Where will Finland get foreign workers?

by , under All categories, Enrique

I took part in a very interesting seminar in June on foreigners in Finland. Here are some conclusions from that seminar on what real challenges Finland faces with respect to its aging population and luring foreign workers to the country.

1) It will be VERY difficult for Finland to attract qualified labor from other countries. Remember, there are many countries in Europe that ALSO competing to get foreign workers.

2) The only foreigners that Finland could attract could be from the Ukraine and Belorus.

3) The difficulty of securing foreign workers in FInland IS a threat to its future economic growth.

4) Policy makers who draft Finland’s immigrant policy do not understand the importance of immigration and how it can contribute to Finland’s development.

Present debate on immigration issues in Finland is at the diaper stage. The prevailing attitude appears to tilt towards arguing why it is such a bad matter without grasping the real issues.

A lot of matters will have to change in Finland before greater number of foreigners come to work in the country. The indifference and racism of some Finns does not hurt these foreigners because they can always find work in other countries.

In the end, these attitudes only end up damaging Finland.

  1. JL

    Why does Finland need lots of immigrant workers? Currently there’s mass unemployment in Finland. Shouldn’t we make use of this untapped resource before importing people? Economists are in agreement that economic growth in a postindustrial society comes mainly from increased productivity, not increased working hours. Inflating the labor supply with immigrants contributes little to overall economic growth, but it tends to depress wages, which is why the business lobby is so fond of immigration.

  2. Jonas

    I agree on points 1, 2 and 3. And I would have agreed with you on point 4 until relatively recently, but I think minister Thors is starting to make real in-roads in changing attitudes. But she, and her near colleagues, face a challenge equivalent to turning around an oil tanker cruising at speed. It will take some time for the message from the bridge to affect the course of the ship. 1-3 actually sound very much like the same points Thors herself has been making (she usually adds another point to number 1, the Finnish weather ;)!)

    Finnish attitudes are also changing. Slowly but surely. It will take a little time, for sure. But there are already a few districts with very real success stories.

    You should travel to Närpes sometime. It’s quite surreal to meet a person from Vietnam or the former Jugoslavia who can great you speaking the (odd) Närpes dialect. Their district is perhaps at the forefront of the successes of immigrant integration in the country. There’s an interesting article about last years “refugee of the year”, which gives a bit of a taster to how Närpes has dealt with immigration: http://www.nytid.fi/arkiv/artikelnt-684-4641.html
    or far more limited story in english http://www.unhcr.se/en/news/articles07/IntDay_women_FIN.html

    On another note, you might be interested that Luckan in Helsinki is starting a new project (“Bridge”) to give support to immigrants. http://www.luckan.fi/bridge

  3. Enrique

    Hi JL, I would not call 6.8% “mass” unemployment. Mass unemployment is what we see among foreigners living in Finland as well as when the jobless rate rose in the early 1990s to close to 20%. Every country has the right to decide how many foreigners it will take. If you are trying to argue that Finland’s labor crunch will be plugged by robots or by increasing efficiency, I disagree with you. Robots cannot run businesses nor fix a leak when your plumbing goes bust. Foreign labor, immigration, has been, and still is, an important component economic growth in developed countries. Without their contribution in countries such as Spain, the US, Canada and other developed countries, economic growth and standard of living would be undermined.
    It’s interesting that you brought up the business lobby. There was an interesting editorial in the International Herald Tribute on Tuesday that stated that politicians in the United States will never resolve its immigration laws, which are unclear, unfair and full of red tape. The editorial ends: “If America is ever going to emerge from the immigration chaos, it will be because business interests finally joined the fight.”
    Some of the people who have commented in this blog have spoken out against illegal immigration. As you know, the EU took steps to clamp down on undocumented workers. However, turning illegal immigrants into scapegoats for Europe’s economic problems is missing totally the real point. There is illegal immigration in Europe and elsewhere in the world because there is a market that needs and exploits them. Finland is no exception. The EU should go after the businesses and criminal gangs that abuse these people. That is why all this talk about getting tough on illegal immigration is hogwash and grants more power to the police and immigration authorities to abuse these people. It is, however, a good ploy to get more votes. Illegal immigrants are an important element of growth for industrialized countries. They follow the economics laws of supply and demand/industrial competitiveness etc.

  4. Enrique

    Hi Jonas, many thanks for your interesting comments and link suggestions. I recommend that others visit these websites.
    The fourth point was not directed at Thors but at the civil servants, the “virkamiehet.” I’m certain that Närpes would be an interesting place to visit. The most important matter is that things are changing in Finland. Possibly matters will start to change faster when more Finns start to realize that immigrants are an economic asset not a burden to society. Thanks again!

  5. JL

    The official unemployment figures are heavily massaged. Through bureaucratic sleights of hand, at least tens of thousands of unemployed people have been omitted from the statistics. A lot more are underemployed or working on precarious short-term contracts preferred by employers especially in the public sector. On the other hand, the public sector is ineffective and overstaffed. Wages in Finland are lower than elsewhere in the West, and there is no upward pressure on them. If there was a real shortage of labor in Finland, none of this would happen. The real unemployment rate is probably in the 10-15% range.

    The “labor crunch” you refer to is what supposedly happens when the post-WW2 baby boomer generations retire, which is about now. Firstly, I don’t for a second believe that this will lead to any unsurmountable problems. There are and will be labor shortages in a few fields, but not in most. Automatization is one way to increase productivity, but at least as important is that the available human resources are allocated more rationally. For example, every year Finnish universities and polytechnics churn out thousands of people with degrees that are certainly not worth the time and money invested in them. Lots of these people would be better served by attending a trade school, and becoming, say, plumbers. This way they could have a well-paid job before they hit 20. Academic education is overrated.

    But let’s assume Finland solves the putative problems caused by this “labor crunch” by importing hundreds of thousands (or even millions, as some have suggested) foreign workers. Let’s also assume (very optimistically) that this would make the dependency ratio more sustainable. However, in about 20 years, the vast majority of the baby boomers are dead, and thus no longer an economic problem. But we’ll also have a new problem: soon the imported foreign workers start retiring themselves, and we have to import more people to combat this new labor crunch. When this is repeated a few times, the original population and culture will have been replaced entirely.

    A people that outsources to the Third World even the production of future generations is a dying people. It’s curious that people who think that the skewed population pyramid is a great problem are not demanding aggressive pronatalist policies that would boost the native birth rate.

  6. Enrique

    Hi JL, according to your estimate, unemployment among foreigners must then be in the 40% range. I’m not totally familiar when the difference between past and present ways of measuring unemployment. However, some claim that they give a more unrealistic picture of unemployment.
    I’ve seen these figure of a million foreigners coming to Finland, but I think they are highly inflated. Are you stating that Finland will be overrun by foreigners — that they will take over the Finns? Or are you worried that there will be less “white” Finns as opposed to “darker” ones?
    I disagree with you on the last statement. The Finnish social-welfare state gives a lot of support for parents to have children such as with the monthly allowance (lapsilisä) as well as other incentives. Possibly the birthrate would even be lower today without such incentives. Furthermore, having a child is a choice not “a nationalist duty.”
    But you are right, possibly more incentives must be given but this will be difficult because keeping up our standard of living requires a lot of training/education and work. Having lots of children does not offer any short-term economic benefits, even though it is beneficial to keeping the population pyramid rejuvenated. But I guess the problem is that we cannot have the cake and eat it too. The choice is more children and lower standard of living – or smaller families and more economic freedom.

  7. paddy

    ‘the EU/LAW should go after illegal immigration ….’ as you say, but why.
    Enrique you still haven’t answered clearly why Finland needs more workers. There are 6.08% (as said) which you can say 10% (and more) if you count people on stupid (go nowhere) courses/unemployment introduction to work (ha, make me laugh what they get away with) another scam. Anyway!
    According to the Labor Force Survey of Statistics Finland, 180,000 (more) unemployed
    You don’t give Finns enough credit. I don’t think there fear “dark ones” but they fear what’s real on or in the common manual labor market (where how much the employer has to pay you is more important and not what color you are or what language you can or can’t speak.
    You’re losing sight of your socialist way or perhaps you need to be like George Orwell really down and out to really know the situation on the ground. I have tried (and have but it ended up in court as you know) to get work here in Mikkeli at a union rate for union conditions. They laughed at me literally in my face and I’m not the only one. When challenged they can officially pull ‘he doesn’t speak fluent Finish- while around the back they have Estonians (((and in one case I read Chinese stoneworkers living in bad conditions))) who don’t have a word of Finish.
    The reality in the EU Finland wherever there is a drive on to create a to tier society: big business employing small business who (contractors) employs short term contract workers with as little rights and if so very little power to exercise them.
    Government can’t/wont even (with the small number of illegal workers operating in Finland) keep a handle on the situation.
    Enrique it’s time you joined the real revolution fighting for the under-dog the badly paid/treated, over worked and now expected to cancel retiring. Look what’s happening in America and Britain for a glimpse of what Europe’s future 10/20 years down the road will be. A wall off society of have and have nots. Social outcasts controlled by police society. Britain now with one CCTV cameras for every 14 people. Passing laws (soon) for it to socially unacceptable to be unemployed and compulsory community work for you assistance. The minister for housing in Britain Caroline Flint recently put forward a plan: ‘Get a job or lose your house: Labor’s housing minister Caroline Flint says people should look for work as a condition of their tenancy.’
    She wanted housing for those who wanted to come to work in London and couldn’t find accommodation. Can you imagine the ignorance- god I couldn’t believe when I read it. Like or the same idea as putting people into the workhouse.
    That’s where it’s going.
    Let us help stop Business/government using people immigrants for slave labor and falling for the we need more workers lies.
    I’m a foreigner and I was able to walk into this country like I know thousands of others would it the work and reasonable wages were on the table, but they’re not!!!!!
    That’s the reality.

  8. Enrique

    Hi Paddy, great to hear from you. Thank you for your comment. The reason why I haven’t answered the question is because nobody really know how much foreigners will be needed 10 years from now to replace Finns, who retire. Higher up I comment on illegal immigration, which answers in part your question about exploitation of foreigners.
    I know personally your case and it is a clear example of how Finnish business, which is part of society, excludes and exploits others. I am going to post something on this next week and will highlight your points of view. JL touched upon what you said, stating that the unemployment stats are rosier than what they are. If that is the case, and he has a valid point, then unemployment among foreigners in Finland is somewhere in the 40-50% range. Possibly the fact that Finland will have a hard time getting foreign labor may force it to up wages. Still, you are right — the foreigner is the lowest on the societal pecking order. The most vulnerable to be exploited.
    As with the CCTV cameras… well George Orwell put it very eloquently in 1984.
    Have you been spending anytime in the country?

  9. DeTant Blomhat

    Basically the foreigners are unemployed as they lack the required skills. Ok, so there is a huge need of workers like Kerava needs psychiatrists. Now where exactly do you import psychiatrists that can both speak Finnish and understand the Finnish mindset? You can import 10 plumbers and 10 camel jockeys and 10 stomeasons but still what they need is the Finnish-speaking psychiatrists. Usually not having a job means the foreigner is lacking a necessary skill to be employable in his profession. Nothing peculiar about that – huge amounts of fresh graduates seek work as they lack the one skill required – work experience. Does it help any to bring in more fresh graduates?

  10. ragab osman

    hi mr.enrique ..my name is ragab.i am from egypt i have residence permit in italy since 2002.my job is security of industrial zone in milan city.i want to live and work in finland.but i do not know how can i start?can you help me mr. enrique?thank you

  11. Immigrant

    Well i’m an immigrant now living in Finland for about 3 years. So far the only employment that i gotten has been when i opened my toiminimi and later had to close it to qualify for MOL language classes. I’ve got a university degree, speak three languages and manage just fine with Finnish.

    I got tired of doing what the other foreigners are doing which is stay as long as you can in school so you get money. I figured i already got my degree and manage with Finnish, its time to get a job. I been to every job agency, daily apply online from what i find in MOL and univeristies rekry sites for students and nothing.

    I would say that about 90% of my time in Finland I have lived off Kela (from being in school or in internships).

    I WOULD LIKE TO WORK but lets be honest Finns don’t like to hire foreigners really. Even for cleaning i have to go back to school to get a hygiene pass. Everyday is just sit at home playing video games waiting for my kela money to arrive.

    Instead of wasting my life and taxpayers money I could be doing gardening or contruction (At this point i don’t need to work in my profession). I’m not going to open another business without professional experience or open a restaurant because no one hires me.

    Not hiring foreigners just fires back at the society because we live off your taxes and we live off them for a long time. MOL doesn’t have an idea how to get foreigners to work (MOL should provide quick hygiene courses so at least all foreigners can clean).

    I just went in person again to all job agencies and told them i need work, it can be anything. Most of them just took my cv and said will get back to me and others didn’t even want to bother so they gave back the cv and said to do it online. (Dec 2008 and now April 09 still no job answers from anyone).

    Just as proof go to Hatanpään valtatie 34 in Tampere. Thats the building where most new immigrants that come to Tampere spend their first years. Its packed with immigrants. Average about 550 euros each per month and ask them how long they been studying and how many been repeating courses. (Not profiling any race).

    Moral of the story to Finns. Don’t hire foreigners and see how much of your taxes goes to our pockets.

    In America businesses put Now Hiring signs on their windows. Do it in Finland and you will never be short on workers.

    • Enrique

      Hi Immigrant, thank you for your candid post. I think this would give a lot of Finns a good idea what it means to live in a country where you cannot find decent work. The unemployment problem in general and your case in particular shows how we do not take advantage of foreigners in the labor market. Finland’s labor markets leave a lot to be desired. It creates a three-tier society (staffers and non-staffers, unemployed) and keeps people in jobs from the day of their birth to their death. Talk about being innovation! This labor system should be overhauled totally. It is untenable and a total failure.
      Great idea! Let Finnish companies put now-hiring signs outside their businesses.

  12. 1baltic1bullet

    Sorry to respond you this late, but its true what you say.
    There’s another point of view too if you read my posts, things have changed. If you want to be a slave for 9 euro a day, you can get “work”! But thats slavery!

    Yes Finland is a total failure, agree!
    all the best!

  13. Tiwaz

    How about you foreigners learning useful skills instead of whining?

    You are not hired… Hmm why…

    Could it be because you do not have qualifications which are recognized in Finland?
    First failure.
    Could it be that your “fluent” Finnish is “minä raha ranskanleipä” which barely makes your intention understandable.
    Second failure.
    Could it be that you act as if you were in your own hubbabubbaland instead of Finland when you go to interview?
    Third failure.

    All those are grounds for not being hired.
    To be hired, immigrant must have skills which are required for work, able to communicate truly fluently with natives and understanding and ability to act according to Finnish cultural norms.

    • Enrique

      Thank you xyz for that link. It shows well the situation and the one-sided view of immigrants and refugees.

  14. Tiwaz

    -“That’s all crap Tiwaz, believe me. I think it is the opposite way around. People like you have no experience working with foreigners because they don’t get their ass out of Finland to get some experience.”

    No, I do not believe you because you talk crap rest of the time.

    I have worked abroad, I have as recently as couple years ago turned down job in your Ireland because of family reasons.

    I know what it is like to be abroad, and when I went there I did it with full knowledge that _I_ must adjust to conditions of that nation.

    _I_ must fulfill expectations of my employer.

    As for your idiotic link.

    What the fuck… Now we should fill our television with programs dedicated to tiny minority who as whole do not contribute to this nation as much as they are gaining from it.


    Like this pearl of idiocy:
    “Researchers say that programmes are often made without considering that the viewer might be a refugee or an asylum-seeker who finds the style or the content offensive. ”

    Boo fucking hoo. So now over 90% of people should be forbidden programs which tiny minority MIGHT find offensive.

    And here Enrique is saying that facts that immigrants are disporportionately responsible for rapes is something which should be actively hidden.

    Wake up whining foreigners and refugees! YOU chose to come to Finland, we did not hijack you at gunpoint.
    If you are so miserable, LEAVE!

    Refugee, if being in Finland is so much worse than your native land… Go back!
    If it is not, stop whining and start figuring out how to live in Finland.

    • Enrique

      Hi T, and welcome to Migrant Tales. I agree. The problem is that Tiwaz does not understand it himself. People like him don’t stand a good chance of making their point in this blog. They should go to Hommaforum or some other racist site. The only value that he gave to Migrant Tales was that we could see how Finnish bigots think.

  15. xyz

    Immigrant: I was in the same situation like you. I went to all job agencies in Helsinki by person and handed in my CV. Some of them didn’t even look at it when I started to speak English. In 3 years I got 0 answer from any of them. I have sent out every day applications but by the time I realized that it is waste of time. I am quite sure that HR don’t even look at your CV if your name doesn’t sound Finnish or your CV is in English. Less work for them.

    T: Just ignore Tiwaz.

    • Enrique

      xyz, maybe you should send the employment office an email and tell him your story about how fast you got a job in Ireland compared with Finland.

  16. xyz

    Just want to mention that Finns also have hard times to find a job at the moment…actually I was told this since I was in Finland. I think this has nothing to do with Racism but more that there are not many jobs.

  17. xyz

    No thanks, I don’t want to deal with them anymore. I was working in Finland as well…but only part-time or temporary. This is however not a long-term solution for me. I am more interested in a stable situation and don’t want to think my whole life what happens tomorrow.

    • Enrique

      –No thanks, I don’t want to deal with them anymore.

      I understand, xyz. But look at the bright side: you made an excellent career choice by leaving Finland. Even though I have lived in this country for a long time, I make it a point to work abroad. It is healthy, eye-opening and a feather in your career hat. If I would have stayed put in Finland, I would probably be unemployed and with a low sense of self-esteem. The best thing to do when a country does not offer opportrunities, is to move to where there is.

  18. Tiwaz

    Just shows how bigoted Enrique, xyz and their ilk are…

    xyz, has it ever occurred to you that English is NOT official language in Finland?

    Oh my god! You did not know that did you?

    You got job in Ireland by… Speaking the local language!

    Has it ever occurred to you that if you spoke Finnish, you would be in same situation in Finland as you are in Ireland?

    Once Ireland starts hiring everyone who does not speak single word of any of their official language you have point.

    Until then, you are just bigoted idiot like Enrique.

  19. xyz

    Tiwaz: would say the same for my Finnish friend who works in Switzerland and don’t know any German but is using English at work. And who cares? Everybody speaks English. The local language you can learn by the time while you are working.

    Look at these guys…they speak fluent Finnish and don’t get anything in Finland:

    And yeah, If I would be you, I would see a doctor…you have around 10.000 postings in different Forums about this stuff.

  20. xyz

    And as I said, I have also worked in the Arab Emirates and I do NOT speak any Arabic. And by the way, there were plenty or Europeans working there without knowing any Arabic.

    I do have also 2 friends in the Netherlands…and they do NOT speak Dutch.

    However, I have also a friend from Pakistan who works in Finland. He has a permanent job but his salary is quite low compared to what others are earning even so he is doing the same job.

  21. Tiwaz


    You are and imbecile. I’m guessing you have 10000 posts in some forums about how you are so great…
    But then again, you are an idiot. I am not.

    I discuss variety of things. I find knowing things to be beneficial. Besides, I find your tendency to start trying to dig up things about others disturbing. How many people already have been forced to get restraining order on you sick stalker?

    You should go see a doctor. That is not just sick, it is disgusting.

    And Enrique, sick folks like xyz are PRECISELY the reason why no sane person lets any personal information of them to get into internet.

    As for your pathetic excuse of an argument xyz.
    So some people got jobs without speaking local lingo.

    Cry me a river. Maybe they were in profession where it was not needed. Maybe they were lucky.

    Irrelevant really, because huge majority of jobs requires fluent ability to speak local language. But I guess that is too difficult concept for your sick little mind to get around of.