Strategies of undocumented immigrants pursuing work and their working conditions: the case of Gothenburg, Sweden.

By Tetyana Zhyla,
University of Gothenburg.

“I moved to Sweden with one of my friend in 2007. I had another Mongolian friend who was working in Sweden and she persuaded me by saying that there are a lot of possibilities to work there. According to my friend, I would easily find job in Stockholm. However, it didn’t happen so easy and so fast as she was promising. I was running out of money and I needed to work somewhere. By time passing, I have found the church, where, I met a lot of Mongolians. By knowing some people in the church I have found a job: sewing and repairing clothes. We try to stick together, “illegal” stick to “illegal”. Because I could not speak Swedish that time, I had to seek a job by asking only to my Mongolian friends. As for now, I can speak the language and thus I have fewer opportunities to find work from people of other ethnicities. It is not very well paid jobs but is doesn’t matter. It is like a “mutual agreement”: since an employer knows that you are illegal, s/he takes an advantage of it. In some cases employers simply don’t pay or make you work for a very long time. I was working 10 hours a day, for example. Not often when an employer knows that we work well, s/he can raise the salary. Those employers who work together they spread the information about workers: who is “good” and who is not.

I was also working in the cleaning company. One day when I was in the church my friend told me that there is one guy who is searching for a cleaner, preferably woman. The employer demanded 4-5 years of experience and Swedish language. I did not speak Swedish, but I got this job. First, he gave me several hours. I cleaned his office. I earned good money that time: 100 SEK per day. After this job I was back to sewing. The only thing I am thankful to my first employer is that I have learned the technics to sew. So, this time I was teaching others to sew and it was appreciated by my boss. Unfortunately, I worked only 2 times per week which was not enough at all. Hopefully, friends will help me to find something else. A friend helped me with this job but I also developed some contacts. It is always friends who help when you live underground.

Often Mongolians charge for such “services”. Usually such private mediators simply disappear with your money and/or deceive you by promising different “failing” options. It is quite difficult to trust people because you never know who your employer will be.

One important issue is that we don’t know our rights at all. The other issue is that one can easily get into trouble here. As I have mentioned I was working in the cleaning company. When I came to the interview, he told me that they needed young girls not elder than 25-30 years old. Moreover, a girl should be “beautiful”. These criteria were demanded for the work in a restaurant, which I was not qualified for, since I was much elder than 30. I had to clean. I know that many girls worked in his restaurants. I am sure that the work is not limited by the restaurant services, rather extra money may be earned by prostituting. Sometimes guys get involved into criminality or alcohol because they are psychologically broken. They lose hope to live further. We don’t have anyone to talk to about our troubles or to share our hopes and feelings.

Everything depends on the legal status, persunnommer in Sweden. If it comes to any tensions with employers, it is usually solved by “agreement” between me and him (employer). How can I contact any trade union if I know that I am illegally in the country?”

– Rose, 45 years old woman from Mongolia.

There are many more life stories of individuals who reside and work underground in Sweden. Each of them endures tremendous sacrifices in terms of their living and working conditions.

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