Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ei noin

Lately I've been writing a lot about immigration, whom to take, whom not to take, the need for asylum, etc. While I am at it, I can as well compile a list of what Finns are or have been doing wrong, and how to fix them. The immigration legislation in Finland is quite dynamic, so I am not even sure which of these problems have been fixed already, so I'll put a date where applicable.

1. The extent to which Finns accomodate immigrants' inability or unwillingness to speak Finnish is unhealthy. It is, of course, a self-perpetuating two-way street, where the more Finns try to accomodate foreigners by speaking English, the less incentive foreigners have to learn Finnish, and the worse foreigners' Finnish is, the more Finns try to accomodate them by speaking English. Speaking English and otherwise accomodating foriegners' language needs has its legitimate uses (tourists, newcomers, elderly, printing important foreigner-related announcements in several languages, etc.), but in general if one does not speak the language one cannot integrate properly.

Speak Finnish to foreigners. I don't mean that you should insist on speaking only Finnish to a foreigner who obviously does not understand it, but you should at least try Finnish first.

2. Make them learn the language. You have little control over the law-abiding behavior of self-supporting immigrants, but you always can make the immigrants who live on public support attend language classes.

I have heard that there are not enough language classes even for the people who are willing to go there. I don't know whether this is true, but if it is - language classes are way cheaper than feeding hordes of people who are not employable because they can't speak the language.

What not to do: in 1987 when my cousin and her family moved to Israel they actually had to go to the language classes to get any financial support. Which was good in general - except that her husband already knew enough Hebrew to teach the damn classes, let alone pass them, but this did not earn him an exemption. Common sense should be allowed. But in general Israel is a fairly good example of how to teach a fairly weird local language to more immigrants than Finland has seen in its worst nightmare.

3. When I lived here as a student (until 2000) the official point of view of the authorities was that the foreign students are supposed to go back to where they came from after they are done with their studies. They kept telling me that if I want to work in Finland after graduation I'll have to go back to the US, apply for the residence and work permit from there, and then come back. I graduated in 2000 and did get a residence and work permit here without having to go back, but they made it quite clear that this is an exception made only for people who already have a job.

OK, whatever. If you don't want people to stay, this kind of smallish hassle is what you do. Fair enough.

A couple of years later somebody decided that they do want the foreign students to stay and work, and the new Aliens act (2004) makes it a lot easier. Around the same time the talk started, both in the media and on the official level, that the damn foreign students don't want to stay after their studies, the ungrateful bastards that they are, and why should we pay for the education of the people who will then go away anyway? All of the above was supported by statistics compiled during the years when they were not allowed to stay unless they were already employed. Gee, why did the fuckers all leave? Care to take a wild guess, Einsteins?

4. More on foreign students: When I was studying it was almost impossible for a foreign student to change the status before graduation. At least that's what they told me; I am not sure what the real situation was for people who wanted to change the status to that of a spouse, I was trying to change it to a worker status. I've been working in Finland full-time since the beginning of 1997. Work permits were easy to get, too. Every year I tried to change my study-based residence permit to a work-based one. Every year I was told that that cannot be done until I get my degree, and that I have to apply for a study-based residence permit. Every year I applied, and was told that I don't have enough credits and if I want to remedy this I should go and pass whatever tests I can find. Every year I went to some random exams to get enough credits (OK, for the last year they figured that the fact that I was writing my MA thesis was enough to explain the missing credits). Every year they also demanded that I bring them the paper about having 30 thousand marks in the bank, in spite of the fact that they had a paper telling them exactly how much I was earning, I had enough credit to transfer the needed money to my bank account to show them, and everyone involved knew it.

Of course I can dance elaborate dances with the immigration authorities, I've been doing it all my adult life and for a while before that, but what exactly was the point of this from their point of view?

5. The foreign workers were supposed to be divided into A and B classes, with A being permanent and B temporary. In practice most people who came to do permanent jobs and had permanent contracts still got a B permit at first for 2 years. The 2004 law was supposed to fix it, and maybe it did.

6. Refugees and suchlike: there used to be a time (in the 1990s) when people who applied for asylum were not allowed to work while waiting for their application to be processed. WTF? Isn't it enough that we pay for the upkeep of the people who don't want to work - should we also pay for the upkeep of the people who are not allowed to work? I don't see any reason, ever, to deny the permission to work to anyone who is already supported by tax money. I have been told it has since changed.

7. If a person applying for asylum and waiting for the application to be processed in the meanwhile finds some other reason to be in Finland, for example a job, and then the asylum application is denied, the person is (or used to be) deported, even though the job by itself would normally be a sufficiently good reason for a residence permit. It there some point in this? One could think that a person who is capable of finding a job while waiting for the asylum application to be processed is just the kind of easily-integrable immigrant Finland claims to need.

8. A lot of people have to renew their residence permit every year, and the renewal takes 6 months or so, and as a result you have a huge complaint choir of foreigners singing "we can't travel for half the time because the police took our passports". There is a easy and legal way around this: bring your application many months early and ask them to make a copy of your passport and let you keep it until the old residence permit runs out. This way you keep your passport and can travel while they are processing your application, you don't annoy them, everybody is happy. But does anyone actually inform foreigners of this option? Of course not. They'll tell you that if you ask them, but considering the size and the volume of the complaint choir, it should be written on the wall and on the webpage in big friendly letters.

9. Before 1995 foreign students were given a KELA card (renewable every year) and some but not all social benefits: for example health care. In 1995 they decided that the new foreign students are not eligible for the state-subsidized health care.

Sorry, you really can't do this (or at least shouldn't). In any place with state-subsidized universal health care having a group of people outside the system means trouble. Finnish private insurance system is not designed to handle people who are outside the state system, and in fact refuses to handle them. YTHS is your friend for most routine stuff but it won't help you in most emergency situations. Anyone living in Finland without a KELA card is truly screwed if something happens. Don't do this to people.

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