The future of our welfare state depends on international talents

Finland suffers from labour shortages in several areas, notably in healthcare, technology, and hospitality. We also want to attract talented researchers and students and other experts, as our population is ageing, and we have fewer people at work. 

The programme of the new Finnish government does not face up to this vital challenge for the future of our welfare state. Instead, the proposed immigration policies seem to include more restrictions and requirements and fewer measures needed to promote immigration. Making it harder to obtain permanent residence permits and citizenship threatens to leave Finland at the bottom of the pile in the intense global competition for skilled workers.

The government programme states that non-citizens who fail to find employment within three months of losing their job must leave the country. Representatives of the government parties have recently commented that the amendment would not apply to experts and, for example, employees of higher education institutions.

However, it is not relevant whether or not the rule applies to one of the categories with a residence permit. In living life, people's situations and status vary. In addition to causing practical difficulties for those already in Finland, the rules inevitably send the message that we do not welcome international professionals. People start families and make future plans in which studying or working is just one element. Our society should be an attractive and welcoming one for new arrivals.

The tightening of different rules and the uncertainty created by them are now an incentive for employees to choose a safer alternative than Finnish employers and Finland. In the big picture, the various policies will see international talent, both at the university and beyond, decline opportunities from Finland. We already see this at the university as an employer, but also among our students. Our staff and students are expressing concerns about whether they feel welcomed in this country and whether they are planning to stay beyond their current studies or contracts. It is shameful if people do not feel welcomed or safe in Finland.

Finland is not particularly competitive in terms of wages, purchasing power or language – not to mention the climate. If you add the impact of harsher immigration policies, we are unlikely to attract more of the best and brightest. It is vital that the new government addresses this problem.

As Chancellor I want to state unequivocally my support for the international community at the university and throughout Finland. Internationals are a vital part of our society. Together we can achieve so much, for both the benefit of Finland and for the world.

The text is published in Finnish in Helsingin Uutiset on October 16th 2023.