Foreign-born residents denied sickness benefits more often

1:58 min

People born in other countries are denied sickness benefits more often than people born in Sweden, according to a new report.

The report released on Thursday by The Swedish Social Insurance Inspectorate (ISF) would mean that the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) is breaking its own guidelines. ISF is the independent supervisory agency for the country's social insurance system.

Those born in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and surrounding countries, or sub-Saharan Africa - so-called MENA regions - have the highest proportion of refusal of sickness benefits from the social insurance agency.

One reason, the study suggests, is that individuals from that group were more often unemployed.

"MENA-born individuals have, as a group, a higher unemployment rate and a weaker foothold in the labor market than native-born individuals," according to the report. "The results indicate that this can partly explain the higher percentage of applications for sickness benefits that are denied for MENA-born individuals than for native-born individuals."

By law Försäkringskassan evaluates sick leave applications differently depending on employment status, explained Martin Söder from ISF speaking with Radio Sweden. If the applicant is employed, sick leave is granted if their ability to perform a specific job is hindered. But if the applicant is unemployed then their ability to work is assessed with all available types of employment. 

"If you had a broken leg, definitely you wouldn't be granted sickness benefits if you work in a call center," explained Söder.

Individuals born in Sweden were also more likely to have a medical certificate based on telephone contact between the doctor and the patient. And that was especially true in cases where the insurance agency grants sickness benefits.

In an e-mail Söder wrote that medical certificates given over the phone would mean "doctors abandon the guidelines of the National Board of Health and Welfare, in that a medical certificate ordinarily should be based on an examination of the patient."