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Study: Future of Finland hinges on immigration

Employment minister Tuula Haatainen (SDP) believes that the services of an ageing Finland can only be secured if Finland receives many more workers from abroad in the coming years.

Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen (SDP) said that foreign workers must be integrated into Finnish society. Image: Markku Rantala / Yle

Finland needs a significant number of immigrants to keep its municipalities vibrant, according to a recent population study conducted by the Consultancy for Regional Development (MDI).

MDI forecast that in the coming decades the number of working age people will dramatically fall, especially in small towns and municipalities.

Population projections paint a bleak picture of how Finland's dependency ratio—the proportion of pensioners in relation to the working-age population—will develop.

In the absence of major changes, the number of working-age adults in Finland will decline over the current and next decade according to the MDI study. The study also forecast that the number of taxpayers will fall at the same time as more people need health services paid for by tax revenues. The change will be particularly dramatic outside the metropolitan area and other large urban areas.

Employment minister agrees

Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen (SDP) agreed with the study and defended the current government's policy of promoting labour immigration.

"We need foreign labour if we are to survive so that our services can be safeguarded and businesses can thrive and also expand," Haatainen told Yle.

In the employment minister's estimation, increasing labour immigration is a matter of destiny for Finland.

"In many ways, as a society, we need to change and correct attitudes. We must be able to see these people as coming here, not as people to be exploited, but as people who are part of society," Haatainen emphasised.

According to Haatainen, the Marin government has started from the premise that labour immigration must be increased in a controlled way.

In spring last year, it was agreed to double labour immigration by 2030, increasing immigration to 50,000 individuals by the end of the decade.

"After 2030, the increase would be 10,000 per year," Haatainen confirmed.

Work permit processing times halved

Haatainen added that the government has taken a wide range of measures to promote labour-based immigration, noting that bureaucratic backlogs have been made easier.

"We are getting to the point where the overall work permit application process for all [applicants] would take a maximum of one month," Haatainen said.

Even though the government has been able to reduce processing times, Haatainen admitted that better results are needed for the future.

Haatainen suggested transferring the responsibility and coordination of work permits from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

"Labour immigration is linked to vitality, growth and innovation policy, and these are all in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment," Haatainen clarified.

This week's episode of All Points North explores the security considerations following Finland's decision to restrict the entry of Russian tourists. You can listen to the full podcast using the embedded player here, via Yle Areena, on Spotify or via the options found in this article.

Labour availability considerations remain

The Minister of Employment also said she wanted to maintain the labour availability test. This means that people outside of the EU will only be allowed to work in Finland if there is no suitable individual available on the Finnish or EU labour market for the job in question.

"It's a good tool and Sweden is also adopting it," Haatainen said.

Haatainen went on to say that with an increase in labour-based immigration, workers' rights should not be infringed upon.

"We must not create a labour market where there is a core of better-off people and then there are disadvantaged, peripheral groups, but we must insist that there is work for everyone, that wages are paid and that collective agreements are respected," Haatainen concluded.

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