Finland is a country that is graying at a rapid pace and needs to bring skilled labor. Some parties, like the Perussuomalaiset (PS), believe that immigration especially from outside the EU should be stopped at all costs. Others don’t mind as long as immigrants bring skills and contribute to society by paying taxes.
In the face of these two opposing views, Finland is on a collision course.
Whatever opinions you may have on immigration and cultural diversity, the fact is that our population is aging at a fast pace.
According to Statistics Finland, the number of pensioners will rise from the present 17% (905,000 persons who are older than 65 years) to 27% by 2040 and 29% (1.79 million) by 2060. Better medicare will fuel this trend. Persons over 85 years in Finland will rise from 2% (108,000) to 7% (463,000).
One of the interesting matters that few speak of these days is how wrong forecasts got it. They may have estimated correctly population growth and age structure, but never in their wildest days did they expect so much opposition to immigration. So much so, in fact, that we saw the rise of an anti-immigration and anti-EU party in 2011, the Perussuomalaiset (PS), which gained 39 seats in parliament versus 5 in 2007.
In the spring of 2008, a survey by the ministry of finance revealed that Finland would need almost two million immigrants by 2020 to plug the labor shortage caused by our aging population.
The Ministry of the Interior saw back then the economically active population would decline by 189,000 in 2009-20.
”In order for increasing immigration to compensate for [the] workforce leaving the market, Finland would require some 300,000 immigrants between 2009 and 2020,” said Tarja Rantala, chief inspector for the immigration department of the ministry of interior.
Even if Statistics Finland estimated in May 2007 that the immigrant population will almost double nationally by 2025 to 300,000, its clear that their forecast was too conservative. A new report by the official statistics agency published in February 2013 now sees the immigrant population of Helsinki and surroundings to rise to around 300,000 by 2030.
Certainly the latter two estimates by the ministry of finance and ministry of the interior were made when PS chairman Timo Soini led a party of five MPs.
It is unfortunate that Europe is being overtaken today by ever-growing populist anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiment. The present situation will prove costly for countries like Finland, which need to attract more skilled labor to the country and adapt to their ever-culturally diverse societies.
In many respects, the present situation is Finland’s doing. During most of its time as an independent country it had systematically restricted as much as possible foreign investment and immigration to the country. We are now paying a high price because of that policy.
As long as the PS continues to cast a strong populist anti-immigration and anti-EU shadow in Finnish politics, and as long as politicians lack the courage to challenge it in earnest, Finland’s immigration policy will never serve it the way it should.