Policy measures on highly skilled internationals’ integration into Finnish society abound – but are they effective enough?

To find out how public policies attempt to respond to the challenges of international talents in Finland, we did an extensive analysis of national policy documents. The results were partly unexpected – and raised a number of questions about the effectiveness of the current integration policies around highly skilled internationals.

Public policies in critical focus

One of the key objectives of the HIWE project is to examine how the current public policies respond to the challenges faced by internationals in Finland, what policy measures have been taken and what kind of services have been developed.

This is important to see whether relevant gaps and development needs, ones that should be addressed, have been left out of the policy measures.

To find out, we carried out an analysis of the challenges experienced by highly skilled internationals, based on our interview data, and compared these to national policy documents outlining policies regarding international talent’s integration into the Finnish labour market and society more generally.

The dozens of analysed documents included strategies, resolutions, legislation, program descriptions and roadmaps prepared across different ministries and policy domains, and they were dated from the early 2010’s to the 2023 government programme of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo.

Finally, we engaged in discussions with experts from a variety of organisations to discuss the results of the analysis.

Infographic of the HIWE's policy analysis process

Many have faced similar challenges

The interviews showed that while most internationals have also good experiences of Finland, many have faced similar kinds of problems.

The issues that were mentioned often included struggling with the Finnish language requirement, having difficulties to find a job that matches one’s skills, facing obscure recruitment processes and criteria, and experiencing discrimination or exclusion at work.

Many of the interviewees also had problems with understanding the bureaucracy related to, for example, residency or entrepreneurship, lacked information about the available public services or did not consider the quality of the services sufficient, and found making friends with the Finnish people difficult.

We then looked at the policy documents and measures through the lens of the challenges.

Unexpected results

The comparison of the challenges with the policy documents produced results that partly surprised us. We had expected to find gaps that would point to the need of developing new policies but found out that practically all the challenges we identified in our data have already been recognised and a variety of measures have been taken, especially during the Sanna Marin administration.

Policy measures are targeted at different groups, including highly skilled individuals, current and potential employers as well as public sector actors, and all three are often intertwined.

Talent Boost, for example, involves a new type of collaboration within public administration and between higher education institutions to provide centralised services for both international talents and recruiting companies.  

If you are interested in these results, check out our video report or see full report on the results here.

The dilemma

We then faced a dilemma: It seems that there are already numerous policies and programs which are aimed at helping highly skilled internationals integrate into Finnish society.

But what, then, should we think about the fact that the challenges still seem to persist as they were frequently brought up by our interviewees? Are the existing policy measures sufficient and working as intended, and if not, what should be done about them?

We asked these questions from a group of experts from various organisations ranging from ministries to labour market organisations, cities, business services and the researcher community.

Changes are slow – unless there is a strong shared vision to promote them

The experts recognised multiple reasons for our dilemma about why challenges seem to prevail despite of a variety of policy measures.

Firstly, the time horizon matters. The policies for attracting and retaining highly skilled internationals are still such a new thing in Finland that many of the services have not yet become established.

The geography matters as well. There are differences between regions in the services offered to skilled workers.

Moreover, good intentions are nothing without persistence. There are currently lots of plans but lack of concrete actions, or if actions are taken, they are too often short-term project-based solutions with minimal financial and human resources and lack of continuity.

The experts also stressed that best service is a used service. Services cannot solve problems unless they are utilised by international talents. Currently, the wide range of already existing services have not been well communicated to the target audiences.

Finally, a shared vision strives continuous action. We are currently lacking in Finland a shared vision of a welcoming society, which would be crucial to speed up change and to commit all stakeholders into long-term continuous development of an inclusive Finland.

What next?

The next step in the project is to take these results to a series of hands-on workshops organised in spring 2024.

The workshops will take up some of the key problems identified in the analysis to start co-creating solutions to them together with a diverse group of stakeholders, including highly skilled internationals.

We will publish the results of the workshops later in the spring to encourage a wider public discussion on the suggested solutions. Please continue to follow our project and get your voice heard!

Tommi Pukkinen (University of Turku) and Tiina Rättilä (University of Eastern Finland)