Asylum seekers outside the Metsälä Reception Centre in Helsinki on 27 February, 2017.
Asylum seekers outside the Metsälä Reception Centre in Helsinki on 27 February, 2017.

Helsinki’s immigration unit has been hit by a severe staff shortage.

The number of cases assigned to a single social worker in recent weeks has consequently peaked at 160 – almost five times the maximum of 35 recommended by Talentia, the Finnish Union of Professional Social Workers.

Sari Karisto, the head of the immigration unit, admits that the circumstances are challenging.

“The average numbers aren’t quite as staggering, but admittedly the average numbers are also too high. A new employee can’t be as productive as an experienced employee, and that’s why there are differences between employees,” she says to Uusi Suomi.

“I can’t deny that there have been concerns about the situation,” she adds.

The staff shortage is a consequence of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the fixed-term employees recruited, with a special appropriation granted by the Helsinki City Council, to respond to the sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Finland in the second half of 2015.

A total of 26 new employees joined the unit on a fixed-term basis, nearly doubling the staff to 55.

In January, the unit was informed that the fixed-term employment contracts would be extended until the end of May, 2017. In mid-February, it was announced that the fixed-term employees would be able to continue until the end of the year, but by then many of them had sought out other employment opportunities.

“I don’t think that anyone has left the unit in anger, but they’ve prioritised options that are better for them, something that we’ve been unable to offer,” tells Karisto. “It’s perfectly natural for people to look for long-term employment opportunities and possibly permanent jobs, no matter how interesting the job in question.”

There is also an overall shortage of social workers in Finland.

Karisto reminds that despite the decline in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country, the workload of authorities providing services to new residents will not decrease as dramatically.

“A notable share of residence permit recipients will settle in the capital region,” she adds.

Karisto admits that the staff shortage is likely to cause some delays in the provision of services to immigrants, but denies the claims of chief inspector Dennis Pasterstein, a candidate for the National Coalition in the municipal elections in Helsinki, that some customers have had to wait for a response for as long as two months.

She also points out that the delays will have no impact whatsoever on the language studies of immigrants, contrary to the claims made by Pasterstein.

The integration training of adult immigrants is organised by the Employment and Economic Development Offices (TE Offices). While the immigration unit has provided assistance to immigrant parents with children set to start school, parents can also enrol their children directly at the closest school, explains Karisto.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva
Source: Uusi Suomi