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FM Saarikko: Finland needs to accept more foreign workers

Finland's Finance Minister says Finland needs to open its doors wider to immigrants.

Annika Saarikko took over as Finance Minister from Matti Vanhanen in May. Image: Benjamin Suomela / Yle

Finance Minister Annika Saarikko (Cen) said that while the governemnt has identified increasing work-based immigraion as one of its key employment-boosting measures, some politicians are still debating the necessity of foreign workers.

Speaking to Yle, Saarikko said that expanding Finland's foreign workforce would help improve employment and shore up the economy.

"This won't hurt Finns' employment prospects. We need foreigners and Finns," she said.

Demographic challenges in Finland mean there are fewer working age people to support the elderly and help care for them. The country's social and healthcare sectors have estimated that they will need 30,000 more nurses by the end of this decade to care for the older population.

Saarikko said that in addition to highly skilled experts, Finland also needs to attract blue-collar workers.

"The fact is that agriculture, manufacturing, social and healthcare services—or even mass transit in the capital region—would not function without foreign workers," she added.

While Finnish politicians have talked about boosting employment-based migration for years, there has been little change in the number of foreigners moving to Finland for work.

Foreigners wanting to work in Finland may struggle to get a work-based residence permit, and companies in Finland have repeatedly criticised the lengthy permit waits foreign recruits face.

While Saarikko conceded that bureaucracy was slowing down the influx of foreign labour, she called for a general attitude change in Finnish society, as studies have shown that job applicants with foreign names face discrimination in their job searches.

Politicians are meanwhile not always in agreement on the need for foreign labour. Leader of the opposition Finns Party, Jussi Halla-aho, has called for limiting work-based immigration, arguing that foreign workers weaken the labour market by accepting poorer conditions and pay than Finns.

"I'm concerned that opposition parties not only debate immigration in general, but also the need for work-based immigration," she explained.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Emplyment has previoulsy noted that "Finland's working age population is decreasing, and population growth is based exclusively on immigration (siirryt toiseen palveluun)."

Prime Minister Sanna Marin's government has said it wants to at least double work-based immigration by the end of the decade. This goal is one of her cabinet's central measures for improving employment.

Saarikko also highlighted the role of foreign students, noting that they should be given the chance to pursue careers in Finland after graduation. To that end, Marin's administration has said it plans to extend foreign graduates' residence permits to two years following the completion of their studies in Finland.