Challenging prejudices against migrants in Finland should be a priority. But who’s doing this?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Dr. Gareth Rice’s  claim that foreign academics are being bypassed for permanent tenures in favor of Finnish academics raises a wider issue that migrants and minorities face in Finland. Finding a job is one matter for an immigrant in this country but being hired on a permanent basis is quite another story.

One may ask why migrant unemployment is two to three times higher than the national average and why migrants have so little say over matters that exclude them from living as equal members of society.

Certainly one answer to the above is that too many people in this country believe in simple answers to difficult questions. If this is the case, it shouldn’t surprise us why prejudice has a significant say at the job interview, when a policeman pulls you over because of your ethnic background or when you’re not allowed in a night club because you aren’t white.

All of the above happen in Finland because they are allowed to happen. As such discrimination takes place, they erode credibility in our values and institutions, undermine opportunities and economic growth.

The issue isn’t that discrimination exists in Finland and more than we’d like to admit, the point is why there’s so little enthusiasm to challenge these types of injustices. It’s easier to believe the outright lies of anti-immigration groups like the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* than to facts, which take us from our prejudice comfort zone.

A good recent example of how Finland continues to play down discrimination and believe in urban myths is Pekka Myrksylä’s blog, which reveals migrants get less social security than Finns and why the majority of them live in poverty.

If we believe groups like the PS and anti-immigration politicians from all political parties in Finland, migrants only come to Finland to live off our generous welfare state (sic!). The message is clear: migrants are lazy and get more social welfare than Finns.

Myrskylä’s blog, which got little attention in the media, sheds light on not only Dr. Rice’s case but on that of many migrants living in this country. The impact of discrimination coupled with urban tales is one way migrants are socially excluded and discriminated with near-impunity.

Näyttökuva 2014-7-15 kello 12.10.16
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While the number of foreign academics has grown in recent years, numbering 1-5 of all staff, only 1 in 25 foreign academics had permanent jobs at some universities, according to YLE in English.

If a foreign academic is hired on a non-permanent basis, it means that he’s not entitled to sick leave or holiday pay.

One factor that may affect the hiring of migrants to permanent jobs in Finland is an expectation that such people must assimilate to the majority culture even if two-way adaption should be the rule. The expectation that you must be white and speak Finnish almost as a native leaves the field wide open for discrimination.

While there are exceptions, the latter leaves a disturbing message: No matter how long you live in this county you will never be like “us.” Just get used to being a second-class citizen. You’ll be entitled to social welfare but you’ll get much less than a native.

If too many employers and institutions believe in assimilation and have little respect for cultural diversity, it explains in part why migrant unemployment is two to three times higher than the national average and why Finns are chosen for jobs over foreigners at job interviews.

More transparency

It’s odd that a courageous person like Dr. Rice is calling for more transparent hiring practices at Finnish universities.

Dr. Rice moved to Finland in 2008 and claims that he has lost out on permanent positions to less experienced candidates because he’s not a Finn.

“When I first moved here,” he was quoted as saying on YLE in English, “my line manager told me I was good for the university’s ambition to ‘become more international.’ But when I started looking for a permanent position, in 2009, there was a change in how I was handled.”

Challenging prejudices in Finland should be a much higher priority than now. Since we haven’t done enough work on this front, it explains in part why we continue to be prisoners of our prejudices and why foreign academics and migrants get sidelined for jobs. Employers forget that when they do this they shoot themselves in the leg.

Those who continue to discriminate and lobby for worse migrant rights in the country are the ones that are impoverishing Finland. Discrimination and racism are expensive business for any society because they rob it of new talent,  new blood, new jobs, growth and opportunities.

How poor must Finland get to understand that discrimination and intolerance are costing it an arm and a leg?


* The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.