Posted on December 14, 2005

Who Are the Newcomers that Finland Wants?

Teemu Luukka, Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki), December 14, 2005

Nearly all of the parties represented in the Finnish Parliament feel that Finland should be more active in attracting highly-skilled immigrants, as well as other foreign workers.

Only two parties — the True Finns and the Left Alliance — are opposed to active recruitment of foreigners with special campaigns. Even the True Finns feel that skilled foreigners are needed, but the party says that those kinds of people are coming here in any case. In the view of the Left Alliance, people will move to Finland to get work only if there is interesting work available here.

These are the conclusions that can be drawn from a survey of all Parliamentary parties on immigration policy conducted by the Sunday edition of Helsingin Sanomat. Also answering the survey were all Presidential candidates, as well as three labour market organisations.

Immigration has been a hot topic of public debate. The discussion surged again after it was revealed that more than 1,000 asylum-seekers had gone missing from Finnish refugee reception centres.

The results of the survey suggest that the political parties sharply differ from the public at large with respect to immigration policy. The Helsingin Sanomat Sunday pages surveyed the opinions of the political parties on foreign labour, and last week, Suomen Gallup released a poll on citizens’ opinions on immigration.

Although the questions asked in the two surveys are not completely analogous, it is nevertheless clear that the parties feel that labour from abroad is a significantly more important factor in Finland’s future, than ordinary citizens do.

According to the survey commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat and conducted by Suomen Gallup a week ago, a clear majority of citizens do not want to increase the number of immigrants. Only 21 percent of respondents felt that Finland needs more immigrants, and 16 percent felt that there are too many already.

All of the parties except the True Finns feel that it is important for Finland to get more foreign labour.

The most obvious difference between a party and its supporters is with the Centre Party. In the view of the Centre, the need for “labour-based immigration” will grow over the next 5-20 years. Only ten percent of supporters of the Centre Party feel that Finland needs more immigrants, no matter what they do when they are here.

It is actually quite surprising how similar the parties’ views are on immigration policy, even though the topic is one that raises strong emotions. The parties are almost unanimous in their reasons why Finland needs foreign labour.

The most important reason is the labour shortage caused by the ageing population.

Parties from one end of the political spectrum to another feel that native-born Finns will not necessarily be able to maintain the present standard of living in the future if Finland does not get workers from abroad.

What are the criteria for choosing immigrants to come here?

The parties are not very picky. Education — or rather skills — are the most important factor in the view of the parties, and that those who come do not have a criminal record, for instance.

Only the True Finns feel that the country of origin, race, or religion of the person in question should have some kind of bearing on the matter.

In spite of terror attacks that have taken place in Europe, not a single party has said that it wants to choose immigrants on the basis of whether or not their home countries are suspected of supporting terrorism.

The parties have a grim view of Finland’s future, if more foreigners do not work at Finnish workplaces in the future.

The Centre Party feels that at the present pace, economic growth and the functionality of the labour market will suffer. The National Coalition Party sees a labour shortage looming ahead. The Left Alliance sees an ageing population. The Swedish People’s Party feels that the benefits of innovation could wither away, and the Christian Democrats say that the national economy could suffer.

The view of the Greens, and that of many others, is that the present policy toward foreigners will lead to a distortion in the care ratio, which means that there would not be enough people working in proportion to the number of those who are out of the job market.

The True Finns are again the exception. They feel that the present immigration policy is a success.

The problem is, how to persuade diligent workers to do jobs for which there are not enough Finns available, or willing to do them. How can we entice workers to pay high taxes and live with people who speak a strange language in a lousy climate?

The Centre Party feels that a small country needs to actively promote itself simply because the problem of ageing and the need for more labour applies to all of Europe.

In the view of many parties, Finland’s clean nature, social stability, security, functioning public services, and its reasonably high level of earnings should be made better known abroad.

The Greens feel that proposals for charging foreign students university fees should be dropped, because it is through students that Finland’s reputation as a possible place to work is efficiently spread around the world.

The political parties are, therefore, in line with the immigration policy programme, which is now being discussed in the government. The programme says that Finland should be marketed more than is now the case, and that immigration policy should focus more on promoting work-based immigration. Previously, Finland has focused largely on refugee matters.

A ministerial group on immigration policy is expected to discuss a new programme on Tuesday. The government should give its approval early next year.

The programme contains more than 30 proposals. Under one of them, foreign job applicants would be allowed to seek work in Finland even if they have not been promised a work permit ahead of time. Currently, only citizens of the old EU member states, as well as those of the other Nordic Countries and Switzerland, can freely look for work in Finland.

All political parties except the True Finns feel that Finland needs clearer and more flexible principles for seeking work.

The Centre Party and the National Coalition Party feel that it is especially good that Parliament is in the process of passing a bill, which would grant foreign students who have graduated from a Finnish university six months to look for work in Finland.

One question stumped most parties. Only the Swedish People’s Party dared estimate how many foreigners Finland might need. The Swedish People’s Party said that Finland might have 250,000 foreigners 20 years from now, which is over 140,000 more than is now the case.

On refugee policy, the parties are largely sticking to their present policy lines.

No Finnish parties support the French type of policy. In France, the aim is to turn foreigners as French as possible as quickly as possible.

In the view of Finnish parties — and not even the True Finns are an exception here — foreigners must be granted the right to their own language and culture, but in a manner that helps them learn the Finnish language, and Finnish ways. All parties feel that public funds should be spent to help foreigners maintain their own language and culture.

Finland has fewer than 110,000 foreigners, which is about two percent of the population. This is one of the lowest in Europe. About ten percent of the group are refugees. Each year the number of foreigners in Finland is increasing by between 5,000 and 9,000. About 60 percent of this group move to Finland because of family ties, and about ten percent come for work alone. Nearly half of the foreigners in Finland are either of Russian, Estonian, or Swedish origin. The unemployment rate among foreigners is about 28 percent.