Coming to Finland
Since World War II, Finland has been able to develop itself into a stable country with equal opportunities for everybody. The welfare system is well-developed, barriers to enter higher educations are virtually inexistant and charity organisations can count on broad support and generosity. It would make perfect sense for people from more troubled countries to all set course to Finland. However, you will only find very few recognisable foreigners in the streets of Finnish cities. I am on a mission today to find some and ask them how they ended up in Finland.
Rachid (30) and Mohammed (29) came to Finland after marrying their Finnish wives, Khalid (30) came to reunite with his family members. All three are originally from Morocco and they claim that the weather would be a serious argument for their compatriots to come to Finland. All of them speak Finnish, as well as English, French and Arabic. Their multilingualism is one of the few things they have in common with the Finns, whatever remains are mostly differences.
`I like Finland and I would like to move from Lithuania to here once I finish my studies`
Not so talkative
`Finnish people are shy and not very open. They don`t know their neighbours in the street`, says Khalid. He adds that they as foreigners are not the only ones to suffer from that: `Finns don`t talk to Finns much either`. That seems to be the only major difference from their home nations. They widely appreciate the Finnish honesty and straight-forwardness, as well as the way things are organised. Although they have frequent contacts with the local Finnish population, they also have a network of international friends: from Iraq, Spain, Egypt. With some, they may speak Arabic, otherwise preferably English. But all of them speak Finnish with the Finnish.
The Finnish are mostly just fine with the presence of foreigners. People with a different skin colour may be looked at in a different way and they may have to prove themselves harder when looking for a job or dealing with the authorities. That, however, does not allow racism to be an established or organised stream in Finnish public life. They simply see people who are different as `strangers`, but this is more a result of ignorance than anything else. This attitude prevails mainly on the countryside, and is less common in Helsinki and student cities throughout the country.
Beside the climate, other reasons that make Finland an unlikely choice for emigrants and refugees include the fact that Finland has never had any colonial ties with other countries. It furthermore has a small quota of foreigners allowed into the country and they are rather picky as to who they let in and not. In theory, Non-EU emigrants may also make it to Finland by seeking asylum in for example Spain and moving to Finland afterwards. In practice, this does not happen a lot. Already within Europe, Finland is not especially known for anything except Nokia and saunas, let alone people from other continents.
Finland itself is recruiting foreigners into some industries. Doctors may be imported from Russia, even though the course of history makes it slightly unlikely that their presence on Finnish soil will be much appreciated. Russians, and Estonians alike, quickly fall victim to accusations of bringing prostitution and drug problems to Finland. Finland is only keen on recruiting qualified people, while the Russian average standard of education is not considered top-of-the-bill by the Finns.
Make it to Finland
The easiest way for non-EU people to make it to Finland is by obtaining a student visa. Those are often issued for a one- or two-year period and the conditions are much less severe than those imposed on normal immigrants. The university of Kuopio is a popular destination for a variety of African students and new EU-citizens alike. Raimonda (23, photo) is one of them. Originally from Lithuania, she has now been in Finland for two months as an exchange student. Raimonda is studying public health management. Finland was the only option she was given for her exchange program, but that new temporary home country suits her well. `I like it here and it is my dream to stay here or come back when I graduate`. She is not a big fan of the drinking culture among Finnish students, but otherwise enjoys her stay lots. She is trying hard to learn Finnish, passed the basic level test and is studying for the higher ones.
She is lucky to be an EU citizen. `Outsiders` will be kicked out of Finland once their visas expire if they don`t have a job at the moment they graduate. This appears a little strange, because they have been enjoying free education and costing Finland a lot of money at the moment they are requested to leave again. EU-citizens may stick around and install themselves locally. They will be under pressure to acquire at least a basic command of Finnish. As speakers of the Finnish language, there is no reason left for the Finns to see them as foreigners. They may even become a Finnish citizen by passing a basic entry test or getting married to a Finnish partner.
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