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Anything new in the government's 'new' immigration strategy?

Finland must be able to attract skilled young foreign workers to move to country on a permanent basis. That’s the basis of the government’s new immigration strategy -- which the main employers’ group has already criticised as a toothless repetition of previous statements.

Päivi Räsänen
Image: Yle

Finland aims for controlled immigration that takes into account the sustainability and security of Finnish society, according to a white paper published on Thursday.

Illegal immigration, human trafficking and marginalisation are all listed as challenges in the strategy. The paper calls for the number of quota refugees to remain the same.

The main employers’ group has already criticised the white paper as a toothless repetition of previous policy statements.

In Eastern Helsinki, one in three people has a native language other than Finnish or Swedish.

Blal El Khatate, a Halal butcher who moved here from Morocco 15 years ago, has not had any trouble finding work. He says the most important step to finding work is clear.

"First of all is the language," he says. “The Finnish language is so important. If you don't speak Finnish, you won't get anywhere.”

The unemployment rate among immigrants is estimated to be around three times as high as among native-born Finns – although it does steadily decrease the longer immigrants stay in the country.

Growing shortfall in healthcare

Joblessness is one of the problems the government aims to tackle with its new immigration strategy, which was unveiled by four ministers on Thursday.

According to Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen, “the strategy will help and bring new tools to facilitate work-based immigration and to ensure that immigrants can be employed; that we have ways to integrate them so that they can take part in building Finnish society.”

In 2011, Finland took in the largest number of immigrants in its history. However their share of the population remains significantly lower than in the other Nordic countries. Still, the number of foreigners living in Finland has doubled in a decade. This pace is expected to accelerate in the future.

At the same time, Finland faces a growing societal imbalance between pensioners and working-age people supporting them. The government hopes that its immigration policy can help to alleviate this problem.

The greatest need for foreign workers is in social and health care services, where there will be an estimated shortfall of 20,000 workers by the year 2025 if current trends continue.

EK calls for concrete steps soon

The main employers’ group, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), took part in the strategy planning panel. It says the result is good but insufficient to actually achieve concrete change.

"As someone who has been monitoring immigration policy for a long time, I don't consider this to be a major change,” says Riitta Wärn, a labour market specialist at the EK. “There's not really anything surprising or new laid out in this policy.”

She says that the panel could well have drawn up an agenda of practical steps at the same time as the strategy, but that the ministries rejected this proposal.

"As far as I know, they just didn't want to do so because every ministry wants to draw up its own action program, and didn't want to come up with a joint plan," says Wärn.

Räsänen promises to get down to work on a programme of practical measures right after the summer vacation season.

“Then we’ll make detailed plans and timetables for each of the steps,” she says. “We’ll clearly identify which body will be responsible for each one. We intend to have this action plan ready by the end of this year.”

Räsänen said this might include steps to make it easier for foreigners with families to move here.

“At the moment, we have quite strict income rules,” says Räsänen. “When foreigners get jobs here, it’s not easy for them to bring their families, which limits their opportunities to come here to work.”

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