Katri Niskanen and Sonja Hämäläinen of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment discussed work-based immigration at a media event in Helsinki on 30 November 2022. Finns attitudes toward work-based immigration appear to have hardened in the past five years, suggests a survey by Helsingin Sanomat. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)


ALMOST HALF of Finns think that all foreigners who want to should be allowed to move to live and work in Finland, reveals a survey commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat.

Forty-nine per cent of the survey respondents stated that they agree partly or fully with the statement that everyone who wants to live and work in the country should be allowed to do so. An almost equal share (46%) of respondents contrastively stated that they disagree partly or fully with the statement.

The results suggest that public views on work-based immigration have soured significantly in recent years, as only five years ago over two-thirds (67%) of respondents agreed with the same statement.

Sakari Nurmela, the research director at Kantar Public, cautioned against drawing far-reaching conclusions from the latest results in part because of a methodological change from phone to online.

Responses to some of the other survey questions, he added, also indicate that public opposition to employment-based immigration is not quite as widespread. For example, 68 per cent of respondents stated that they agree with the statement that foreign labour should be introduced to all sectors in Finland.

Lena Näre, a professor of sociology studying immigration at the University of Helsinki, highlighted that the survey was carried out in a markedly different security policy situation than in 2017.

“In recent times, discussion on immigration has been linked unusually much to security policy. There has been talk about hybrid influence and there are plans to build a fence along the eastern border, for example,” she said. “I’d assume that in these circumstances, when people read the statement many of them think that of course not everyone should be allowed to come here.”

Public willingness to welcome foreign labour, she estimated, looks surprisingly high in light of some of the other survey questions. While 71 per cent of respondents viewed that immigration is needed but stressed that the emphasis should be on skilled labour, the share of respondents who viewed that foreign labour should be injected to all sectors was only a few percentage points lower.

“When you consider how politicised and divisive an issue immigration is among the population, I think these are pretty high percentages,” told Näre.

The results may have also been swayed by the recent public debate about the nursing shortage. “This reflects an understanding that our home-grown workforce isn’t enough.”

Näre estimated that the results also reflect the nature of the immigration debate in Finland. Politicians tend to discuss humanitarian and employment-based immigration as strictly separate issues, creating the same somewhat misguided division among the public.

“Many who were originally denied asylum have later got a work-based permit here,” she reminded.

Helsingin Sanomat also asked the respondents to gauge the extent of racism in Finland. Well over half (57%) of respondents viewed that there is a lot or quite a lot of racism in the country, representing a drop of 10 percentage points from 2017.

Finns may have been more aware of racism five years ago, analysed Näre.

“The European [Union’s] Fundamental Rights Agency had just released its report, revealing that people in Finland experience the most discrimination in Europe,” she said. “If you haven’t personally experienced or don’t know people who’ve experienced racism, or if you aren’t interested in the issue, it may be difficult to gauge the extent of racism in Finland.”

Whatever the case, more than half of the public estimate that there is a lot or quite a lot of racism in Finland. “That matches reality,” viewed Näre.

Altogether 1,096 people responded to the online survey conducted by Kantar Public.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT