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Northern Road

Northern Road is a blog by an American expat who moved her life to Finland in 2007. This blog is about her life and adventures in the political landscape of the country.

Government misunderstands immigration

Jennifer Pajula, julkaisu 14.5.2014

I’ve noticed a trend of inability to understand in the way the Finnish government handles immigration matters. Again and again, immigration discussions boil down to integration. Speak the language or you don’t reap the benefits. Join integration classes that occupy your time rather than leaping into the fire of working life or studying actively with Finns and the Finnish culture all around you. Integrate, don’t innovate. The priority seems to be the act of integration rather than finding out what today’s immigrants bring to the society.

For a year and a half, I’ve been a part of the city of Vantaa’s monikultturisuusasiain neuvottelukunta (MKAN) / multicultural affairs advisory board. The board consists of political representatives from each of the parties, as well as industry and government representatives.

Today was a perfect example of the government failing to grasp immigration and who we are. We had a few presenters all focused on the theme of entrepreneurship in this evening’s MKAN meeting. Vantaan Yrittäjät (Entrepreneurs of Vantaa), Helsingin seudun kauppakamari (Helsinki region’s chamber of commerce), Yritys-Vantaa (Entrepreneur-Vantaa), and Uudenmaan työ- ja elinkeinotoimisto, yrityspalvelut (public employment and business services of Uusimaa, entrepreneur services) each sent a representative to our meeting. These representatives were pleased to tell us that they have extensive services in a wide range of different languages. This was wonderful news to me, as business law is not easily understandable nor easily interpreted. However, one of the government employed members of MKAN repeatedly voiced negative feedback to each of these presenters on the basis that these non-Finnish-language services were somehow impeding the integration of the immigrant entrepreneurs. 

The essential thing that this government employee failed to grasp was that these services are essential tools entrepreneurs need to get back to work quickly and continue doing what they do best: innovate, create, work and flourish. If we make this hard for the multicultural businesses that come to Finland – then they will stop coming. Period. 
It doesn’t stop at the entrepreneurial level either. In the cases of private individuals who are job-seeking immigrants, they are often shuttled into immigrant integration programs that pipeline them down a path from which deviation results in penalties rather than praise for taking the initiative.

Integration is an important aspect of life in Finland, but we shouldn’t hinder those who are building their lives in Finland and creating jobs for others, bringing exciting, new things to the Finnish marketplace and economy. One of the greatest things about immigration and immigrants is the fresh, new ideas it can bring to the society. Immigration should also mean businesses, startups, inventors and innovators. 

If Finland wants to become remotely competitive in the EU setting, we need to make our cities into welcoming places for the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish. International ventures like AppCampus and multicultural companies like SuperCell, Rovio, Microsoft, Nokia, as well as the multitudes of other companies in Finland from the very large to the very small, need to feel welcome and revel in their creative atmosphere. They need to have that international melting pot of cultures and languages to succeed. For example, at this very moment, a lot of Finnish web-shops don’t even have their site in English, unlike their counterparts in other parts of Europe. Being multilingual is absolutely a benefit in the ongoing web-shop wars! How do we keep Finland competitive if we can’t even get anyone to buy our goods outside Finnish borders? 

We can’t lock up important business information and classes to those risk-takers and dreamers who want to take that leap into starting their own business, just because they can’t fluently speak Finnish, or aren’t “integrated” enough.

The whole idea of who an immigrant is has rapidly evolved in the last few years in Finland, and continues to do so. The government needs to adjust its own mental picture of these individuals to match.

Avainsanat: immigration; immigrants; EU; MKAN; Vantaa