วันศุกร์, มิถุนายน 01, 2555

Interesting article : Marrying into Finland

Marrying into Finland

Can Finland really afford to ignore the tens of thousands of highly-qualified foreigners who have settled here through marriage?

By Kristiina Markkanen

      Murat Yüzlü opens up his diary-cum-order-book on the table of a café in downtown Helsinki. It is full.
      There is no shortage of work for a business consultant and interpreter, it seems. But as far as Yüzlü's specific field is concerned - managerial positions in the hotel and travel business - things are rather different: in fifteen years of living in Finland he has not managed to find work in his own branch.
      Yüzlü, 41, speaks excellent Finnish.
      "I took the view that whether I was going to be here for a year, or two, or more, I'd learn the language anyway."
He was working in a travel agency on Turkey's south coast in 1994, as a regional manager, when he met Päivi. They married after going out together for two years. After the wedding, the couple moved to Finland and had two children here.
      "I had taken a hotel and catering diploma in English, and I had years of experience in management positions in the trade", reports Yüzlü.
      When he came to Helsinki he applied over and over for a range of positions, but without any success. Initially he actually worked on the reception desk in a hotel, but who wants to be doing that when they have had experience of managerial tasks.
      Yüzlü did as so many frustrated immigrants in Finland do: he set up a business and became self-employed. He is also by no means the only Turkish national lving here who has not been able to find work in his own particular area of expertise.
      "Go into any pizzeria or kebab place and you'll find them - qualified engineers, history teachers..."
Approximately 3,000 Finnish citizens marry foreigners each year. These unions increase immigration into this country, although of course in some cases the couples choose to live elsewhere.
      Common-law marriages and marriages account for something like 60,000 foreign nationals having come to Finland - a figure well in excess of the refugee population, for instance.
      In Helsinki, the numbers are already substantial: more than one in four marriages in the capital are between a Finn and a foreign partner. There is no great wonder in this, since Helsinki boasts thousands more women of marriagable age than it has eligible bachelors.
      Many educated urban Finnish women actually go and seek out a spouse from Western Europe. For example, four out of five of the British citizens living in Finland are male. As a general rule, they are also well educated.
These days, more and more of the women who find a partner from abroad are bringing their man back to Finland and establishing a home and family here, whereas in the 1960s and 1970s those who found a foreign husband nearly always left Finland for good and lived in his home country, or perhaps in a third country.
      However, the relatively low salary levels Finland has to offer and the obvious difficulties of finding employment here for the imported husbands tend to create a thorny problem, sometimes putting a strain on relationships.
Finnish men, on the other hand, often pair up with women coming from poorer countries and conditions. The most popular choices for spouses are Thais, Russians, and Estonians. By contrast with the Brits, of the Thai nationals living in Finland, nearly all are women married to Finnish men.
      The Finnish men's marital arrangements also reflect trade relations: Chinese and Japanese women have gained in popularity in recent years.
The relationship of love and money is highlighted in the fact that the share of Estonian wives has plummeted in the first decade of the new century as Estonia itself becomes more prosperous and a member of the EU club.
      Estonian women can now find perfectly adequate husband candidates from their own shores and do not need to look abroad.
      At the same time, if they wish they can now study and work in the countries of the European Union and can meet and marry other foreigners than merely the nearby Finnish men.
      Much the same goes for Russian women: the number of marriages between Finnish men and Russian brides has halved from the peak years of the 1990s.
Student exchange programmes (such as the EU's Erasmus) and training assignments abroad have led to a situation where there are also a good many highly-educated French, German, Italian, and Spanish husbands and wives living in Finland, some of them with "Erasmus babies" to show as the fruits of European university cooperation.
      Friederike and Sampo Saari met while studying in Russia in 1998. Both are language teachers by training, though now Sampo is a translator and interpreter.
      Friederike, hailing from the prosperous south of Germany, moved to Finland in her mid-twenties in 2002. Now she has a Finnish certificate entitling her to teach Russian and German, in addition to the German master's degree she came here with.
      She also has two children with her Finnish husband.
On the day we met for this article, she had just heard that her work as a German teacher with ECHA, the EU's Chemicals Agency, has run out for now, after the contract between her employer and ECHA has come to an end.
      Friederike Saari has spoken perfect Finnish for several years. She would like to get a permanent position in the adult education sector, but her experience thus far has been that the world of schoolteaching in Finland is still off-limits to foreigners.
      She has her suspicions that simply having a "foreign-sounding" first name can be enough to drop a perfectly competent applicant from the list of those invited for interview.
      "I'm convinced that if I were able to get into an interview situation I'd also be able to get a permanent job", Saari says.
Something like 25,000 foreigners move to Finland each year.
      Most commonly they speak Russian, Estonian, or English as a first language.
      It is often forgotten that a larger proportion of the arrivals land here equipped with a university education or post-graduate research training from their country of origin than is found in the Finnish population at large.
      Most also come here either for work or following a spouse and family.
      As well as their being in the main better qualified than the local population, they are proportionally more often of working age than are the Finns around them.
      These are therefore the sort of immigrants that Finland at least claims to be crying out for: educated, relatively well off, and motivated to settle here, or have I got the wrong end of the stick?
For all that, we seem to be unable to make proper use of their skills and their expertise.
      Our social integration and assimilation system, which includes providing language tuition and help in finding employment for immigrants, was created in the 1990s.
      It is designed primarily to cater to the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers. A large body of people who have come here for quite other reasons fall through the net and do not qualify for any kind of advice or assistance.
If one comes to Finland as a husband or wife, it is possible to be completely isolated from Finnish society.
      The well-educated are admittedly less often among the long-term unemployed than are immigrants as a whole, but they can easily find themselves in the same bind that Murat Yüzlü and Friederike Saari have experienced: they are not fully employed.
      Hidden unemployment and part-time jobs are commonplace.
A study carried out by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy a couple of years ago noted that "the ability to recognise and make good use of the professional skills of immigrants is currently only passable at best".
      Passable? Can we really afford this?
      "No, we cannot. It is an awful waste", says Meri-Sisko Eskola, a ministerial adviser at the Ministry of the Interior's Migration Department.
      She argues that something must be done about the matter, for Finland is getting educated people from elsewhere, who only require language tuition and possibly some localised top-up training to bring them up to the required local competence levels.
      "This is small beans by comparison with the costs of training someone up from scratch", notes Eskola.
As our own population is already greying apace, in the immediate future Finland is going to need tens of thousands of employees from abroad, particularly in the service, social, and health care sectors.
      If the trained foreigners who already live in this country could be harnessed into real jobs for which they are qualified, we would have 15,000 additional employees right off the bat.
The state apparatus has recognised the way things are, to be fair, but changes come slowly.
      In the autumn, Parliament is to discuss a bill for a new Act on the Integration of Immigrants. One idea contained in the draft is to provide advice on job placement to all who arrive in Finland.
      There will also be a stepping up of language teaching programmes.
      Courses in Finnish for foreigners are not currently accessible by all, and those who do eventually make it into classes have to wait in line too long.
      Financial help will be forthcoming from the Finnish Cultural Foundation, which has earmarked EUR 6.5 million for language teaching for foreigners in Finland.
Not all husbands and wives sacrifice their own careers for love and marriage with a Finn.
      This was the case with Matti Kennedy-Good. He is a 31-year-old lawyer, who now works in a government office in Wellington, the capital of his native New Zealand.
      Matt's Finnish partner Sanna Henrichson, 25, recently found work as an analyst with the country's Ministry of Economic Development.
      Not that long ago, the couple were living in Finland.
      They met as backpackers travelling in Colombia in 2008. At that time Matt was working for an investment bank in London.
      He missed Sanna, however, and he upped and moved to Finland to be with her. Immediately he also set about looking for work here and started studying Swedish, as Sanna is a Swedish-speaking Finn.
Matt actually succeeded in securing a certain amount of freelance work of one kind or another, and he also maintained a Kiwi Abroad blog in the New Zealand Herald.
      But after ten months of job-searching, in which time Matt was not able to find any work that matched his qualifications, the couple decided to try their luck in New Zealand instead.
Matt is reluctant to blame Finland or the Finns for the fact that no work was to be had.
      His thinking is much the same as that of many foreigners when they move to another country: if things don't work out, the problem lies in one's own efforts.
      "Then again, it may be true that the Finnish attitude towards foreign job applicants is not as open-minded as in some other places, like London or Wellington, for instance", he admits.
      "When Sanna went looking for a job here, employers were extremely interested in her. Her foreign background was seen rather as a plus than as a problem."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 25.6.2010 

Link to the article : http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Marrying+into+Finland+/1135258999619