The Helsinki region has a considerable reserve of education, experience and know-how that is not yet fully utilized: highly educated expatriates. Putting their skills to use will benefit the entire society.
There are thousands of highly educated expatriates in Helsinki alone who are either unemployed or hold jobs that do not correspond to their education and motivation. The city has recognized that work, motivating careers and positive future outlooks are central building blocks of active participation in society. It may, however, take years to recognize and acknowledge expatriates’ skills. In the future, the city aims to speed up this process to enable faster employment.
– First and foremost, we need to offer more information to expatriates on how to apply for jobs. Cultural differences often make it tricky for expatriates, says service advisor Ahmed Khalil.
Khalil works at Virka Info, a public service that offers information and advice on living and working in the Helsinki area, as well as advice and guidance on immigration issues.
– Expatriates want to know where to look for work, how to contact employers and what to say on the telephone or in an interview. We should be able to explain the whole job application process from start to finish.
Khalil remarks that employment is linked to a host of other issues from acquiring a residence permit and finding a home to finding schools and daycare centers for children. All these issues should be addressed as a whole instead of separate questions.
Time and patience may be needed
Despite the recession, thousands of people from and outside the EU move to Helsinki every year because of work. Most expatriates choose to live in the Helsinki region or in other large cities, and the reason is simple: expatriates can find work faster and earn more in these areas than in the rest of the country, just like Finns themselves.
In the end of 2011, 24 percent of those Helsinki residents whose mother tongue was not Finnish or Swedish had a registered academic degree and 21 percent had a registered secondary or vocational education. The actual rates are even higher, because not all degrees are registered.
Unfortunately, it seems that a high level of education does not shield expatriates from unemployment as efficiently as it does the rest of the population. In the end of 2011, the unemployment rate of those highly educated residents of the Helsinki region whose mother tongue was not Finnish or Swedish was 18.7 percent, while the corresponding figure for native Finnish and Swedish speakers was less than 4 percent.
However, the chance of employment increases clearly the longer an expatriate has lived in Finland. It takes, after all, time to learn the language, to adjust one’s professional skills to the local needs and to build networks.
Ahmed Khalil stresses the importance of helping expatriates settle and become part of the Finnish society.
– We can save lots of time and resources and avoid the marginalization of expatriates by helping them find their place here and become active and productive residents.
– Employers should also know their responsibility when hiring people from other countries. Work is the first and most important factor that helps these expatriates settle in a new country. Employers should consider organizing orientation courses for their expatriate employees either before or right after they arrive to Finland.
According to statistics, it is easier for expatriates from other Nordic countries and EU countries to find jobs, while those coming from African and Middle Eastern countries experience more difficulties.
– Employment also depends on language skills. English is very important. But for example many Estonians speak Finnish, which makes it easier for them to find work, says Khalil.
Khalil himself is an example of a successful settling process. Originally from Egypt, he has lived in Finland for 23 years, studied at Cairo University and at the University of Helsinki and worked as a journalist for several Finnish and international media before his current job at Virka Info. He offers his customers living proof that an expatriate can make it in the Helsinki area.
Text: Anu Jussila