Maria Elo, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Turku

Maria_blogiDoes Finland suffer from a skewed mindset when approaching migrant resources and the employment of these resources in the economy? The Finnish labor migrants who earlier moved to the United States, Canada and Australia are often seen as heroic performers of hard work and smooth integration. In Finland, the well-known names of our industrial and economic history, such as Gutzeit, Finlayson and Fazer, are considered Finnish despite their foreign origin. History has shown that both outward and inward migrants possess valuable human resources.

However, it seems that there is a serious problem concerning how migrant resources are approached in Finland. For example, the Finnish emigrants abroad easily lose their status as ‘proper’ Finns. They face obstacles in their repatriation process, and their resources are very rarely utilized by Finnish companies doing international business. At the same time, the newcomers to Finland, regardless of status or origin, seem to be approached as non-attractive resources for the Finnish society. These two categories are conceived as not contributing to the system, and mainly as creating costs. This negative thinking dominates the public discussion. It conveys a message that ‘Finnishness’ is a very serious matter and functions as a precondition for positive resource employment, such as work, entrepreneurial activities, learning, or international business.

From an economic perspective, this is not a viable way to approach migrant resources, and goes against research findings. Being considered as Finnish should not be a precondition for resource employment and is not going to save our economy either. On the contrary, incoming migrants are needed to fix the problem of ageing population and to keep economic structures sustainable. Our economic challenges and their solutions are linked to critical masses of people in working age, whose resources are utilized positively and productively.

As was noted at the European Migration Network seminar in October 2015, there is a real need to change the mindset concerning migrant resources. A positive organizational perspective in utilizing these available mobile resources would foster economic growth and benefit the Finnish society as a whole (cf. Cameron, Dutton & Quinn, 2003). In fact, many countries are already actively recruiting and attracting migrants to boost their economy. Estonia introduced its eResidence as a novel concept and is proactively approaching IT talent from abroad. Meanwhile, Ireland is creating jobs with ConnectIreland. Israel and Chile compete with incubators for talent.

Finland faces problems similar to those of Germany. Both countries need to overcome demographic and systemic problems that can be very costly and difficult to tackle without international migration. However, in both countries, the strategies on migrant resource governance have been underdeveloped. This is one of the reasons why Germany is welcoming the incoming refugees, as it simply needs more human resources in many jobs related to healthcare, service business and industry. Complete classes of medicine students are currently financed abroad and then “imported”. Economists are calculating models to regulate various gaps with the incoming human resources, and Chambers of commerce remind politicians of the needs of economy and industry.

German kfW Bank and other institutions have calculated the positive effects of immigration on entrepreneurship and on the creation of further employment. In fact, migrants establish more companies relative to German-origin entrepreneurs and employ more people (Metzger, 2014). Business incubators and informal platforms flourish in the German capital. Berlin is purposefully promoting its start-up scene as a hot spot for young innovative people to establish their endeavors. As a positive side-product of better utilization of migrant resources, Germany has significantly improved its international image.

All in all, ‘Germanness’ does not seem to form a precondition for resource employment. In fact, already the earlier German Wirtschaftswunder (i.e. German Economic Miracle) was strongly built on the Gastarbeiter-model.

Finns could learn and develop new approaches in order to employ migrant resources by analyzing the German resource management and by identifying those strategies that have worked well, in addition to learning from other strategies, like those used in Estonia, New Zealand or Canada. As the studies by Rosalie Tung (2008), Yevgeny Kuznetsov (2006) and Liesl Riddle (2008) point out, transnational migrant resources can have a vital impact on the competiveness of a country, its economic development and prosperity, diffusion of innovation, international business and investment, and its economy as a whole.

In short, the development of migrant resources and their utilization is not a black-and-white ethnic issue, but a fundamental economic strategy. Despite the inherent difficulties, attracting more migrant resources is essential from the perspectives of economy and societal sustainability.

 

References:

Cameron, K. S., Dutton, J. E., & Quinn, R. E. (2003). An introduction to positive organizational scholarship. Positive organizational scholarship, 3-13.

Kuznetsov, Y. (Ed.). (2006). Diaspora networks and the international migration of skills: how countries can draw on their talent abroad. World Bank Publications.

Metzger, G. (2014) Existenzgründungen durch Migranten: Gründungslust belebt das Geschehen, KFW Economic Research, Nr. 67, 22. August 2014

Riddle, L. (2008). Diasporas: exploring their development potential. Journal of Microfinance/ESR Review, 10(2), 28-35.

Tung, R. L. (2008). Brain circulation, diaspora, and international competitiveness. European Management Journal, 26(5), 298-304.