Immigration to and Integration in Finland

Until the late 1980s, Finland was rather a country of emigration than of immigration. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the development of the European Union and increasing globalization ended this situation. Since then, the share of foreign-born population has risen steadily and the so-called second generation is growing up in a large scale. In 2015, Finland received an unforeseen amount of asylum seekers, 32 000 in total, most of them with Iraqi or Afghan origin.

In the end of 2018, there were 387,200 people born abroad in Finland. Their share of the population was 7 per cent. Half of them are living in the Helsinki capital region, and one fourth of them in the capital. The biggest countries of origin have been for a long time those born in Russia or in the Soviet Union and those born in Estonia. Those with Somali or Iraqi background have later increased significantly, especially if the children of immigrants are also taken into account.¹

Figure 1. Persons born abroad in Finland 1991–2018, total. Source: Statistics Finland.
Figure 2. Biggest background country groups of persons with foreign background in Finland in 2018. Source: Statistics Finland.

When immigration started to increase Finland immediately recognized that this would have a lasting impact to the Finnish society and that newcomers need support during their first years after arrival. The first Act on Integration of Immigrants and the Reception of Asylum Seekers came in force in 1999. Integration was defined as the personal development of immigrants, aimed at participation in working life and society while preserving their own language and culture. Integration also meant a two-way process during which the Finnish society also changes. Instead of establishing specific service provision for immigrants on a large scale, the idea was to include them as soon as possible to mainstream services.

The legislation was revised in 2010. Integration services were made available for all those that need them irrespective of the reason of migration. This need was examined in initial assessments conducted by either a TE Office² or a municipality of residence. The next step was, and still is, an individual integration plan in the preparation of which also the immigrant in question is supposed to participate. The integration plan leads him or her to integration education in which teaching Finnish (or Swedish) language has a prominent role. The right for an integration plan usually lasts three years after the entry, and the guided integration processes usually take 1 to 3 years. The most important services supporting immigrant integration, their provider and the focus groups are visible in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Services supporting individual immigrant integration and the organisations in charge. Source: Ministry of the Interior & Ministry of Employment and the Economy 2015, p. 71.

Employment statistics reveal that many immigrants have had problems in finding their place in the Finnish labour market. The activity rate of foreign-born residents is much lower than that of those born in Finland (Figure 4). The difference in belonging to the labour force is especially wide between immigrant women and Finnish-born women. Those who belong to the labour force often struggle with finding a job. The unemployment rate of immigrants has been much higher than that of the native population. The figure below also shows that the situation of immigrants in the labour market is more sensitive for economic upturns and downturns. Many of those foreign-born with a job have a temporary work contract and they often occupy positions in sectors such as logistics and construction that react strongly to macroeconomic development.³

Figure 4. Activity rate and unemployment rate of those with a foreign background and those with a Finnish background or with a foreign background but born in Finland 2000-2017. Source: Ministry of Employment and Trade, Statistics Finland.

These findings regarding immigrant integration are quite common in all countries with a similar economic system, job structure and immigrant population as Finland. Therefore, it is difficult to say if the more positive and more negatives sides of the situation are caused by Finnish national integration policy. In its recent evaluation of Finnish integration policy, OECD especially pointed out three potential sources of shortcomings. Firstly, the Finnish system already in the beginning divides immigrants to those belonging to the labour force and to those outside of it, which might lead the latter to never find their path to Finnish working life. Secondly, the relatively generous system of home care allowance can be an incentive that encourages women to stay at home with children. Thirdly, OECD criticised the rigid system of education system where one supposedly first has to learn Finnish (or Swedish) properly and only then start focusing on employment possibilities.

There have been some revisions to the Finnish integration policy during the last few years. For example, the new modular system of integration education strives for combining language teaching and work opportunities more effectively than previously has been the case. Also, there is increasing attention to the individual differences among those who integrate. The current government of Finland is supposed to evaluate the need for a more profound revision of integration legislation before the end of 2020.

Senior Researcher Pasi Saukkonen
City of Helsinki, Urban Research and Statistics

¹ Statistics Finland nowadays applies a similar classification of population according to origin, country of birth and background country as the other Nordic countries. All such persons who have at least one parent who was born in Finland are considered to be persons with Finnish background. Persons whose both parents or the only known parent have been born abroad are considered to be persons with foreign background. Both those with a Finnish background and those with a foreign background can be either born in Finland or born abroad. The background country is those with a foreign background is primarily the country of birth of the biological mother.

² TE Offices are responsible for public employment and business services at the local/regional level. 

³ The changes also partly reflect differences in immigration patterns during different economic cycles. Strong economic growth tends to increase labour-based migration, economic downturns in the country of settlement, in turn, diminish the demand for labour and the motivation of work seekers to move across the border..


Government of Finland (2019). Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Government. Inclusive and Competent Finland – a Socially, Economically and Ecologically Sustainable Society. Helsinki: Government of Finland.

Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (2015). Maahanmuuton ja kotouttamisen suunta 2011–2014.
 Ministry of the Interior Publications 2/2015. Helsinki: Ministry of the Interior.

OECD (2018). Working Together: Skills and Labour Market Integration of Immigrants and their Children in Finland. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Saukkonen, Pasi (2017). Interplay and co-operation between national and local levels in Integration Policy. Working Papers 2017:4. Helsinki: City of Helsinki Executive Office, Urban Research and Statistics.

Saukkonen, Pasi (2020, to be published). Suomi omaksi kodiksi. Kotouttamispolitiikka ja sen kehittämisvaihtoehdot. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

Statistics Finland (2020). Immigrants and Integration. URL:


  1. Thanks Pasi, for the informative post. Really impressed by the framed integration policies taken by the government of Finland to include immigrants to their mainstream services. Finland is known for the best education system in the world. Experts from a Top IAS academy in Chennai feel that the education system in India requires a change.


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