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For a long time, Finland has had a great system for helping immigrants adapt which keeps evolving all the time.
Back in the 90s, when I began working in integration training, the studies were mostly focused on learning the language. Since 2012, the integration training has also had a strong emphasis on working life.
Integration does not mean just finding a job or learning the language. It also includes language skills to help with work and everyday life, as well as an understanding of the surrounding society and how it works. Integration is also affected by family life, feeling at home, and the entire surrounding society.
Each integration participant has their own story, and no two stories are identical. Some arrive in our country to escape persecution, some to join their family, and others come looking for a better life. The last of these reasons is the one that raises the most questions among the native population. For an adult, moving to a new country is often a huge change. It can cause confusion, be a shock, or even be a relief compared to the country of origin.
It is not true that immigrants do not want to or are unable to learn a new language. They can even get very frustrated if they are not able to learn the language as fast as they would like to. But the speed of learning is an individual thing, just like it is for anyone studying a new language. Each person also integrates into society at their own pace.
Everyone needs support, though, and I want to challenge all my readers to think about how they could support a friend or acquaintance who is trying to integrate. In addition to everyday friendship, support and encouragement are also good ways to help. It is important to use the new language no matter what level you are at because practice improves language skills. It is also important to let immigrants you meet to speak Finnish without immediately trying to change to another common language like English.
The aim of integration training is to lead the participants into our language, but also our society and particularly our working life. There is an ongoing debate about the length of the integration training. The training currently takes 12 to 18 months, and as well as tuition it also includes one or more work periods where the participants get to become part of a Finnish work community and working life.
In reality there is pressure to get immigrants into working life faster than this. But we should consider how realistic it is to expect someone to learn a new, vastly different language to a professional level in less than a year, while also integrating well into society.
As well as the intensity of the course, the immigrant and their family can also face prejudice. I think it is important to remember that one person does not represent a whole group. The current negative publicity should not ruin all immigrants’ chances to learn, integrate, and succeed.
I would also like to add that in Finland people should follow Finnish customs, and we do not need to get used to the customs of immigrants that are not deemed appropriate here. Instead we should offer newcomers ways to integrate and create an atmosphere that enables integration. Integration always works both ways.
Having the right attitude is important, because we know that labour shortages are becoming more and more real. Every immigrant who finds employment is doing their bit to help society. International studies also show that the high level of unemployment among new arrivals is reduced with time – they do eventually find work.
I hope that we will begin to see immigrants as a part of society rather than as a burden.
This #ExpertsAtWork blog post was written by Kristel Kivisik, who heads the immigration services at Spring House.