What does Finland’s integration law reveal about our society and expectations?

by , under Enrique

A good question we can ask about Finland’s integration act is what it reflects about our views and expectations of newcomers. Can any law integrate people effectively?  

If you want to speak of one- or two-way adaption, one should ask some of Finland’s oldest minorities like the Roma and Saami what memories such a law may evoke.

Considering that children who spoke Saami at school in the 1960s were punished in Finland, it’s natural that there are a lot of bad feelings and distrust of white Finns’ intentions.

If we look at second- and third-generation Finns, we don’t even know what these people were supposed to integrate to. It’s sad that the answer to this question has been in some cases society’s indifference and rejection.

Apart form the lack of resources that the present integration law faces, another challenge is if it offers a big picture of our ever-growing culturally diverse society. How, for example, does it promote acceptance as well as respect for new Finnishness and other new identities?

It would be too simplistic to claim that the integration law is a utter failure. For one it keeps those who are hostile to our ever-growing cultural diversity at bay. Its existence permits it to indirectly integrate Finns as well to the idea that we are becoming a culturally diverse society.

What does the act reflect about our views and expectations of newcomers? In many respects it reflects our expectations and too little of those that are being integrated.  Thus we speak of two-way integration but in practice it’s one-way.

Canadian Social psychologist J. W. Berry highlighted three important matters in order to manage successfully a culturally diverse society. Even if he speaks of multiculturalism, it can apply well to Finland, which accepts culturally diversity in its laws.

Writes Berry:

  • In our view there needs to be general support for cultural diversity as a valuable resource for a society;
  • There should be overall low levels of prejudice in the population;  
  • There should be generally positive mutual attitudes among the various ethnocultural groups that constitute the society;
  • There needs to be a degree of attachment to the larger national society.

Do you agree?

  1. JusticeDemon


    Before passing judgement on whether a law is “a failure”, you might take a moment to examine that law and consider its overall aims and terms of reference.

    The Integration Act was one of several legislative reforms that emerged from the work of the 1997 all-party consensus report of the Björklund Commission Hallittu maahanmuutto ja tehokas kotoutuminen, which coined the neologism kotoutua and its cognates because the Finnish language lacked a term corresponding to integration in the relevant sense.

    The first “Integration Act” took effect on 1 May 1999 as the Act on Immigrant Integration and Reception of Asylum-seekers. The aims of this law were set out as follows:

    The purpose of this Act is to promote the integration, equality and freedom of choice of immigrants through measures which help them to acquire the essential knowledge and skills that they need to function in society, and to ensure the subsistence and care of asylum seekers by arranging for their reception.

    The scope of the Act (section 3) with respect to immigrant integration was any person who had moved to Finland and was domiciled in Finland. This meant that in principle the Act also applied to Finnish citizens who had moved to Finland but lacked “the essential knowledge and skills needed to function in society”.

    People who had not “moved to Finland”, on the other hand, clearly fell beyond the scope of the Act.

    Virtually the entire practical thrust of helping immigrants “to acquire the essential knowledge and skills that they need to function in society” comprised educational initiatives for immigrants, meaning language learning in particular and labour market orientation training in general.

    There was nothing in the Act about pursuing more general social goals, and so it is unfair to judge the success or failure of the Act according to such criteria.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      JD, I didn’t say that the law is “a failure.” It plays an important role in not only integrating newcomers but Finns indirectly as well to the idea that there are other people living in this society (cultural diversity).

      One of the many differences between the new and old integration act of 1999 is that it promotes two-way integration and cultural diversity. Having been bred in a multicultural society, concepts like two-way integration and acceptance of other groups can be a tall order for some, especially if that person has been brought us and educated in a society were cultural diversity is something we can see on our trips abroad or by watching television.

      My criticism is not with the law per se , which I believe is important, but with some of those who implement it on the ground.

      I work with teachers and social workers on a daily basis and have attended many workshops and met other teachers who work with immigrants. Some do their jobs very well, while with others it’s the opposite.

      The integration act would be even more effective if it had more resources and those people implementing it would have the big picture of what our culturally diverse society is in this century. How do we educate all people in Finland mutual acceptance, respect, and treat them as equals? This is even a big challenge for a society that doesn’t have immigrants.

      Without the integration act things would be in very bad shape since there wouldn’t be a bridge (effective or not) that unites newcomers and people who live in this country.

  2. Mark


    I don’t think you can legislate for greater acceptance or for renewed ideas about cultural diversity. What you look for in the law is perhaps best found in policy and implementation projects. Ed Miliband said it well recently, “One nation doesn’t mean one identity”.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Mark, as I mentioned to JD, it’s not the law but the people who are implementing it. That’s the question. Sometimes I feel that even if the law states that integration must be a two-way process, the reality is one-way integration (assimilation). The best way you can see this is in the programs. Immigrants, I suspect, have little input or say in programs that affect them and that are a result of the integration act. I don’t want to generalize but from my Eastern Finland perspective, this is the feeling I get.

      We are planning to launch International Mikkeli Day for a second time in November 2013. One important matter in my opinion is to hear what immigrants have to say about internationalization. It’s not this I guess pretty common situation: We’re Finns and these are our expectations of how we want you to adapt to our society. We’re not genuinely interested in your views and you won’t have an effective forum to express them.