The new Government Programme tightens Finland’s migration policy

The newly appointed government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (kok) is tightening Finland’s migration policy in many ways. The policy shows the strong handprint of the migration-critical Finns Party. This blog discusses the key immigration policies of the new government programme, especially from the perspective of international talent.

Finnish migration policy turns more right-wing

In the Finnish parliamentary elections in April 2023, the National Coalition (Kokoomus = kok) and the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset = ps) became the two largest parties, eventually forming a new government together with two minor parties, the Swedish Party in Finland (Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue = rkp) and the Christian Democrats (Kristillisdemokraatit = kd). Petteri Orpo, the leader of National Coalition, became prime minister.

The government programme was negotiated under Orpo’s leadership for a record long time, almost two months. The program presents a strict economic policy for Finland for at least the next four years. People are pushed to work by all possible means, and several social benefits are cut.

In terms of migration policy, the programme shows the strong influence of the Finns Party PS, which defends right-wing, nationalist values where “Finland comes first”. In the programme, different groups of migrants are treated in different ways. The government intends to minimise humanitarian migration and its costs. Work-based migration, on the other hand, will be promoted, but under stricter conditions than before.

In general terms, the migration policy of Orpo’s government explicitly emphasises migrants’ obligations, instead of rights. From now on, migrants are held personally responsible of their integration into Finnish labor market and society.

Influences for the programme have been sought from, for example, Denmark, which follows a harsh migration policy.

Plans for international recruitment

In the program, the government recognises that there is a shortage of skilled labor in the Finnish labor market. It intends to invest in international recruitment by, among other things, streamlining the recognition of foreign degrees, investing in education in the country of origin and improving the availability and quality of Finnish and Swedish language courses.

Recruitment is aimed especially at EU countries with high unemployment, as well as a few third countries like India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brazil, on the basis that migrants from these countries have previously integrated well into Finnish labor market.

Furthermore, the government wants to promote Finland’s country brand on the international labor market and learn about the factors that help retain international workers in Finland. As part of these efforts, the Talent Boost program will be continued.

Tightening the conditions of residence and naturalisation

From the point of view of international talent, the most challenging entries in the program are related to the conditions of residence permit and citizenship, which are being significantly tightened. With certain exceptions, a permanent residence permit will require six years of residence, language skills verified by a language test, at least two years of work history, and a stricter integrity requirement.

Obtaining Finnish citizenship requires, among other things, a residence period of eight years, sufficient income, and passing the citizenship and language tests.

A work-based residence permit will be tied to work so that if the person’s employment ends and a new contract is not entered into within a three-month period, they will have to leave the country. Under threat of a sanction, the employer must notify Migri of the termination of the employment. Migri monitors that the conditions of the permit are complied with and that, if necessary, the person without a valid residence permit is efficiently removed from the country.

The income limit for a foreign employee’s residence permit will be increased so that it complies with the industry’s collective agreement or is at least 1,600 euros per month.

On the other hand, the government plans to make several improvements to the status of international workers. Equivalency requirements for degrees completed abroad will be eased, opportunities to study Finnish and Swedish will be increased, and the exploitation of foreign labor will be prevented by strengthening supervision and punishments.

Critical views

The migration policy as outlined in the government programme has aroused concern and critical discussion among migrant communities in Finland. To voice the critique, a demonstration of hundreds of participants representing highly skilled internationals was organised in Helsinki right after the program was published.

Picture of a demonstration against Finland's new government programme
Image credit: Juha Salminen/HS Source: Helsingin Sanomat

In addition, at least one petition has been opened online opposing the proposed extension of requirements for permanent residence and citizenship. At the time of writing, almost 13,000 people have signed the petition.

Currently, however, the government program leaves many questions open. For example, what is the position of the family in a case where the migrant has been unemployed for three months and is obliged to leave the country? Does the whole family have to leave, even if the children are at school, or even if one parent has a job?

What about what happens to a migrant entrepreneur if their monthly income falls below 1,600 euros per month, or if they have to close their business and do not manage to get a job within the specified time limit? The government’s stated goal is to facilitate entrepreneurship and the growth of companies, but there is a danger that tightening the migration policy will have the opposite effect.

In this blog, we have previously written about the problems experienced by migrants in becoming accepted and belonging to Finland. If the new government programme is implemented in the form it is written, it can be well estimated that these problems will not ease at least in the next few years.

The programme represents in many ways the opposite of what was recommended in public discussion before the parliamentary elections. It is difficult to see how such an migration policy would succeed in attracting and retaining new international talents to Finland.

However, it is not yet certain that the government’s plans will be realised. The government’s proposals, for example the three-month rule mentioned above, first have to pass the parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee. It can already be predicted that many of the government’s proposals will run into difficulties there.

Integration through employment

Despite all, at least one thing unites the new government and the international talents living in Finland: understanding the importance of employment in the integration of migrants into Finnish society. This is something we have keenly noticed in the HIWE project as well, after interviewing dozens of talents and publishing their stories about living and working in Finland. You can read the stories here: Stories – HIWE project.