Official statistics place Russians as the largest minority group in Finland with 58,331 people registered with Russian as their mother tongue and 29,585 as residents of Finland with Russian nationality. However, an investigative article published in the latest issue of SixDegrees magazine questions the accuracy of these stats. According to the article, at least 24,000 ethnic Finns living in Finland are categorised as Russians.
These Finns are Ingrian Finns, repatriated from Russia because of their Finnish background, but categorised as Russians, since no more accurate criteria are available.
In the early 1990s, the then president Mauno Koivisto’s public statement about the status of Ingrian Finns was interpreted as an invitation for repatriation, starting a wave of Ingrians heading back to Finland.
Hence they came in large numbers. “When the repatriation began in the early 1990s, the Aliens Act did not yet feature any specific reference to Ingrian Finns,” recalls Marianne Laine, Team Manager with the Finnish Immigration Service. “Finnish authorities were not really prepared to deal with the repatriation wave, but because they had to adopt some idea as standard, it was decided that any Ingrian Finns wanting to be repatriated needed to have Finnish nationality.”
Before they are allowed to come, they had to prove water-tightly that they are Finns. “Applicants were required to have two official documents, and this applies today as well,” Laine explains.
In 2003, a further amendment required that in order for applicants to be granted a residence permit, they needed to successfully demonstrate their proficiency in Finnish and have a residence in Finland. “The applicants study Finnish for 350 hours and then take a free language proficiency test,” adds Laine.
Despite all these attempts to ensure the applicants were ethnically Finns and proficient in Finnish, they have been statistically categorised as Russians, based on the native language question.
The skewed statistics have had a significant effect on the recourses and emphasis put on Russian language services and the distribution of resources between language groups. If corrected, the statistics would put Estonians as the largest immigrant group in Finland.
The entire article can be read in SixDegrees magazine issue 3/2013, published this week.
SixDegrees and Helsinki Times are related publications.