Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Nobody is coming here! Doom! Gloom!"

Nowadays we keep hearing how Finland is running out of workforce and how we need more foreign labor right now. Might be true, for all I know, even though I'd believe them better if they at least said what kind of labor force. The unemployment in the Helsinki area is quite low right now. Personally I think we can mostly let the Finnish employers and the foreign labor sort this out by themselves, with the immigration and labor authorities only making sure that the employers follow all the rules and the prospective employees are not a security risk. Hmm... That's pretty much what is being done now, and it seems to be working.

It is traditional in the Finnish debate on immigration that both sides seem to believe that nobody wants to come here to work: the people who want to increase immigration say "nobody wants to come here anyway, so let's do everything we can to be as inviting as possible" and the people who want to decrease immigration say "nobody who really wants to and can work would come here anyway, so there is no point in letting people in".

The statistics from the Aliens Office, however, say otherwise. 4657 foreigners have applied for their first work-based residence permits during the first 3 quarters of the last year, up 61% from the year before that, 4359 received a decision on their application, up 78% from the previous year, and 4033 got a positive decision, up 83% from the previous year. Also, this means that 92.5% of people whose applications were resolved got a residence permit.

These, BTW, are just the people from outside the EU coming to work in regular jobs. This number does not include EU or Nordic citizens, people coming to do jobs that do not need a work-based permit (such as athletes), and other immigrants who came for another reason but found a job (students, families of the people already in the country, refugees). For example it would have included me the last time I moved to Finland, but not my two foreign coworkers, both of whom are married to Finns and one of whom is a EU citizen.

From the point of view of people who think that Finland needs more foreign labor everything is in fact working quite well. There are foreigners willing to come here to work, more and more every year, there are employers willing to hire them, more and more every year, and the vast majority of them gets their papers without problems.

The immigration minister Astrid Thors, however, is not satisfied: the policies must be changed, we need more immigrants, the residence permit jungle must be simplified, and we must do something about the evil Finnish employers discriminating against foreigners.

Thors is the immigration minister, and I guess it's her job to look for problems in the immigration system. And probably sometimes she is right: one can improve the residence permit system, one can definitely develop a better information system for foreigners wanting to work here, and there surely are some employers who discriminate against foreigners. Thors, however, manages to give an impression that she would complain about too few immigrants and discriminating employers even if there were lots and lots of immigrants and every single one of them had a job.

She says, for example, that immigrants' unemployment numbers are much higher than the Finns'. This statement is in the same paragraph with the complaint about the ethnic discrimination in labor market, although I an not sure whether it was Thors herself or the writers of the article that put it there.

Let's see: if there are several thousand unemployed Russians and several hundred unemployed Turks in the country, while 1953 Russian workers and 210 Turkish workers have applied for residence permits during the first 9 months of the last year, is this because the employers totally hate the Russian and the Turks, or is it because the incoming workers might have some marketable skills that the unemployed don't? For example, the newcomers might write software, or cook, or drive buses, or do some research on reindeer, whereas the unemployed might be goat herders or teachers of Marxist philosophy? Not that I have anything against the goat herders as such - they are people like everyone else, and it's not their fault that it's hard for them to find a job here - but it's certainly not the fault of Finnish employers, either.

Funny, BTW: the people who clamor for more and more foreign labor tend to understand and say that many of the unemployed Finns do not happen to have the skills that the employers want right not. However, as soon as they start talking about the unemployed foreigners already in the country, the blame is immediately shifted to the employers who just don't want to hire foreigners.

She also said that Finland is not like the US, where they just tell people to come here and integrate. No shit. Finland is indeed very unlike the USA in immigration related-issues. For example the unemployment rates in the US are 4.7% for the native-born workers and 4.0% for the foreign-born, whereas in Finland the unemployment rate for foreigners is 24% and for Finns 8%. (The American statistics concern the foreign-born, whereas the Finnish one concerns only the actual foreigners, so the foreign-born unemployment rate in Finland would probably not be as bad as 24%, but you get the idea.) Maybe it's not such a bad idea to take a look at the USA to learn something about the integration of immigrants after all?

So, what does she want to tell the immigrants, as opposed to "come here and integrate"? "Come here, but don't integrate"? "Don't come and don't integrate"? "Integrate, but don't come"? "Come, but don't integrate all by yourselves until we tell you exactly how to integrate"?

No comments: