Virtual Finland

Search:

NewsRoom

Facts & Figures
Politics & Society
History
The Economy
Foreign Policy
Media
Education & Research
People
Arts & Entertainment
Nature & the Environment
Events/What's on
Travel

Newsletter
Contact us
FAQ
About Virtual Finland
Site map

Picture Book
A magnificent collection of images from many fine photographers. Urban and country scenes, some on aerial video.

  Main page: Politics & Society: Foreigners in Finland   

Foreigners in Finland

Written for Virtual Finland by Olavi Koivukangas, Ph.D.,
Institute of Migration, Turku

© Nokia, 2003

Having lost more than a million people as emigrants during the previous hundred years, in the 1990s Finland became a country of net immigration. In the years 1990-2002, net immigration to Finland was around 69,000 persons (including returning Finnish citizens). In 2002 Finland had about 152,000 residents born outside Finland. Of these, nearly 104,000 were citizens of other countries. Approximately 40 percent of Finland's foreign community is from the former Soviet Union. Of this group about 25,000 are Ingrian Finns and 10,000 are Estonian. The next largest group is composed of Swedish citizens, of whom there are around 8,000.

Finland's foreign community, only 1.99 per cent of the population, is very small in comparison with other European countries but it is growing. The number was 21,000 or 0.5 per cent in 1990. The biggest group of immigrants are persons who reside in Finland through marriage. Approximately 2,800 foreigners per year marry Finns. About 30,000 foreigners married to Finns reside in the country. A considerable proportion of the foreign community are returned Finnish migrants or their children, who have the citizenship of another country.

In 1999 Finnish citizenship was granted to 4,730 foreigners, and in 2001 to 2977 persons.

Foreigners have migrated to Finland throughout the whole of its history. They included Germans and other Central Europeans as well as Scandinavian merchants and craftsmen. During the period of Russian rule (1809-1917) Russians and members of other European ethnic or religious groups, such as Tatars and Jews, settled permanently in Finland. There have been refugees in Finland since the 16th century, when the first Romanies were deported from Sweden to the hinterland of the Swedish realm, which Finland then was.

When Finland established its independence in 1917, there were about 6,000 Russians in Finland. As a result of the Russian Revolution, 41,000 refugees arrived in Finland in the period 1917-1922. Of these about a half remained in the country permanently. From 1922 onwards the number of immigrants decreased as many of the former Russian soldiers moved to the émigré Russian colonies in Paris, Brussels and Berlin etc. In the late 1930s the Russian community in Finland consisted of about 15,000 persons.

Arrangements for refugees in present-day Finland are based on the Geneva Convention of 1951, which defines refugee status and the right to asylum. Finland took its first refugees from Chile between 1973 and 1977 and from 1979 onwards from Vietnam. In 2002 Finland's refugee quota was 750 a year, but there was pressure to raise it permanently to 1000. Most of the country's 22,000 refugees went there as asylum-seekers, particularly from the former Soviet Union after 1992.

For a long time the largest group of refugees was formed by Vietnamese. By the mid 1990s, there were 2,000 of them. The group was diverse and contained ethnic Chinese, among others. Nearly all the Vietnamese arrived as quota refugees or as members of disunited families.

The largest group of refugees was formed by Somalis who unexpectedly arrived via the territory of the former Soviet Union, totalling about 4,500 by the end of 2002. Nearly 4,000 refugees came to Finland from the former Yugoslavia. In 2002 Finland had about 3, 400 immigrants from Iraq, around 2,400 from Iran and 2,100 from Turkey. There was also an influx of about 1,800 Thais and 600 Filipinos, most of whom were women married to Finnish men.

Most of the foreigners, 76 %, are of working age, i.e. 15-64 years old. The corresponding percentage for the same age group among the total population is 67 %. There are more children among the foreign population than among the Finns. One fifth of the foreigners' group are children. However, there are big differences between nationalities. Groups such as those from former Yugoslavia and Somalia who had entered Finland as refugees had the most children. Of the foreigners, 49.9 % are male and 50,1 % female. There are some variations according to country of origin; among Thais the percentage of women is 84, among Russians 62 and Estonians 58 while the number for Morocco is 29 %, Turkey 27 %, Great Britain 24 % and Germany 35 %.

Photo: Tero Toivanen

Finland's foreigners speak more than 60 languages as mother-tongues and almost half of them live in or near the capital, Helsinki. By 2002 the foreign community in greater Helsinki had trebled in the course of five years and comprised nearly 43,000 people. There was a particularly high density of foreigners in the rented accommodation area of the eastern part of the city.

Finland, too, has its share of racism and hostility to foreigners. The main reason for this was the period of economic recession in the 1990s that was accompanied by high unemployment. Work is being done to increase tolerance towards immigrants and refugees by integrating them into Finnish society. Instruction in the Finnish language and vocational training are essential elements in the integration process. The Act on the Integration of Immigrants and Reception of Asylum Seekers became effective in 1999.

The increase of immigration has created a number of problems. The unemployment of foreign citizens is still over 30 per cent while for the whole country 8 per cent. Negative attitudes and xenophobia among the main population towards foreigners are still present.

The process of enlargement of the EU to Central and Eastern Europe will constitute new elements in European migrations. It is expected that the major labour force flows from the new EU countries will go to Eastern parts of Germany and Austria. Obviously the flow to EU will grow, but the access will be strictly controlled and mostly short-term.

Finland can expect the growth in immigration flows. In Finland immigrants are still often seen as a threat and competitors in the labour markets. The Finnish society and attitudes will have to adjust to the temporary and permanent presence of an increasing number of people with foreign background. Immigrants and their children will be a great asset to Finland in the future. A new aspect for Finland will be the question: How many and what type of immigrants should the country admit? Finland has to define clear goals and guidelines for its immigration and integration policy.

Foreigners in Finland

Country of
citizenship
1990
1995
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
Russia
-
9720
20552
22724
24336
24998
24626
Estonia
-
8446
10839
11662
12428
13397
13978
Sweden
6051
7014
7887
7999
8037
8124
8209
Somalia
44
4044
4190
4355
4537
4642
4689
Serbia and Montenegro*
75
2407
3575
4240
4224
4243
4090
Iraq
107
1341
3102
2352
3420
3485
3392
United Kingdom
1365
1865
2207
2327
2535
2651
2655
Germany
1568
1748
2201
2249
2461
2565
2626
China
312
1412
1668
1778
2086
2372
2613
Iran
336
1275
1941
2110
2363
2531
2555
Turkey
310
1335
1784
1929
2146
2287
2359
Thailand
239
763
1306
1540
1784
2055
2289
USA
1475
1844
2010
2166
2146
2149
2040
Bosnia and Herzegovina
-
928
1627
1668
1701
1694
1641
Afganistan
-
-
386
719
1061
1312
1588
Vietnam
292
2084
1814
1981
1713
1661
1538
India
270
454
756
892
1012
1169
1343
Other
13811
21886
23229
24913
25692
25668
26115
TOTAL 26255 68566 91074 98577 103682 107003 108346
* Incl. former Yugoslavia
Source: Statistics Finland

Published April 2003 / Statistics update September 2005

 

Links

Migration by Ministry of Labour

Directorate of Immigration

Expat Finland - Information & Connections for Expatriates in Finland