If there ever existed a near-perfect republic, what would it be like?
Would its economy be one of the most competitive in the world? Would technological innovation be king within its borders? Would its education system be at the top of the world class? Would it be one of the least corrupt countries around?
Some studies that have appeared in recent years have put Finland at the top end of all these categories. But behind Finland’s successes in many fields and noteworthy international recognition, there is one area where we haven’t excelled: integrating foreigners to the Finnish way of life.
When I moved to in the in the end of 1978, the foreign community numbered a mere 10-12.000 people. A great number of these “foreigners” were nothing more than Finns who were naturalized Swedes. But in the early 1990s matters started to change, especially in 1995, when Finland became a European Union (EU) member.
Most of the country’s 132,632 foreigners last year that live here today moved to this country during the past decade. The nationality, the biggest were the Russians (26,205) followed by Estonians (19,965), Swedes (8,398) and Somalis (4,831). By mother tongue, however, a different picture emerges: 45,224 people stated that it was Russian, 19,812 Estonian, 10,589 English, 9,810 Somali, 8,119 Arabic.
Despite their growing numbers, foreigners continue to be seen as a problem by some Finns, who do not see anything positive in them such as in the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries. They believe — erroneously — that most outsiders that move to Finland want to take advantage of the generous welfare-state system.
But if Finland is to survive and rejuvenate its population in the new century, it’ll be obliged to increase the size of its foreign population. Without them, the country’s population will continue to age rapidly. Statistics Finland forecasts by 2010 that over-65-year-olds will account for 17% and by 2040 they will grow to 27% of the population.
The biggest age group today is the post-war baby boomers (55-59 years) numbering 416,888 people.
Possibly one of the most challenging tasks that this country faces in the new century will be the conversion to a more multicultural society.The Finland of tomorrow will for certain be a very different place than today.
While there are many ways to measure integration of foreigners in a society, probably one of the best barometers is unemployment. Without a job it is virtually impossible for anyone to build a future never mind be an active member of society.
The jobless rate among foreigners in Finland is one of the highest in the European Union. In April of last year it stood at a staggering 20%, according to the Ministry of Labor. That compares with about 6% during the same month for the whole population.
Olli Sorainan, a ministry of labor senior advisor, said the foreign unemployment in the EU ranges between 10% and 20% depending on the country.
The highest jobless rate in Finland was reported among Iraqis (62%), Afghanis (54%), Somalis (53%), Vietnamese (48%), Iranians (47%), and Moroccans (44%). The national groups with the lowest unemployment were the Chinese, Germans, US citizens, Norwegians, with 9%.
Finland’s high foreign unemployment rate is attributable to many factors. Sorainen blamed the high jobless figure mainly on two matters: many foreigners that come to aren’t job-seekers but are refugees or come for humanitarian reasons; and because Finns aren’t used to hiring foreigners.
Certainly we can’t expect that foreigners that move to Finland with rudimentary language and labor skills to be instantly hired by Nokia as well-paid executives. Even so, it sounds incredulous that “attitude” continues to be one contributing factor for high unemployment.
A recent report published by Statistics Finland and the Trade Register suggests that matters may be improving since the amount of immigrant-owned enterprises has doubled from 2001 to about 5,600 companies. Another encouraging fact is that the number of entrepreneurs out of total foreign job holders is 16% compared with 10% for the Finnish population.
The report shows that the majority of foreigners that establish businesses in Finland are in the commerce and restaurant sector (pizzeria and kebab establishments), with around 11% being “information-intensive” sector.
Even if the Statistics Finland and Trade Register report are proof that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking in the foreign community, it sheds light as well on how difficult it is for some non-Finns to get a job. Establishing a business appears to be one of the most effective ways of escaping unemployment.
Some policy-makers correctly point out that more support and funding should be earmarked for encouraging foreigners to establish businesses. However, this is not a new government remedy for lowering unemployment.
Having lived in a number of countries and grown up in Los Angeles, a true “melting pot” (note the 70s term) of cultures, one matter is certain about immigrants: they don’t lack courage and aren’t afraid of starting life from scratch. The need to survive in a new country forces some to become resourceful, innovative and hard-working.
Finland must strive as a nation to defend and strengthen a society founded on social justice and opportunities for all. In the task, people from other cultures and national backgrounds should form part of this noble project called Finland.
Maintaining and accepting such high unemployment rates as present is not only shameful for a welfare state like ours, it’s squandering valuable resources at a high cost.