Researching stories on migration(s)

The HIWE project takes part in the Annual Conference of the Finnish Political Science Association held in Jyväskylä in May 2023. We coordinate a working group in the conference in which we examine what kinds of stories media, politics and research currently tell and promote about migration and integration. The stories are complex and controversial – but whose stories count?

Stories matter

Stories matter, as we all know. With the help of stories, we humans make sense of the surrounding reality, give meaning to things, convey feelings, share experiences, and build identities. Entire nations are built with the help of stories. On the other hand, stories are also used to make politics, build images of friends and enemies, fight worldviews and desirable futures.

However, it needs to be remembered, that stories and ’facts’, such as research data, are not mutually exclusive. We live in a factual reality and study it in research, but facts in and of themselves have no meaning until they are ‘translated’ into stories and thus become sensible.

Stories about work-based immigration in Finland

At the moment, there are a lot of stories about work-based immigration going around in the public. The topic itself has been debated for years, but ahead of the 2023 Finnish parliamentary elections the discussion has intensified.

A particularly influential story at the moment argues that without increasing work-based immigration, especially that of international talent, the future of the Finnish welfare society is seriously threatened. The population is shrinking and aging, and there is an ever-increasing shortage of workers in various fields.

The focus of this story line is in national economy, and its ’villain’ is the sustainability gap of the public sector. Alternative numbers about how much international workforce is needed in Finland to close the gap have been thrown into the air, as if competing to see who dares to present the biggest numbers.

According to the current government program, work-based immigration should be doubled by 2030, so that the total increase would be at least 50,000 workers. Other actors have spoken of a much greater need. For example, ETLA Economic Research has estimated that the need for net immigration may be around 44,000 employees per year.

In the story, the ‘hero’ can be found in the multi-level strategies, programs and measures that aim to increase work-based immigration, especially to attract and retain international talent and students. The image of the future built by the story acknowledges the existing problems, but at the same time it trusts that Finland has the capability to meet the challenge of the intensifying international competition for skilled workforce.

For example, Marin government’s Roadmap for Education-based and Work-based Immigration 2035 sets three ambitious strategic goals:

1) Finland is globally interesting and attractive
2) Towards world’s best immigration experience
3) International competence creates vitality

Counter-stories of work-based immigration

There are also ’counter-stories’ to this mainstream story, in which its assumptions, future hopes and numbers are questioned. For example, some researchers have warned that speeches of work-based immigration as a solution to the deteriorating dependency ratio and labor shortage are unrealistic and based on wishful thinking.

Researcher Pasi Saukkonen from The Urban Research and Statistics Unit at Helsinki City Executive Office, for one, has pointed out that Finland does not fare well in the international competition for highly skilled workers e.g. in the level of wages and other retention factors. He also claims that Finland does not truly have the attitudinal readiness to receive significant numbers of immigrants.

Political parties too present their stories about work-based immigration in their own programs. Although there are differences of emphasis, the majority of parties see work-based immigration as necessary for Finland’s future. Only the Finns party stands out from this line of thinking.

We will return to the parties’ positions on this issue and election debates in a later post before the parliamentary elections take place in the beginning of April.

Stories highly skilled internationals tell about their lives

In the HIWE project, we are interested in what kinds of stories highly skilled internationals themselves recount about their lives in Finland. Our perspective is bottom-up, which means that we do not calculate skilled workers’ economic value or hold them responsible for saving the Finnish welfare state. Rather, we see them as unique persons with their own individual skills, experiences, needs, feelings and future hopes.

From the interviews we have conducted, it is possible to see how important it is for many internationals to feel that they belong and contribute something valuable to Finnish society. Yet, based on their stories, Finland has a lot of work to do if it wants to make true of the aforementioned ambitious strategic goals.

Join our working group in Jyväskylä

The HIWE project participates in the Annual Conference of the FPSA in Jyväskylä, May 10-12. We coordinate a working group in the conference where we examine and discuss how various forms of migrations, including work-based immigration, are currently narrated, framed, discoursed, and struggled over. We will post details about the working group later.

If you are interested in joining the group and perhaps giving a presentation, please contact Tiina Rättilä or Piritta Parkkari (