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Labour is foreign
by Asa Butcher
Issue 10
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Approximately 108,000 immigrants live in Finland and incredibly over 29% are unemployed. Why is the number so large? It is unbelievable that over 35,000 people want to live on social security and are happy in their situation, which raises the question: why can’t they find a job in Finland?

Finland’s official unemployment figure stands at ten percent and is facing the same problems as other European Union members. Politicians have to pacify the unions about excessive unemployment and the outsourcing of jobs to countries, such as China and Estonia, but also realise the necessity of attracting skilled foreign labour to counteract the aging population problem.

This Catch-22 situation makes Finland sound as though skilled workers will find a job on their first visit to the Employment Centre, but the reality is never as simple as the politician’s promise. The impending crisis of an aging population and not enough workers to earn taxes that cover pensions is also in Finland. Over the past couple of years, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, even though he represents the conservative side of Finnish society, has emphasized they need at least 300,000 immigrants to initially cover the problem.

One of the first problems is overcoming the “Foreigners come over here to get our social security and steal our jobs!” belief that the average 50-year-old unemployed Finn will share with his friends and persuading the other 400,000 unemployed ethnic Finns that the arrival of 300,000 immigrant workers will be good for them and the social security system. Following on from the recession of the ‘90s, many unemployed Finnish men have still not been able to find work, which many equate with self-respect; this is a cause for the alcoholism prevalent among that age group.

However, from the foreigner’s point of view, when a Labour Ministry working group proposes Finland should attract more foreign labour and wants work permits to be granted more speedily to accelerate immigration, but suddenly back peddles by stressing that foreign workers should not take job opportunities from Finland’s unemployed, they are left confused.

This news story is then followed by a survey carried out over 16-years by Magdalena Jaakkola about the attitudes of Finns towards immigrants. She states that Finns have become more broad-minded since the recession of the 1990s. It seems Finns are happy to have foreign physicians, teachers, nannies, social workers and police officers, but, “Preferably, Finns would like to see immigrants in typical entry professions, such as cleaners or taxi drivers.”

These are comments from 21st century Finland and not 1960’s Britain, to allay any confusion. Finland seems to think that these types of statements are honest, while they are in reality discriminatory and would never appear in any British newspaper. The EU is trying to stamp out discrimination, but these are the vocalised feelings of the majority of employers in Finland.

The results of another survey were revealed a few months ago following interviews with Finnish private sector companies, they were asked: Would you employ a foreigner? Nearly 70% answered ‘no’ and the other 30% explained that they would employ a foreigner, but preferably an Estonian or Russian. This situation has resulted in many highly trained immigrants taking menial employment, if they can find a job at all. There are cases of foreigners with two Masters Degrees and a lifetime of experience being offered dishwashing duties and Chemistry graduates cleaning cars, so what can these 300,000 extra immigrants expect to do?

In Europe, there is a new class of people that is rapidly growing, the New-poor; young graduates, with at least a basic university degree, surviving on unemployment benefit. The situation is becoming worse when it comes to immigrants in Europe, an example being the desperation and frustration we have seen in the France riots. This has been a result of the unique phenomenon of a second generation of unemployed immigrants.

After the events in France, experts have warned Europe that it is a case of two or three years before something happens to them. In east Helsinki, unemployed immigrants have nothing to do all day except gather together in certain areas and despite a policy trying to avoid immigrants grouping together in communities, there are suburbs where certain ethnic groups live. The dangers are real and there have already been some clashes, the latest example being the gang fight between Finns and Nigerians in Sörnäinen.

Many second-generation immigrants have only been to the foreign parent’s country for holidays, they don’t speak their language and have Master Degrees from Helsinki University, but they have a foreign surname. A friend’s daughter is in this situation and one of the first questions she has to face in interviews is if she speaks Finnish and how long she’s been in the country. Her work applications have been repeatedly rejected bringing rise to a suspicion that her father has felt all his life.

The complicated issue of foreign university degrees and whether they are recognised in Finland is another hurdle. Usually, Finnish firms seem suspicious of foreign degrees and that’s understandable if you see a doctor’s degree from Afghanistan, but European university degrees are recognised inside the Euro-zone without any further exams and that is according to the EU rules. Alongside qualifications, a friend was asked in an interview if he had won any awards, to which he replied, ‘The highest one in my industry.’ The interviewer responded with, “But you don’t have a Finnish award?’

Assistance to find a job does come from the Employment Office, but they appear to be trained in dealing with unskilled labour or sending immigrants on language courses that obsess over grammar failing to teach puhekieli, which is needed in a work environment. How many immigrants came to Finland hoping to spend their lives learning useless grammatical building blocks and surviving on 400€ a month?

The search for work leads many immigrants into self-employment or opening their own business in the hope that their costs will be lower for the business than as employees. The Employment Office offers help to any entrepreneurs, but be warned that they believe that every foreigner wants to either open their own grilli or restaurant.

Stereotypes, humiliating stories, useless CVs and discriminatory surveys are not the keys to attracting the extra 300,000 immigrants; in fact, they are likely to scare away the 100,000 already here. What is the point of PM Vanhanen and Finland declaring an urgent need for foreigners when they can’t deal with the ones already here?

It has nothing to do with a lack of specialised or communication skills, it has to do with a mentality of only wanting foreigners who can and will contribute to society and the marketplace, albeit as taxi drivers and cleaners. They want these foreigners to adapt to Finland without costing them too much money. They want immigrant doctors, teachers and social workers to work in the areas with more foreigners, such as east Helsinki. All the foreigners want is to live in a country that realises they are a European Union member and that it is the 21st century.
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Martin-Éric2008-10-18 15:57:59
This document changed location on the Ovi site and finding it again was a tad difficult, but the content is still eminently valid.

FYI, I proposed you and Thanos as panelists for an immigration seminar:


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