Does social welfare hinder or encourage migrants to integrate into Finnish society?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Abdi Osman, 44, a naturalized Finn who came to Finland fifteen years ago with 50 dollars in his pocket from his native Somalia via Moscow, is a good example of how refugees and immigrants bring vitality to the economy. His story is that of millions of other immigrants and refugees who made it in their new homelands. 

Kuvankaappaus 2013-11-27 kello 12.13.51
Read full story here.

There are, however, millions of immigrants who don’t make it and are exploited in their new homelands. This is sadly even the case in Finland, where some immigrant workers have been paid starvation wages or end up being marginalized.

There are the Osmans as well. He runs a construction company that employs 60 people, generates annual turnover of 1.4 million euros that makes a net profit of about 200,000 euros, according to Jyväskylä-based Keskisuomalainen.

One of the controversial points the businessman says is that he would not pay asylum-seekers any welfare or teach 40- and 50-year-olds Finnish.

”The best workers are those that don’t get welfare,” he was quoted as saying. ”I have sixty people working for me. If they got welfare tomorrow, none of them would turn up at work.”

While work was a way for Osman succeed in Finnish society, it can’t be an all-size-fits-all answer for integrating immigrants. It’s like telling the unemployed to establish a business. For some it may work while for others it could spell disaster.

Don Flynn of the Migrants’ Rights Network makes an excellent point on how deregulation is the main culprit in the UK when it comes to watering down workers’ rights and wages:

The presence of migrants provides us with the opportunity to marvel at the apparently heroic efforts of this one group of workers to drag out subsistence from the conditions of their lives at the same moment when we blind ourselves to the fact that there are now hundreds of thousands of people who are not migrants who are being pitched into exploitative labour markets in the expectation that they will find some sort of a way to scratch out an existence on wages which are now widely acknowledged to be below levels needed to secure a decent life for any individual and her dependents.

Our response to such a scenario in Finland should be constant vigilance that we defend our basic rights.

When it comes to integration and adaption of immigrants in a new homeland, we have to be careful about simplifying matters. If things were as simple as Osman claims, then we would have solved all our integration problems in an instant.

While the businessman’s views sound like that of the Youth League of the National Coalition Party, he does raise an interesting point on how social welfare is used to marginalize migrants, reinforce institutional racism and the status quo.

By the status quo I mean no rocking the boat and keeping matters as they are. One of the ways of keeping the status quo is to pay migrants welfare without taking serious steps to promote their integration into society by helping them to get work and build a future in this country.

Like amongst Finns, migrants on welfare constitute a minority.

Even so, our social welfare is an important right and gesture by society that nobody should be left behind.


  1. JusticeDemon

    Three key points in this article:

    Horn Afrikin työnvälityslistoilla on lähes 110 ihmistä 37 eri maasta. Se välittää työntekijöitä rakennustyömaille hanttihommiin, joissa ei tarvita suomen kielen taitoa. Kaikki työntekijät ovat turvapaikanhakijoita, joilla ei ole vielä oleskelulupaa.

    Viime vuonna yrityksen liikevaihto ylsi lähes 1,4 miljoonaan euroon. Voittoa se tuotti melkein 200 000 euroa.

    Minulla on tänään kuutisenkymmentä ihmistä töissä. Jos he saisivat huomenna sosiaaliturvaa, kukaan ei saapuisi töihin.

    This is an employment bureau that places disadvantaged workers in very low-paid jobs and extracts a profit by doing so. It would go out of business instantly if those workers were not disadvantaged.

    The annual turnover works out at about 12,500 e per placement. The annual profit is about 1,800 e per placement. Even before overheads, these figures already imply average monthly earnings of placed employees amounting to only a little over 600 e. The basic monthly rate of income subsidy for a single person with no dependents is just over 477 e.

    If I understood the collective agreement correctly, the lowest lawful pay rate for unskilled construction work is just under 10 e per hour, so a construction worker of any kind working full-time should earn a minimum of around 21,500 e annually.

    Employees working through Horn Afrik seem to make only about one third of this, so either they are only working part-time or they are very seriously underpaid.

    Anybody care to calculate better estimates?