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Finland has ambitious integration plans

Jari Lindström Published Date 4.9.2018 14.59 Blog

The OECD published today its report Working together – Skills and labour market integration of immigrants and their children in Finland. The report was requested by Finland. We wanted to make sure that we have at our disposal the best means in the world to promote integration.

That’s right, the best means in the world. That is the standard we must aim for now and in the future. The OECD’s report delivered what we needed: a mid-term evaluation of the reforms we have implemented and a number of policy recommendation. We will now examine those recommendations carefully and drive them forward.

Finland’s migrant population is relatively small by international standards, but it has been growing fast. In 2015 alone, more than 30,000 people sought asylum in Finland. The Government drew then its conclusions on the integration and employment of immigrants, which the OECD now confirms. We identified already at that point that a key challenge for integration is the low employment rates of immigrant women and those with a refugee background. It makes life difficult for immigrants and their families, but it is also an important social issue affecting negatively both the supply of skilled labour and the dependency ratio.

Reformed system: Integration 2.0

In 2015, the Government responded quickly and launched a number of measures to reform the integration of immigrants. We set out to rebuild the system and reinforce the role of immigrants in their own integration process. The scale of reform has been so extensive that we should call the system Integration 2.0.

The OECD estimates that we in Finland have been ambitious in our reform efforts and that we are on the right track. The key objectives of the reforms following the events of 2015 are a more efficient early identification of immigrants’ skills and the setting of employment goals already at the start of the integration process.

What does all this mean in practice? It means, for example, that integration training is now more labour market oriented and it aims to support people in acquiring and refining their professional skills. We have created faster ways for immigrants to access vocational education and training by removing the national language skills requirement and by introducing more language training at the start of education. In 2016, we took an initiative that is exceptional even by international standards: we launched a social impact bond scheme for integration, Integration SIB, to promote the employment of immigrants through private investment.  Moreover, the Government proposal for reforming the Act on the Promotion of Immigration Integration is currently being discussed in Parliament.

The Finnish integration reform takes into account that immigrants have very different backgrounds.

The Finnish integration reform takes into account that immigrants have very different backgrounds. Those who have weak basic skills have been designed new opportunities for literacy training and for completing a basic education for adults. We have also created more opportunities for highly educated immigrants to improve their skills and make use of them in Finland. Moreover, as of this year, liberal adult education institutions can organise integration training for immigrant women who are staying at home with children.

Many of these measures are so recent that we have no way of assessing their impacts. We are currently preparing a review of the integration and employment outcomes for immigrants who have been granted asylum after arriving in Finland in 2015. I have set a goal that in the future there will be more comprehensive information available on the monitoring and effectiveness of integration measures.

We are on the right track, but there is still work to be done

Finland is not the only European country where integration is a key development objective. According to the OECD, Finland performs poorly when the employment rates of immigrants – especially women – and the PISA performance of children of immigrants are compared to the native-born population and children with native-born parents, respectively.

We must think over whether we in Finland have social structures that are different from other OECD countries and that make integration more difficult. Would it be possible to help immigrants find employment if there was a higher level of integration between wages, social security and income transfers? Should the labour administration bear a bigger responsibility for integration, extending even to immigrant mothers outside the labour force? How does the Finnish family leave system affect the employment of immigrant mothers? Is the Finnish labour market sufficiently equipped to identify foreign qualifications?

There is so much more to integration than the authorities’ measures. I welcome the OECD’s view that access to employment should be promoted by supporting both immigrants and employers. NGOs, too, play a big role. We should also bear in mind that each individual immigrant is the owner of his or her integration process. Integration will be easier for those who have strong motivation, access to sufficient services and the chance to live in a society that does not discriminate against them.

I took the post as the minister responsible for integration issues in full knowledge of the difficulty of the task. Immigration and integration attract a lot of attention and stir strong opinions. My own guides in this work are openness and practicality. It should be possible to discuss integration matters openly and respectfully. Challenges should be approached through practical solutions. The OECD’s report will help us in this work.

Minister of Employment Jari Lindström

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