, which is increasingly mirrored by Swedish parties. Even Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who is known for his ardent support of immigration and passionate speeches such as “My Europe doesn’t build walls”, recently urged to lower the number of refugees being taken in.