Separating urban myths from facts in the Finnish immigration debate

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

To confirm whether anti-immigrant politicians are spreading urban myths or not, I recommend taking a look at the 2010 Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) annual report. What you may find may startle, even anger you.

I’m not speaking specifically of Perussuomalaiset (PS) party MPs like Teuvo Hakkarainen, who are walking political time bombs packed with ignorance. The source of your irritation may be more credible politicians who should know better but are spreading and enforcing urban myths about immigrants in their opportunistic bid to gain votes.

There is nothing “patriotic” about spreading urban myths about immigrants because great harm is done to Finland economically, socially and politically.

If you look at last year’s FIS report, we will see some startling facts that blow the cover off the urban myths that are fed like “facts” to the public by some politicians. Here it is (and it does not harm to repeat this fact over again): The main reason why foreigners moved to Finland in 2010 was for family reasons (31%), study (25%) and work (17%). Asylum seekers accounted for  only 10%.

While these figures attempt to give a clean-cut division of the reasons for coming to Finland, the issue is a bit more complex. Just because a person come to Finland due to family reasons, he can end up employed like the ones that came for work.

What does a mere 17% (3,030 people) of foreigners who got work permits last year on the grounds of employment and self-employment tell us?

For one, it reveals that too few skilled people move on their own will to Finland for work. It tells us as well another disturbing fact: We are far behind other countries in attracting skilled labor as our ever-growing army of pensioners swells this decade and the next.

While some politicians warned us in 2006 that the entire Estonian workforce, or half a million people, was ready to invade Finland, the truth is that we are no magnet for skilled labor.

Why would a skilled immigrant move with his or her family to Finland if there are easier and friendlier countries in Europe? Why would they move to a country where a right-wing populist anti-immigration party, the PS, gained 19.1% of the votes in April from 4.05% in 2007?

Why would a foreign company invest in this country and create more jobs?

While the recession may be an important factor why there were 25.2% less permits given to foreigners compared with 2009 for work and self-employment, other factors like the weather, high taxation, language certainly play a role.

What to do?

Send each politician an electronic copy of the FIS annual report and ask them why they distort the facts in order to hide the real issues, which is dealing with our ever-growing demographic challenges.

Note: There are other urban myths that I could have brought up. These can be discussed as well.

  1. Mark

    Enrique

    Nice to see the FIS report for 2010 has come out. Interesting take that you have on the report.

    However, as a reader, I’m left wondering what the ‘myths’ and ‘distortion of facts’ that you speak of actually are, because you do not detail them or compare them directly to the data from the report. The only idea that you do speak of is the ‘invasion of Estonians’, but that cannot be all of it.

    It would be very useful to see exactly what quotes from which politicians you think are directly contradicted by which pieces of information from the report. While this is more work, it would definitely make this a more valuable article to add to your commendable blog.

    • Enrique

      Hi Mark, the myth is the following: We are all speaking of the threat of immigration and how everyone is ready to invade Finland. This could not be further from the truth. We have to START marketing our country in order to attract skilled labor.

  2. Mark

    Enrique

    But if the debate is about people coming to Finland and not being able to be productive citizens, this report adds more weight to that argument, not less, because number of people arriving ‘for work’ has diminished as a proportion. However, proportions are misleading, real numbers would be more useful.

    Also, the number of people coming for ‘family reasons’ can also be misleading. I came to Finland for ‘family reaons’, but ended up working after two weeks and have never claimed unemployment benefit. Does this refer to family reunification, or what?

    My point was also that you refer to politicians distorting the picture, but don’t give direct quotes. That’s okay, but that means we have to take your word for it. No I’m sure you have relevant quotes in mind, but it’s just better for me, as a reader, to know what those are, because I’m not reading the Finnish news, for example.

    No disrespect, just an honest reaction.

  3. justicedemon

    Ricky

    The FIS annual report describes the work of a specialist agency from its own specialist point of view. The figures that you quote must be understood in terms of the underlying system, which is by no means simple.

    You are making the very basic and common error of assuming that the grounds for admission are the only reason for arriving and remaining. The 17 per cent figure for permits issued on grounds of work only represents relatively recent arrivals of third country nationals where there were no other grounds for issuing a permit. It does not follow from this that 17 per cent of foreigners moving to Finland in 2010 did so for work alone.

    You cannot interpret these figures without a full appreciation of the underlying immigration management system and a qualitative understanding of the circumstances of newly arrived immigrants. Points of the kind made by Mark in his second paragraph above are relevant not least because of the structure of the immigration system and the feedback effect on immigrant behaviour.

    • Enrique

      JusticeDemon and Mark, so what you guys are stating is that these figures only give a partial picture. Ok, granted, and I understand Marks’ point. Does it mean that those that come to Finland for which reason it may be end up in the labor market?

      My point here is that few immigrants are granted residence permits due to work. It’s mostly through family and students. That was my point. However, I consider Mark’s and JusticeDemon’s point valid in order to give a more comprehensive view of the situation, which I have added on the blog entry.

  4. Johnny

    The thing is, many of the people who move for “family reasons” are technically the same as asylum seekers (mainly from Africa) – and thus “not productive”. That statistic is very distorted already due to different classifications being used. Also, about attracting “skilled workers”, the skilled workers are pulled in by companies who actually need them. Finland does not need mass workers as such in the current situation, but of course some companies need specific expertise.

    • Enrique

      Hi Johnny and welcome to Migrant Tales. How do you know if an immigrant from a certain region is automatically “not productive” as you mentioned? Immigrants are productive and offer services from low to highly skilled. If we speak of workers, look at the bus drivers in Helsinki. Who would drive your buses if immigrants would not?

      Moreover, I don’t believe Finland will be a magnet for the highly skilled immigrants because there are more attractive countries. They may stay in Finland for a few years but there aim is probably to move on the a country like the United States or elsewhere. So maybe we are looking in the future at middle-skilled workers.

  5. sirianita

    Important information, next I would like to read something about the racist/fascist beliefs many Finnish people harbor without realized that those are their beliefs as living in a homogenous society often allows the growth of such beliefs/attitudes as part of its natural character and is often identified as “love for your country and your people”. Finland is a difficult place to live in, I would guess that given a choice many of the foreigners who are interested in work or asylum would prefer to be somewhere else given the opportunity; an idea that many Finns would find hard to believe as they believe Finland it the greatest place ever to live in.

  6. Johnny

    Thanks, Enrique.
    About being “productive”, that was a reference to an earlier text. However, I invite you to take a look at the employment rates of different (source) nationalities here in Finland as well. That should provide you with some additional information you might find useful when discussing “productivity”. “Immigrants are productive” is just an another generalization which is not useful by any means. Please do not place all immigrants under a same title. And that bus driver comment is an another all too common generalization. Please check out the different (source) nationalities of the drivers as well. Certain nationalities/areas are not represented in the drivers anyhow. The bus companies are trying to find cheap labor and immigrants are often just that. That is a problem as well.

    As of now, Finland does not need to be a “magnet” for any immigrants. There are too many unemployed, talented people here (from different countries as well) already and those should be taken care first for many reasons.

  7. Mark

    Okay. So people who criticize immigration figures because they show people are not here ‘for work’ are ignoring that there are other perfectly legitimate reasons, i.e. studying or looking after their families?

    I think you should do another article that explores the relevance and problems with the data in this report. it would be very useful. i think you could then link that back to actual quotes and criticisms made by Finnish politicians. That kind of thorough analysis would give great credibility to the valid points you are trying to make.

  8. justicedemon

    Johnny

    The bus companies are trying to find cheap labor and immigrants are often just that.

    The legally enforceable minimum pay rate for PSV drivers is based on collective bargaining between the Finnish Federation of Road Transport Employers and the Finnish Transport Workers’ Union AKT. You are either suggesting that these Finnish organisations are conspiring in a cheap labour scam or that public transport companies are operating illegally by not honouring the agreement. In either case it would be nice to see your evidence.

    The plain fact is that there is a long-sustained labour shortage in the PSV sector. If that bothers you greatly, then you should change your present job and start working as a bus driver.

  9. justicedemon

    Ricky

    The problem is that without understanding the system that creates those permit statistics, there is no way to interpret them for any purpose other than administering the immigration management system. You are attempting to draw conclusions from the permit statistics as if they were the findings of a survey investigating why people came to Finland. They are not.

    There is an obvious analogy with shopping. An analysis of sales at Stockmann might show that 3 per cent of customers buy shoes, but it does not follow from this that those customers came into Stockmann solely or even primarily to buy shoes, still less that the desire to buy shoes can be viewed as a necessary and sufficient condition for coming into Stockmann.

    The most obvious example of this confusion is the familiar assertion that “the reason for immigration was marriage to a Finnish citizen”. This can never be a complete explanation, as it ignores the factors affecting the decision of a couple to choose Finland as their family home.

  10. BlandaUpp

    @Johnny
    “However, I invite you to take a look at the employment rates of different (source) nationalities here in Finland as well. That should provide you with some additional information you might find useful when discussing “productivity”. ”

    Maybe we should block people coming from countries that have more unemployed people living here already than our national average. Is that a good starting point?

    Finnish 5183058 8.7% unemployment
    Russia 26909 27,8% unemployment
    Ukraine 1798 17.7% unemployment
    Lithuania 615 12.5% unemployment
    Bulgaria 618 12.2% unemployment
    Italy 1432 11.5% unemployment
    Poland 1888 11% unemployment
    Norway 695 10.8% unemployment
    Britain 3213 10.1% unemployment
    Nigeria 1020 10% unemployment
    Japan 905 9.6% unemployment
    Bangladesh 840 9.5% unemployment
    Ethiopia 651 8.2% unemployment
    Ghana 700 8% unemployment
    India 2736 7.2% unemployment
    China 4620 8.5% unemployment
    Kenya 640 4% unemployment

    Then we have refugees who in any society take at least a generation to adapt to their new country.

    Myanmar 1043 74,7% unemployment
    Sudan 1083 50,9% unemployment
    Afganistan 2189 61,0% unemployment
    Irak 3238 60,9% unemployment
    Somalia 4919 55,2% unemployment

    Source: http://www.stat.fi/til/tyokay/2008/01/tyokay_2008_01_2010-04-20_tau_001_fi.html

  11. Risto

    “Why would they move to a country where a right-wing populist anti-immigration party, the PS, gained 19.1% of the votes in April from 4.05% in 2007?”

    Why would they move to … Belgium, Holland, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Italy, Austria, Denmark, and the list goes on. Really, I think the rise of populist and/ or racist political parties is an evolution which is going on throughout Europe.

    Whether this really stops people from moving to another country? I’m not so convinced.

  12. Johnny

    Justicedemon wrote: “The legally enforceable minimum pay rate for PSV drivers is based on collective bargaining between the Finnish Federation of Road Transport Employers and the Finnish Transport Workers’ Union AKT. You are either suggesting that these Finnish organisations are conspiring in a cheap labour scam or that public transport companies are operating illegally by not honouring the agreement. In either case it would be nice to see your evidence.

    The plain fact is that there is a long-sustained labour shortage in the PSV sector. If that bothers you greatly, then you should change your present job and start working as a bus driver.”

    I am not suggesting either. I would find it nice if you did not draw any strange/false assumptions from a text which does not contain them, though. What I am saying is that the bus drivers are not getting paid enough for the job they are doing. That – and the general laziness of the Finnish people who technically get paid as much or more by just sitting home instead – is the reason the immigrants end up consisting of almost half of the number of the bus drivers in the Helsinki area, for example. The salary for the job (and also the fact that the same lazy Finns/immigrants who just sit home beat up the bus drivers now and then, if I may exaggerate a little here) – even if it is agreed by a union etc – is not a factor which would make people interested. It is not that hard to understand if you actually give it try.

  13. justicedemon

    Johnny

    I responded to the simplistic equation that you originally suggested:

    The bus companies are trying to find cheap labor and immigrants are often just that.

    Now you have broadened the terms of reference and stopped talking about cheap labour. I’m sure that AKT would agree with you that bus drivers are not paid enough, and I assume that we can count on your support when the next public transport strike seeks to address this question. The employers, on the other hand, argue that the terms of competitive tendering of public transport services (specifically fare caps and local authority subsidy levels) prevent any wage increases. Assuming that this is not a barefaced lie by the employers (which would be hard to sustain in a publicly procured service), this comes down to the question of how much more local tax you are ready to pay or how much more you are willing to pay for your public transport tickets.

    Anyway, YOU are obviously not a lazy Finn or immigrant staying at home, so we return to the original point: why don’t YOU become a bus driver? If you have a better paid job, then I’m sure that we can find a diligent Finn or immigrant willing to take it, and we can all applaud your public spirited sacrifice every time we catch your bus.

    • Enrique

      Hi Fawwaz Faris and welcome to our blog, Migrant Tales. Facts versus myths is one of the greatest battles immigrants are engaging in to get greater acceptance. Those that spread urban myths are either to ignorant to know the difference or too sinister that know the difference.

      We hope to hear more of you. You have posted some beautiful pictures on your FB page.

  14. Seppo

    “Why would a skilled immigrant move with his or her family to Finland if there are easier and friendlier countries in Europe?”

    Because they have a job waiting here. If there is not a job, then they don’t come, and that’s it.

    I think it is obvious that Finland can never ever entirely compete with lets say the US when it comes to attractiveness. So if there is a choice, the worker will go to the US. So far – and I don’t see this changing in the short term – there are more skilled workers looking to find a job abroad than there are those jobs for skilled foreign workers in different countries.

    Finland has an OK reputation (where it even has one, most people in this world don’t know much about Finland). I think if we ever need to import foreign workers en masse (which is not the case at the moment) we will be able to that. A more important question is whether or not these workers will decide to stay in Finland after a few years. Here something like the rise of the PS might have a negative effect.

    It is good to note that the weather and the high taxes (=good social network and services) is something that some people like about Finland. Yes, I know many people from southern Europe who prefer this climate to theirs. And I know even more immigrants who think our system with higher taxes and more social equality is better than the US one. These things we should see as assets, not as barriers. They might not attract the big masses but they will attract those people who are not only interested in going abroad but also specifically interested in going to a country like Finland. I have traveled enough in Eastern Europe in order to tell that there are a lot of them.

  15. Johnny

    Justicedemon wrote: “Now you have broadened the terms of reference and stopped talking about cheap labour.” (some general rambling cut off to make the text cleaner)
    Interesting how you refuse to admit that there are immigrants who are more willing to work for less pay than the “original Finns” and thus become “cheap labor”. What do you think you can gain by not admitting that fact?

    “Anyway, YOU are obviously not a lazy Finn or immigrant staying at home, so we return to the original point: why don’t YOU become a bus driver? If you have a better paid job, then I’m sure that we can find a diligent Finn or immigrant willing to take it, and we can all applaud your public spirited sacrifice every time we catch your bus.”
    How come is that an original point here? It was just one of the very general things to say for an argument’s sake by you, and that will lead to just pointless arguing. Anyhow, to make you able to write some more of the same, what do you think the society would gain if I switched jobs to a bus driver? And by the way, when you enter the workforce at some stage you will understand that not everyone is qualified for every job, so things just do not work like that in real life.

  16. justicedemon

    Johnny

    You cannot respond to my point, though, can you? Call it “general rambling” if you wish, but the pay rates for bus drivers are set in the standard way for Finland: by collective bargaining based on the economic and administrative realities of the sector concerned (local government licensing of public transport, competitive tendering for services and a cap on public subsidies). If you think the outcome of this entirely Finnish process is to create a cheap labour sector in the job market, then that is an entirely Finnish problem.

    You are evidently unwilling to do anything about this problem, such as paying higher local taxes or public transport fares, or enrolling on a PSV training course and changing your occupation. Instead you choose to slur immigrants for taking up the slack.

    It’s a simple equation. Without immigrants you would have no bus to ride unless you learned to drive it yourself, or paid more in taxes and fares.

  17. Fredie

    What wrong about cheap labor if it is legal, for many immigrants will work cheap payment that to stay at home doing nothing and put you down emotionally and mentally.
    That’s only stepping stone for much better future, working is not only for money but also principle of life, you work so you eat.

    • Enrique

      Hi Fredle and welcome to Migrant Tales. Do you think it is right that a country accepts immigrants and does nothing to protect their rights? If we look at my former home state of California, things work in such a fashion. The state maintained its competitive edge with the help of immigrants and especially undocumented immigrants. Without them, the whole system would be cut from the knees. As you know, California is bankrupt but for other reasons.

  18. Mark

    Fredie

    Have you ever done low-skilled poorly paid work? It can actually be a hindrence to finding better work because you are spending the productive time of the day at the workplace and also making time for interviews without alerting your employer is also problematic. Also, that kind of work can sap your motivation and energy for looking for other work. Not only that, but it also skews the unemployment figures – as it’s often said, there are loads of jobs available for the unemployed (foreigners), when in fact, a good many of the applicants may be people in low-paid or part-time work trying to get an improved position.

    You do have a point, but it’s just not so straightfoward as you make out.

  19. Fredie

    Enrique and Mark, I wrote about cheap labor BUT LEGAL.
    I think we can’t generalize immigrants, as you know immigrants mean multitude of languages, cultures, religions, educated people and people hardly never been in the school. we suppose not to set high standard for those immigrants that can’t reach that those high standard, we know people become successful because of hard work and many of them start in zero. we are all individual if want to be slave doing cheap is your chose but if some want to progress and to move more forward than working as cheap labor.
    Mark, I worked as a volunteer for 16 years in one organization they just taking cared my basic needs but I love what I’m doing, maybe you don’t understand that.

  20. Mark

    Fredie

    – “Mark, I worked as a volunteer for 16 years in one organization they just taking cared my basic needs but I love what I’m doing, maybe you don’t understand that.”

    Why wouldn’t I understand it? It sounds like you were quite happy to get a low remuneration for the work you were doing as a volunteer and that the benefit of doing the work for you was measured in more than simply monetary terms. I understand that and applaud your sense of values.

    – “Enrique and Mark, I wrote about cheap labor BUT LEGAL.”

    I’m sorry Freddie, but I didn’t quite understand where the ‘legality’ of the work comes into what I was talking about. Maybe that was something just for Enrique.

    I agree we cannot generalise about immigrants, and if I did do that, then thanks for pointing it out. I’m very much in favour of hearing about individual cases, simply because it gets us out of the habit of talking about immigrants as collectives and assuming that laws are easy ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions to complex social problems.

  21. Johnny

    Justicedemon goes on again: “You are evidently unwilling to do anything about this problem, such as paying higher local taxes or public transport fares, or enrolling on a PSV training course and changing your occupation. Instead you choose to slur immigrants for taking up the slack.

    It’s a simple equation. Without immigrants you would have no bus to ride unless you learned to drive it yourself, or paid more in taxes and fares.”

    I really thought I could have a real discussion in this blog but unfortunately it seems that it is impossible. “You are evidently unwilling…” How is it “evident” that I refuse to pay higher local taxes or fares? Or “slur imigrants”? You seem to be extremely narrow-minded and bitter. Perhaps some growing up will fix that for you at some point. Blog owner, I am sorry, but I will not continue this conversation. I know I am not really “needed” here but I would have liked to take part in the conversation. Now it is just pointless if I get some crazy accusations by just writing a couple of messages.

  22. Mark

    Johnny

    It’s great that you want to contribute, but throwaway comments and ill-thought out statements are likely to dump you in hot water. This is a very hotly contested issue, immigration, and so terms of reference need to be clearly defined, while stereotypical ideas about immigrants or issues that relate to them are likely to be challenged.

    Ironically, you stated quite usefully that generalisations are not helpful and then proceded in the very next sentence offered a cracking generalisation that tried to connect ‘cheap labour’ with immigrants, when in fact salaries are negotiated by Finns looking after the interests of a good many Finnish transport workers. JD pulled you up on it, and rather than admit, it was a little rash, who cares anyway, you tried belaboured the point, changed the terms of reference and tried to win a different battle with JD.

    I have to say, JD is not a bitter, small-minded person, as far as I have seen through his postings here. On the contrary, he thinks the issues through very careful, only speaks about those issues he genuinely knows about, (not always my strong point) and applies a fair and rational point of view. However, he does have a rather caustic and quite funny sarcasm when it comes to dealing with folks that make it personal against him.

    • Enrique

      –I have to say, JD is not a bitter, small-minded person, as far as I have seen through his postings here.

      I have to agree with Mark on this one. JD knows his facts and can debate an issue like immigration very well because he knows. He is an immigrant and has a lot of legal experience in this field, which is of great value to this blog.

      By the way, this blog has over 15,000 threads and I know that JD has been involved one way or another in most of these like me.

  23. Johnny

    Interesting. OK, this will be my last message here. On the other hand I am glad to see that like-minded people stand up for each other, but I would appreciate if you would actually read the messages you are replying to. 🙂

    What I am saying and said is that:
    – The fact that in the capitol area about half of the bus drivers are immigrants is true.
    – The “original” Finns seem to be too lazy or greedy to become bus drivers for the current salary/benefits so therefore the bus companies find immigrants who will work for less for one reason or another.
    – The bus drivers are paid too little for their work, no matter the nationality or origin.
    – The bus companies, in my opinion, are exploiting the situation and can get away with paying too little for a job which is demanding.

    And this is bad because…? Am I “slurring” immigrants or making injust generalizations here in your opinion?

    And because I said the above (and pretty much nothing more of substance), in “JD’s” opinion I am not willing to pay more taxes, I not willing to pay more for the bus fare, and am a terrible person for not marching on the streets right now and really really suck because I am not giving up my current job and become a bus driver myself.

    OK. Have a nice day. 🙂

  24. justicedemon

    Johnny

    Crash and burn.

    You are not the first commenter here to feign offence when your views are refuted. Plenty have come here to spew unfounded prejudices and then run away whelping like a spanked puppy when those prejudices are exposed, just as you are doing now.

    Your last contribution changes the terms of reference once again, but the fact remains that immigrant bus drivers are working for the pay rates set by national collective bargaining between the competent employers’ federation (ALT) and the transport workers’ union (AKT). The latter organisation is hardly a pushover in wage negotiations and has been quite willing to threaten and take industrial action over the years in order to demonstrate its resolve. There is no evidence that public transport companies are making exorbitant profits in Finland, where the overall financial framework is based on local authority route licensing, competitive tendering and subsidies (in other words, the finances are transparent). It follows from these facts that if PSV driving is a low wage occupation, then this is a direct outcome of Finnish public transport policy.

    There is, in particular, no evidence to support your view that transport companies are exploiting any “situation”. Their minimum labour costs are determined in the same way as in most industries and form part of the framework within which they submit their bids for the right to operate services. Those costs are known to the local authorities and cannot be substantially exaggerated as a component of a bid, even if the transport companies seek to engage in cartel collusion. Indeed there is so much transparency in this sector that it must be practically impossible to exaggerate any substantial cost element. Essentially a certain number of bus miles will be driven according to a specific timetable with only one driver on each bus. The main cost items are staff and fuel, both of which can be estimated with considerable precision, and so on. Ticket revenues in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area are processed through a centralised ticketing system operated by the local authorities that license the bus routes. Even advertising revenues are predictable. If you can find scope for profiteering in this system, then you are a genius.

    I should add that for many immigrants having a stable and fair-minded employer is already an asset in itself. There are already enough problems in other areas of immigrant life, and not having to worry about the world of work and relations with the employer is a considerable relief.

  25. Mark

    Johnny

    Stop being such a wimp!

    – “The bus companies, in my opinion, are exploiting the situation and can get away with paying too little for a job which is demanding…And this is bad because…? Am I “slurring” immigrants or making injust generalizations here in your opinion?

    Actually, that’s not what you said. You said, and I quote:

    – “The bus companies are trying to find cheap labor and immigrants are often just that.”

    While on the surface this statement seems quite reasonable, it actually perpetuates a false sense of the situation. Wages are not negotiated by migrants who are being held over a barrel – they are being negotiated by tough unions looking out for the interests of their members. It’s just that simple and JD pulled you up on it. It’s not a huge error on your part, but you made it into a much bigger thing by not conceding the point and confusing it by saying your point was actually something else. Hence your long list.

    Actually, I think you were contributing something useful to the debate, even if you weren’t entirely accurate on some points. But hey, if being pulled up on an argument or being teased in a fairly light-hearted manner causes you such palpitations, then perhaps this ‘bear pit’ isn’t the place for you to massage your opinions.

Leave a Reply