Experiences of Finnish Migrants and Refugees Show a Need for Stronger Measures against Job Market Discrimination


Quivine Ndomo and Nathan Lillie

Despite the Finnish labour market overall offering good working conditions and security for workers, many migrants are pushed into precarious positions, for which many are overqualified. From interviews conducted by the SIRIUS project between January and June 2020, with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers (MRAs) about their job market experiences in Finland, we conclude that direct and indirect discrimination is a major factor in this.

We used a biographical narrative approach, and drew on prior project reports on labour market integration policies and relevant stakeholders. First, we asked participants to identify the factors that hinder their integration, and factors that support their integration as workers in Finland. Second, we compared the emerging MRAs’ understanding and interpretation of challenges and enablers of integration to the understanding of key integration stakeholders in Finland (i.e., NGOs, social partners, government official integration service providers e.g., TE-Toimisto, and policy makers) on the same topic; third, understand the gap that exists between policy and the needed intervention. Fourth and last, we put together a comprehensive narrative of labour market integration issues prevalent in Finland using short biographical stories and a narrative based drama script that targets a wide audience with an interest in migration and integration matters in Finland. Below is a snapshot presentation of our findings.

1. What hinders migrant labour market integration in Finland?

Both necessity and the opportunities abundant in the Nordic labour market model in Finland attract migrants and refugees to work in Finland. Key incentives include labour laws and practices that, relative to other countries favour workers, ensuring timely remuneration, family support, employee autonomy, flexible working hours and remote work provisions, and unemployment benefit support. However, most of our interviews found themselves either unemployed, or in short term jobs. Most believed a key reason to be discrimination, an assessment that is consistent with their factual narratives, and with the literature on migrants in the Finnish job market (see Akhlaq 2019; Martin & Prokkola 2017).

Multifaceted discrimination that cuts across the entire labour market spectrum, from recruitment, through employment relations, to career mobility hinders migrants and refugees from leveraging the opportunities in the Finnish labour market. Borrowing Ahmad Akhlaq’s terminology, both institutional and taste-based discrimination are manifest in Finland. The nationality and ethnicity driven discriminative practice of ‘non-recognising’ foreign qualifications, tacit skills and work related experience is entrenched in recruitment systems, and is employed both in the labour market and in institutions of higher education; thus evolving into an endemic barrier.

Trust” and the value of “trustability” in worker recruitment fuels the practice of network recruitment and hides in plain sight an otherwise widespread taste based discriminative act that is rooted in stereotypes about countries, cultures, and people. Normative standards such as the expectation of Finnish language proficiency, though not always a discriminative act, is sometimes exploited to institutionally discriminate against minority groups without such skills, especially when native level fluency is demanded. Another key barrier is MRAs socio-economic precarious standing, which is exacerbated by a residence permit regime that promotes temporality, thereby availing a loophole that employers exploit through short-term contracts and other forms of precarious employment relationships.

2. Is there anything that helps MRAs’ labour market integration in Finland?

MRAs integration in the Finnish labour market is supported first and mainly by migrants’ own potential such as the ability and will to learn the Finnish language, flexibility in career choice making, and adaptability to dynamic, fast-changing circumstances typical of short term residence and employment relationships. Official integration services are offered to refugees and family migrants, but exclude asylum applicants and student migrants. Individual migrants potential such as flexibility and adaptability are crucial to the success of integration training. These offer courses and guidance, which have been found to increase labour market success of MRAs in Finland (see Sarvimäki & Hämäläinen 2016), and the SIRIUS earlier research stream on policy assessment found that MRAs valued them. However, we note that the focus of such programs by focusing on migrant capacities does not address the problem of discrimination, so transition from training to labour market remains a problem.

3. Do MRAs and integration stakeholders share an understanding of the integration barriers and enablers prevalent in Finland?

Both MRAs and integration stakeholders see the same challenges and opportunities in the Finnish labour market, however they interpret these differently and therefore the two groups have different understandings of the needed integration interventions. While integration practitioners address the symptoms of poor “quantitative” labour market integration, migrants suggest interventions that target not only employment, but also employment outcomes, as well as the underlying structure of the labour market and labour market relations involving migrants.

In order to improve MRAs’ integration potential, and labour market integration outcomes, participants made the following intervention recommendations for stakeholders. 1) De facto fair and equal valuation of migrants labour market capacity; 2) matching HEI programmes with market skill needs; 3) recognising and absorbing of skills and training obtained in Finland in the Finnish labour market; and 4) ensuring career choice freedom for individuals who undergo the official integration programme, especially for young migrants and refugees.

4. Reaching a wider audience of MRAs and integration stakeholders.

The SIRIUS project aims to reach as many stakeholders of migration and integration as possible. Thus, our report includes migrant own narratives presented in innovative dramaturgical design. Please see a short ethnodrama, and 3 short biographies annexed to the report for pivotal accounts by MRAs.



Ahmad, A. (2020). When the name matters: An experimental investigation of ethnic discrimination in the Finnish labor market. Sociological Inquiry, 90(3), 468-496.

Martin, L., & Prokkola, E. K. (2017). Making labour mobile: Borders, precarity, and the competitive state in Finnish migration politics. Political Geography, 60, 143-153.

Sarvimäki, M. & Hämäläinen, K. (2016) Integrating Immigrants: The Impact of Restructuring

Active Labor Market Programs. Journal of Labor Economics 34, no. 2 (Part 1,

April 2016): 479-508.

For the full report please see here: https://www.sirius-project.eu/publications/wp-reports-results