An immigrant student attended a class as part of their practical nurse training at the Diakonia College of Finland in Helsinki in August 2019. YLE on Saturday reported that the Finnish government is mulling over effectively cutting the labour market subsidy for recipients without intermediate Finnish or Swedish skills. (Laura Ukkonen – Lehtikuva)


THE SINGLE LARGEST immigration-related spending cut in the government programme is not found under immigration but under social security, reports YLE.

Although the section on immigration lays out direct spending cuts worth around 250 million euros, including halving the refugee quota and adopting stricter criteria for residence permits, the largest savings related to immigration are expected to arise from introducing a language requirement to the labour market subsidy.

While the government programme does not cast light on the details of the proposal, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has outlined how the proposal could be implemented in a memo, according to the public broadcaster: the government would first cut the labour market subsidy for all recipients and then introduce a supplement for recipients who have either demonstrated intermediate proficiency (B1) in Finnish or Swedish, or completed basic education in Finland.

“The idea is specifically that knowing the local language, be it Finnish or Swedish, helps you considerably to integrate and improve your employment opportunities in Finland,” Minister of Employment Arto Satonen (NCP) explained to YLE on Saturday.

He viewed that the government will have to mull over ways to offer more language instruction in pursuing the proposal.

The proposal found its way into the government programme at the initiative of the Christian Democrats.

The public broadcasting company wrote that the language criterion is expected to generate cost savings of 100 million euros during the electoral term and have a positive annual employment impact worth 32 million euros.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health stated in its memo that it is impossible to come up with an exact estimate of the cost effects of the proposal due to insufficient understanding of the language skills of labour market subsidy recipients. It nonetheless estimated based on a questionnaire about language skills distributed to immigrants that the proposal could reduce spending on labour market subsidy by 26 million euros a year.

The subsidy, it gauged, could be tens of euros lower for recipients without the requisite language skills, at less than 700 euros.

Whether the proposal can be carried out remains uncertain, however, due to constitutional challenges: the constitution prohibits discrimination based on language.

“According to the constitution, placing anyone in an unequal position without acceptable grounds based on factors such as age, language, origin or other personal reasons is prohibited. The government would have to present acceptable grounds for placing people in an unequal position,” Maija Dahlberg, an assistant professor of public law at the University of Eastern Finland, said to YLE.

She added that although the language requirement would principally apply to all labour market subsidy recipients regardless of their nationality, its actual effects would be what determine whether or not it is discriminatory.

“The prohibition on discrimination also applies to these kinds of measures, indirect discrimination,” said Dahlberg.

The Finnish public broadcasting company highlighted that the cost effects of the proposal are uncertain because it may have to be revised to apply to a smaller group of subsidy recipients in order to guarantee basic rights. Organising the language tests would similarly cause costs that were not accounted for in the memo drafted at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Experts on Saturday stated to YLE that overall the government programme reflects negative attitudes toward immigration and immigrants.

“There are very few remarks about immigration being somehow a positive thing. Immigration and immigrants cause a lot of problems,” summed up Pasi Saukkonen, a senior researcher at the City of Helsinki.

“I think the major thread is a certain kind of distrust toward immigrants. You’re trying to encourage integration primarily through sanctions and threats,” analysed Rolle Alho, a senior researcher at E2 Research.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT