A study by Finland’s Social Insurance Institution (Kela) has found that immigrants in Finland are in twice as much need of state support compared to people born in Finland.
According to the study of 2018 benefit payments, state-owned benefits administrator Kela paid an average of 4,676 euros per annum to foreign-born residents and an average of 2,243 euros to their Finnish-born counterparts.
The study results, announced by Kela on Tuesday (siirryt toiseen palveluun), found no great discrepancy between the two population groups in the receiving of certain payments, such as benefits for families, study grants, sickness allowance and pensions. On average, both groups received between 1,200 and 1,300 euros per year per person.
However, the biggest differences were found in the areas of unemployment benefit, housing benefit and income support.
On average, people born in Finland received about 900 euros while immigrants required much more support in these areas, with the average totalling about 3,300 euros a year.
Greater need for housing benefits, income support
A further breakdown of Kela’s figures showed that 34 percent of immigrants needed housing benefits, which was twice as high as the figure of 17 percent for the rest of the population.
Furthermore, unemployment benefit was received by 26 percent of immigrants and basic income support by 22 percent, compared with seven and six percent respectively for the native population.
Helsinki city councillor Suldaan Said Ahmed told Yle News that the background to these figures is the many challenges immigrants face in working life in Finland.
"The employment rate among immigrants in Finland was 62 percent in 2018 [the year of the Kela study], which was the lowest in the entire Nordic countries," Said Ahmed pointed out. "This says a lot about failure of integration as well as the discrimination faced by immigrants in working life, such as the difficulty of finding employment and the prejudices and racism that immigrants face when looking for work."
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Kela's study also found that the lower level of employment and low income of immigrants were significant factors in the need for benefits. Further to this, unemployment benefits are paid to people while they participate in integration training and other employment services, as they prepare to enter the workforce.
In addition, the study’s findings are affected by the fact that the immigrant population tends on average to skew younger than the general population. Typically, Kela added, younger people require more support than older groups, especially in the areas of income support and housing allowance.
Immigration should not be a "political football"
National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) Research Manager Anu Castaneda, who is in charge of coordinating research and development activities on cultural diversity at the health agency, told Yle News that the results of Kela's study were "not very surprising", but that positive outcomes for both immigrants and wider Finnish society could potentially emerge.
"On one hand we need to investigate the health and wellbeing inequalities to be able to identify and improve things, and on the other hand to make sure that the results are used to really improve something and make things better, and not increase discrimination and othering, for instance," Castaneda said, adding that this is "not always easy".
Said Ahmed called for a better understanding of the reality behind the figures, and for policies that help immigrants integrate more smoothly into Finnish society.
"We must invest more in integration and consciously combat structural discrimination in working life and in society as a whole. It is in the interest of all of us and of society as a whole to talk about immigration and not just use it as a political football," he said.
In its study, the benefits agency defined an immigrant as a foreign-born person who moved to Finland from abroad and whose mother tongue is another language other than Finnish. This included about 300,000 people, or 6.6 percent of the research data.
The study also included all Finnish people over the age of 18, which by the end of the year under review included more than 4.4 million people.
18.18: Added link to Kela announcement of its report on Tuesday