Immigrants entering Finland, and the internal migration by foreigners who already live here here, are having an impact on demographic developments in different areas.
As large urban centres lose residents to outlying municipalities, immigrants help maintain population growth.
Foreign-born residents ease the downhill curve, as two out of three municipalities lose population through the declining birthrate and internal migration.
“In many cities immigration is significantly more important in maintaining the dynamics of population growth than mass movements”, notes political scientist, Dr. Timo Aro.
At the request of Helsingin Sanomat, Aro compared population information provided by Statistics Finland concerning the country’s 20 largest cities in 2000-2006.
“They all gain population through immigration. The starting level is low”, he says.
The growth has also been noted by Pekka Myrskylä, head of development at Statistics Finland, who says that immigration is numerically greater now than ever before. Immigration now counts for nearly half of population growth. The other half is from births.
Demographers speak about net immigration. This refers to the difference between immigration and emigration.
In the 21st century so far, net immigration has tripled in Finland.
However, the figure also includes Finns who return home after spending time abroad. They account for 40 per cent of those moving back to Finland.
“Immigration is very significant in old industrial cities and provincial cities which have suffered from net emigration, and where, in some cases, the birthrate has turned negative”, Aro says.
Such cities include Kajaani, Vaasa, Kotka, and Pori.
For instance, Kotka has managed to reverse the downward trend in population development. Aro says that the change is attributable to immigration.
In Turku the importance of immigrants in population growth is emphasised, because the birthrate in the city is much lower than in other large cities.
Immigration is significant in the Helsinki region and Tampere as well.
Helsinki is losing population through internal migration, but is a big winner in immigration from abroad.
“In the 21st century, the relative importance of immigration has consistently grown in Helsinki. In the future it will have an even bigger role”, Aro says.
Immigrants also figure in internal migration within Finland, when they move to different communities after first arriving in the country. Most of the time they move to the Helsinki region or Turku.
According to Myrskylä, every second person to move to Helsinki from another part of Finland is a foreign citizen.
Experts do not feel that immigration will stop the decline in population in areas with low birthrates and strong net migration, although it does mitigate the trend.
“In the east of Finland there are some communities in which there are so many Russian immigrants that it is helping communities cope with population loss”, Myrskylä says.
Aro and Myrskylä point out that the significance of immigration in demographic development has been underestimated.
“The real impact will not be seen until 20-30 years from now”, Aro says.