Labour market integration in Finland: Policy Barriers and Enablers


Finland has a national migrant integration policy focused around helping new migrants find employment. It offers integration training and job seeking services to all unemployed new migrants, including refugees, except asylum seekers who haven’t yet had a decision on their asylum status. This is more a more expansive program than that in many other European countries, where integration programmes are only offered to refugees. While in many ways, the Finnish integration policy is a “best practice,” migrants in Finland nonetheless have trouble entering the labour market, and finding jobs matching their skills, because of discrimination, difficulty learning the language, and the high skill requirements of many Finnish jobs. Finnish integration policy is able to overcome these difficulties only partly.     

At the centre of the policy is the individual integration plan, which is highly tailored to the needs of the individual migrant. A case worker meets with the migrant, and they discuss what courses and other activities (such as subsidized employment) would be appropriate to help the migrant become more employable. For most migrants, the core of the programme is language courses, to learn Finnish, or in some parts of the country, Swedish. Other courses on jobs seeking skills, or other employment related skills, may be offered as well, in a similar way to labour market activation policies for the unemployed. Integration training involves a full-time, intensive course of study. Unemployed migrants receive an “integration benefit,” which is dependent on their fulfilling the terms of their individual integration plan.   

In our research we talked to many migrants, most of whom found the integration programme courses useful. They particularly appreciated the language courses, but also courses where they could practice the language while learning other topics. The individualization means there can be different level language courses, remedial reading courses or vocational skill courses, depending on the migrant’s particular needs. Not all migrants are satisfied with all the courses they have attended, however, and sometimes appropriate courses were not on offer, so not all migrants could find courses to fit their needs. 

Some migrants that did not have the opportunity to attend the integration training expressed that they would have liked to participate. Often, the problem was that they were outside the labour market caring for children during their period of eligibility. In this way, the integration programmes can be problematic for the integration of women. Integration training is mainly designed as a full time activity, so more flexible options should be considered to ensure that parents with very small children who are temporarily out of the labour market can attend some form of official integration training. The time limit to integration training is in general the first 3 years of living in Finland which can then be prolonged for various reasons to 5 years. Only unemployed migrants can attend however. Therefore, some of those migrants who we talked to, who were already employed, expressed that they would prefer to attend some sort of integration training as well, especially language courses. Now they have to find suitable courses themselves from learning institutes, companies and NGOs. Many found this difficult.

The waiting time spent in asylum centres could be better used by giving access to integration services. The fact that asylum application procedures are slow leads to asylum seekers spending long time periods without official integration services. Although some activities and courses are offered by the reception centres and by NGOs these are not as intensive and encompassing as the official integration training courses. This would shorten the time needed to integrate, which would also be advantageous from the perspective of public finances.  Although asylum seekers are not offered official integration services, they are allowed to work during the waiting period, quite soon after arriving in Finland. Although finding work as an asylum seeker is difficult, some do succeed.

Migrants and experts alike see these integration programmes as effective, and the cost efficiency of the individual plans has been shown in research. In general, migrants are able to affect the content of their own integration plans, although some migrants complained of being steered toward certain labour shortage occupations, such as nursing. The heterogeneity of migrants is somewhat taken into account, but there is still room for improvement. The analysis of this work package indicates that there is still further need to recognize the different e.g. learning levels and styles of different individuals. It seems that especially concerning language courses there is still a need to improve especially those courses for migrants who have very low reading and writing skills and for those on the other hand that already have good language skills but want to and need to improve their language skills further.

As in many other countries, the recognition of migrants´ skills and qualifications is a problem area. Many of our interviewees expressed that they felt the need to start their education over from the beginning again when moving to Finland. Although the policy discourse strongly emphasise the advantages that migrants’ previous knowledge and education could bring to Finland, this is not reflected in policy or in employer recruitment practices. This is a difficult issue to fix since it may reflect not only the problem of officially assessing the contents of foreign education programmes, but also employer preferences hiring workers with known degrees from familiar academic programmes.

If you want to know more about the Finnish policy barriers and enablers for the integration of migrants, refugees and asylum applicants into labour markets, please have a look here at our Finnish Chapter in our WP3 Report (248-320).

Authors of the Finnish Report are Nathan Lillie and Ilona Bontenbal, University of Jyväskylä.