Finland: A nation of emigrants

by , under Enrique Tessieri

While some heads of state like Barack Obama speak of the United States as a nation of immigrants, Finland has historically been a nation of emigrants. How does being a nation of emigrants differ from being a nation of immigrants? There is a big difference and reveals in part why some Finns are so hostile to immigration. 

Finland is a good example of a country made up of emigrants. During 1860-1999, over 1.2 million emigrated, with the majority moving to Sweden (580,000) and North America (411,000).

If all of these emigrants would have stayed put in Finland, our population would be today about 7 million instead of 5.470 million.

Emigration has had a big demographic never mind social impact on Finland.

Näyttökuva 2014-11-26 kello 12.49.51

Source: Jouni Korkiasaari and Ismo Söderling: Finnish emigration and immigration after World War II. Migration Institute 2003.    Source:

Since we are a nation of emigrants, it explains in part why some of our politicians and society don’t see immigration as a positive matter.

Being a land of emigration has distorted our view of things. Instead of seeing the world as an opportunity, it’s seen by too many as a threat. This is understandable considering our difficult history with the former Soviet Union. Even so, wars and conflicts end and we must learn to move on, even if the Ukraine crisis has reinforced our worst prejudices.

Finland is slowly learning to become a nation of immigrants. When we’ll be able to call ourselves a nation of immigrants, that’s when our perceptions of foreigners and newcomers will change, hopefully for the better.

This will take time. But we’re already on that road no matter how some resist this fact tooth and nail and throw everything they have against our ever-growing culturally and ethnically diverse nation.

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