Finland needs work-based immigration. There is no question about that. Finland’s population is ageing, the birth rate is low and many sectors suffer from labour shortage. This is an issue of growth and vitality.
The responsibility for work-based immigration matters was transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment at the beginning of 2020. A lot has been achieved, but there is still work left to do to ensure that the permit processes are seamless and that Finland is seen as an attractive destination for international talent.
These changes relate to much more than just legislation. We must promote digitalisation, make practices more efficient and improve cooperation between companies and authorities. Additional resources are necessary and the government is committed to providing them.
While all of this is important, it is not enough. Research shows that persons whose name or mother tongue indicate a non-Finnish background receive far fewer invitations to job interviews than other applicants, even if their education, experience and language skills are exactly the same.
Finnish businesses have demanded for a long time that it should be easier to immigrate to Finland for work. At the same time, negative attitudes towards people already living in Finland who speak a foreign language or come from a different background have an effect on their employment. Words and deeds are therefore fundamentally inconsistent. No person will move to Finland to work here if their work and skills are not appreciated. That is why we should make the promotion of diversity and non-discrimination in working life our key goals.
In general, we tend to put too much value on objectives and numbers when we look at work-based immigration. The debate always focuses on issues like sustainability gap, employment rate and public finances, regardless of the speakers’ political orientation.
Without a doubt, such viewpoints are important, but I would argue that a more human-centred discussion would yield better results. How does Finland look like to an international specialist? Will we also welcome their spouse and children here? How do we organise day care and school for children who do not know Finnish yet? It is essential that all those involved in work-based immigration recognise that there is only one set of rules in the Finnish labour market and that they apply to everyone.
If we adjust our attitudes and the way we discuss work-based immigration, the outcome could surprise us positively. Immigrants are not strangers or outsiders, but a part of our society and a competent and inclusive Finland.
Tuula Haatainen is a Finnish politician and a member of the Finnish Parliament, with the Social Democratic Party. She is the minister of Employment in Sanna Marin's government. She was the Minister of Education 2003–2005 and the Minister of Social Affairs and Health 2005–2007. In 2007 Haatainen was chosen as the Deputy Mayor of Helsinki and she left the parliament.
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of The Finnish Parliament contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.
The articles will be published in order of arrival.