Finland needs to learn how to embrace foreign talents.
A discussion with Julia Hsiao-Pei Liao, the initiator of the #ReformMigri movement.
Julia Hsiao-Pei Liao is from Taiwan, and she came to Finland in 2017 to pursue the Master’s degree in Creative Sustainability at Aalto University. Before coming to Finland, Julia has had a career in Events, Theatre and Communications. Her university experience in Finland has been pleasant. But soon after she graduated, she developed a different perspective as a foreigner who lives in Finland towards the living experience in Helsinki given her personal experiences.
“It was a really nice experience of University bubble for 3 1/2 years until I graduated and then I think I learnt more about Finland in three months than in the previous three years. It’s just like how all the discriminations against foreigners here, even in Helsinki which should be the most international city in Finland”
Julia was not able to find a suitable career after graduation, and last April, she had to extend her Resident Permit to stay and find a career in Finland under the job-seeking category. After Julia did her research about how to apply for an extended permit, she found out the process is very hectic. She should book a face-to-face interview and submit many paper documents regardless of legally accepted proof that she has been living in Finland for four years. In a country where almost everything can be done online due to their advanced technology and high cybersecurity systems, Julia will be caught up in an unnecessary process when she should submit a paper application when it comes to extending her resident permit. Apparently, the immigration system is understaffed, which makes the process even more time-consuming. Julia says that if some of the steps of the visa process were digitalized and can be done online, it would be convenient for any foreigner who is facing similar problems.
“They have interviewed me four times for study permits already. And all the other things in this process have made me really feel unwanted or unappreciated.”
Julia’s disappointment towards the system made her think about how many foreigners, including herself, go through many hardships due to this hectic process. She says that some foreigners are even getting deportation orders simply because they cannot find proper jobs within the existing time of the resident permit, and consequently, they are unable to get the permit extended.
Given Julia’s leadership and organizing skills, these not-so-pleasant experiences she faced herself and the sad stories she heard about the situation of some other foreigners led her to start a petition called #ReformMigiri.
#ReformMigri is a movement she initiated that addresses the problematic aspects of the Finnish Immigration System that need to be changed. At the very early stage of the movement, few other activists helped Julia to get the petition more refined. Together they were able to reach many foreigners and to voice out the challenges, difficulties that they are facing. “It’s a public service and should be one simple task on the to-do list. Foreigners should be able to tick the box and move on but many are held back due to prolonged process and left in limbo.”, she says. (More information: ReformMigri.com; https://www.facebook.com/reformmigri/videos/216838390264305)
Shifting towards another direction, we then asked Julia about her thoughts on employability for foreigners in Finland. Julia’s opinion is that not being able to get the permit on time make the skilled immigrants choose somewhere else to work. But those who have decided to work in Finland might not be recruited by companies because they will not receive the resident permits on time. Even the international students who study in Finland have difficulties in getting the study permit which can cause a lot of stress and eventually leave the country. So, improving the Finnish Immigration services will be a starting point resolving many other problems like the employability of foreigners in Finland that are associated with it.
“And people don’t want to go through all these troubles or to have their life in limbo when they don’t know if they can actually have a secure future in Finland and when they are not sure if they can get another permit to stay until they can reach to apply for citizenship or permanent residency permit.”
Julia also highlights the fact that why Finland needs immigrants to sustain itself as a developed country with a smooth economic flow.
“According to a new study, Finland is the second country in the list to have the most ageing workforce right behind Japan. Finland has an aging population with 23% over 65. Also, over 11% of the Finnish workforce is over 65. It is ranked as the third highest old age dependency ratio in the world, which is 35 now and predicted to rise to 47.5 by 2030. So it’s being predicted in a new study that they need three hundred thousand immigrants every year to fill the gap of the workforce. Because for such a high percentage of over 65 you can expect that they’re going to retire in five years. And in the next 10 years, of course, it’s going to get worse. And who is going to fill the gap?”
(More information: https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210622-world-s-happiest-country-seeks-migrants and Stat.fi)
Finland is an ageing society with only 5.5 million citizens. Given such a situation in the country, it is crucial for Finland to recruit international talent. But with an inefficient immigration service, Finland as a country is at risk of losing attraction among the international talent pool even though local companies and employers are now willing to hire more foreign employees than in the past.
Julia further explains that while neighbouring countries like Estonia and Sweden have foreign populations of 15% and 25% in order, Finland has only 8% of the foreign population. One of the reasons is that they do not have a very long history with foreigners, and the culture has been so homogenous for a longer period. As a result, they find it challenging how to integrate foreigners into their own culture and society, which then leads to hidden discrimination against foreigners in various forms.
“I guess it’s just a lack of practice that cause all the problems. And it’s hidden…But when something is hidden, it’s even worse because it’s hard to bring it up to the table and have a serious discussion.”
She says despite the challenges a foreigner has to undergo at the immigration service, Finland is one of the best countries to live in. Julia is hopeful that in 5–10 years, the situation of skilled immigrants living in Finland will take a positive turn, and she is working hard to make things right, so Finland can become an immigrant-friendly country too.
“Look at the nature we have and then the personal space is a real luxury here in Finland and the living quality is very good. I have many things that I like about Finland. And, if there are only a few things I need to change, then I would just change that instead of just complaining.”
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Interviewers: Arina Lykova, Hansika Ambahelagedara.
Interviewee: Julia Hsiao-Pei Liao.
Author: Hansika Ambahelagedara.