New research on international talents in Finland: Foreign degree students enjoy living in Finland, but nearly half are likely to leave Finland after completing their studies
Finland has both lessons to learn and reasons to be happy with how international talents settle in the country. Most of 7the foreign degree students have settled in Finland very or fairly well (86%) and adjusted to life in Finland quickly. On the other hand, a significant share of degree students (47%) and other international talents (39%) have plans to leave Finland.
According to the survey, the majority of international talents settle in Finland quickly and have found work, friends and networks. However, this does not apply to everyone. A repatriating Finnish nurse, an Indian engineer, a French scientist who has studied in Finland and a British humanist with a Finnish spouse may face surprisingly similar difficulties in Finland.
Regardless of their background, many international talents living in Finland come across the fact that employers do not value skills acquired abroad, it is difficult to access networks, and family members' adjustment difficulties hinder adjustment to life in Finland.
These findings are published in the final report of the International Talent Finland Research Project by E2 Tutkimus. The project collected extensive survey data from five groups of international talents: (1) expatriate Finns, (2) expatriates who have returned to Finland, (3) foreigners living, working or applying for work in Finland, (4) foreigners who have moved to Finland because of their spouse or partner, and (5) foreigners pursuing a higher education degree in Finland. The surveys had a total of 2,500 respondents. In addition, nearly a hundred international talents were interviewed and about a hundred representatives of stakeholders and international talents participated in the project's workshops.
The majority of students satisfied, improvement needed in working-life connections
The majority of international degree students have settled in Finland very or fairly well (86%) and adjusted to life in Finland quickly. Students appreciate Finland’s high quality of education, high living standards and proximity to nature. As many as 87% are satisfied with their studies.
Despite the good experiences, just under half (47%) consider it very or fairly likely that they will leave Finland after graduating. Almost the same share of respondents (43%) considers it likely that they will stay in Finland.
Around one-third (32%) see their opportunities for career advancement in Finland as poor. Just as many respondents need support in language learning, job search training and finding opportunities for networking with Finnish businesses.
"An international master's programme lasts two years. That is a short time to form networks in Finnish society and learn to understand Finnish working life. Doing an internship or thesis for a company multiplies the student's chances of landing a job in their field after graduation. The problem, however, is that very few international students get such opportunities. International students need ways to connect with Finnish society", says Expert Mikko Särelä from Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK.
International talents find information about job opportunities from friends
Social networks are essential for international talents to find work and adjust to life in Finland. However, many have difficulties making friends with Finns. Nearly half of those in employment or applying for work (47%), students (43%) and one in three (34%) foreigners who have moved to Finland for their spouse or a partner find that the difficulty of finding friends makes it harder to adjust to life in Finland.
Of those who have no Finnish friends at all, one in three (31%) have adjusted poorly to life in Finland. Among those who have more than five Finnish friends, only very few (5%) have adjusted poorly to life in Finland.
Friends and other social networks also affect employment opportunities. One in four foreigners who are employed or searching for work or have moved to Finland with their spouse or partner get information about job opportunities from friends. Nearly one in three (30%) found their current job through personal networks.
"Many talents have a desire to come to work in Finland, but not at any price. As a society, we would have much to gain if we had the ability and courage to rethink the language requirements of work tasks, to open up our social circles to new people and make use of their expertise and international contacts in a versatile way", says Mari K. Niemi, Director at E2 Tutkimus.
Families of talents who move to Finland do not receive adequate support
As many as 67% of foreigners who have moved to Finland for their spouse or partner have found it hard to adjust to life in Finland because of challenges in finding work.
Concerns about the family’s adjustment to life in Finland may also make the country less attractive as a place to live in. This also applies to expatriate Finns who have a foreign spouse or partner. Of these, nearly one in four (23%) list reasons related to their partner, such as difficulties in finding employment, as reducing the motivation to return to Finland.
Half (51%) of respondents to the survey of foreign talents find it important that workplaces organise events to which partners or families are also invited.
"In order for hiring to be successful, employers must deliver on the promise that partners and other family members also feel seen, heard and supported. This requires smooth cooperation between the public, private and third sectors. If successful, it will enable international talents to take root and build networks in a professionally and socially meaningful way", says Melissa Arni-Hardén, Senior Planning Officer of the City of Espoo.
More flexibility in language requirements is needed in workplaces
Many international talents express the wish that Finnish employers were more flexible regarding language requirements. According to them, employers could consider more carefully whether fluent Finnish or Swedish is always necessary for every position. This is something that should be given attention in both hiring practices and day-to-day routines at workplaces.
International talents see learning the local language as important, but learning has not been made easy. International students feel that Finnish lessons should be integrated more closely with other studies. Respondents who are employed hope for more opportunities to learn the language while at work.
"It should be our duty of honour that people moving to Finland adjust to life in the country as well as possible. We also need to understand that not all work tasks require perfect fluency in Finnish or Swedish, while respecting different cultures at the same time", says Jari Jokinen, Chair of Industrial Employees TP.
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About the study
The International Talent Finland Research Project has received funding from the Confederation of Finnish Industries, Technology Industries of Finland, Local Government and County Employers KT, Keva, Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland, Industrial Employees TP, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, Business Finland, and the Cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Tampere and Oulu.
Publication of the final report on the project and a panel discussion on the topic with politicians will be held on 14 March 2023 at 10.00–12.00 as a hybrid event at Helsinki City Hall Event Square. Sign up for the event here(external link). You can attend the event either in person or via the livestream
The research project was conducted from October 2021 to March 2023 by E2 Tutkimus(external link) (E2 Research), an independent research institute. E2 Tutkimus is a multidisciplinary research institute serving third-sector organisations, businesses, foundations, municipalities, ministries, political decision-makers, and the media. The Board of Directors of E2 Tutkimus is chaired by Risto Murto, with Anna Herlin serving as Vice Chair and Karina Jutila as the institute’s Director.
The research project answered the following questions: How can Finland become a country that invites, engages and attracts talent, and where it is easy for an expat Finn to return or a foreigner to come to work? How could people from outside Finland also take part in building this country?
The project’s monitoring group was chaired by Mikko Räsänen, a senior advisor at the Confederation of Finnish Industries, with Johanna Ketola, a senior researcher at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, serving as Vice Chair.