Integrating Immigrants and Refugees in Finland

Integration of immigrants and refugees in Finland has become an anxious task. The pressure that they should be able to find a job as quickly as possible constructs them as people who are automatically considered as “unemployable”. Consequently, they need fixing through integration programs. The promise is that through integration programs one will find a job faster. However, we still do not know what kind of jobs immigrants end up finding. There is still lack of data on the challenges that participants in integration training face during their integration period.

Despite the countless integration education services and projects available in Finland, the question remains: If they already have previous education, why do they still need further education? And if they do need further education, does this ensure that jobs are going to be provided for them? In addition to that, many immigrants have stated that they did not hear or know about such new projects or services. The biggest problem remains in the guidance provided by employment offices, where many immigrants – in a short meeting with an employment officer – are pushed to choose occupations that are in contrary to their interest and educational background. For instance, in my research mostly focusing on Arab refugees, almost everyone had extensive skills, experience and knowledge, as well as validated certificates. However, because they are refugees and could not find a job, they are in a situation where they had to accept a new path. The new path is by accepting to study for a completely new profession, or by studying again a profession, they have previously mastered. The pressure to accept anything is also because if they are not participating in any integration program, they will lose a percentage of their unemployment benefits. In addition, since the unemployment rate among immigrants remains high, it is quite competitive and challenging to be accepted in an integration program. Therefore, immigrants should be thankful that they managed to get into a program, regardless if this integration program suits their interests or not.

Current migration policies are welcoming work related migrants from third country nationals to boost Finland’s competitiveness. This constructs refugees and immigrants from certain countries, who are in the integration limbo as unskilled, while those who possess the “right” skills, profile, and being out of the EU, fit perfectly into the policy objective. In this case, the state feels obliged to provide the best services for work related migrants and to ease up the process. The question is why to welcome work-related migration while many of the refugees in Finland do have educational background that could boost Finland’s economy? In most cases, language is used as the excuse. As one of the teachers in integration programs mentioned that vocational education is seen as the best way to enhance the Finnish language for immigrants. It seems that even though such programs do not really suit their educational background or interests, language is the most important thing. Nevertheless, easing up employment for third country nationals means that they immediately go to work without being stuck in the integration system, and they can work in English. Also being in language courses does not guarantee that they will learn the language suited for their profession. Many refugees and immigrants have been enrolled into integration programs to learn new skills without even reaching the required level of Finnish language. Some of them even barely knew the basics of Finnish language. The claim is on one hand, that language is acquired easier and faster while learning an occupation. On the other hand, the state needs to save money and by doing so, the claim is that language and a profession will be gained faster; therefore, a job is to be obtained faster. While Finnish language is claimed to be the most important element, there are the highly educated refugees and immigrants who are guided to integration programs in English. Their interaction with the Finnish language is very limited.

Finnish integration policies do acknowledge the need to further utilize immigrants’ previous skills. However, the high unemployment rate among refugees and immigrants, as well as the integration plans drawn up for them comes in paradox with what integration policies claim. This requires us to look at other structural issues that are hampering immigrants’ ability to find a job opportunity that suits their experiences. In a recent EU report on Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, Finland came as the most discriminatory country among all EU member states. This shows us how the focus is mostly on fixing the immigrant, rather than tackling the reasons of unemployment.

Acknowledging that immigrants and refugees are individuals with various skills, educational attainments, and a benefit to the society, is one crucial step. However, we still need to challenge the fact that immigrants are positioned as a homogenous group, and constructed as people who need to be re-educated and fixed, which wastes potentials.

Ameera Masoud