Finnish national broadcaster YLE recently outlined Finland’s appeal as a remote working location for digital nomads from outside the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) during the ongoing pandemic. The sparse population here coupled with a relatively stable coronavirus situation were seen as but two of a number of factors attractive to the current exodus of talent from Silicon Valley.
“Kids’ education, work-life balance, nature, green thinking. The fact that Finland is a safe country always attracts interest and so do the happiness reports,” Stefan Lindström, Finland’s consul general in Los Angeles, listed to YLE.
Countries such as Estonia, the Netherlands and Canada have implemented measures to attract such talent, expediting the bureaucracy involved in the process. Finland, meanwhile, still requires that immigrants from outside the EU and EEA must be first employed by a Finnish company before gaining residency here.
“These aren’t people who would draw on our social welfare system. They would employ themselves in a matter of seconds. They should be allowed to move to Finland,” he continued, arguing that an influx of digital nomads would in turn transfer innovations and investments to Finland.
“Global nomads go where they like and take their wealth with them,” observed Marja-Liisa Niinikoski, CEO of Helsinki Business Hub. “We’re arriving late to this game of competing for talent. This is the first time Helsinki has a brand that could supersede Stockholm’s.”
Finland’s got talent?
The pandemic may be spurring new potential opportunities in the movement of digital nomads, but the broader issue of attracting skilled migration to Finland remains unchanged.
In fact, doubling net migration gains should be one of the key population policy objectives in Finland, according to the Family Federation of Finland.
“Immigration can be part of the solution to the deteriorating dependency ratio, as long as it is primarily work- or education-based,” it declared in a newly published 230-page report outlining 10 objectives for safeguarding the future of the welfare state and promoting ecologically sustainable and globally responsible demographic development.
The objective, it viewed, could be met by measures such as facilitating international recruitment, expediting immigration processes for professionals meeting certain criteria, developing integration services and easing family reunification procedures.
The first steps have already been taken. The Finnish Government committed in its recent budget session to speed up work-based immigration processes to achieve its target of a one-month waiting period as soon as possible and explore measures to fast track the work permit applications of specialists and startup entrepreneurs as soon as in 2021.
The need for such measures is currently perhaps greater than ever.
The fertility rate in Finland remains at a historically low level, despite showing some signs of recovery, while the coronavirus pandemic continues to pile pressure on public finances. The Finnish Pension Alliance (TELA) in May revealed that the stock-market uncertainty stirred up by the pandemic wiped out over 10 per cent, or 22 billion euros, of the earnings-related pension funds of Finns between January and March.
The Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat warned over a year ago that the pension contributions of young generations will rise substantially unless immigration flows increase to the extent that the foreign-born population makes up almost a quarter of the 6.1 million people projected to reside in Finland in 2050. The country would have to roughly double its yearly net migration gains to around 30 000 to meet the objective.
The report was based on calculations made by the Finnish Centre for Pensions.
Injection of talent
A shortage of skilled applicants is already hampering the growth of businesses in Finland, according to Erno Muuranto, the CEO of GE Healthcare Finland, a subsidiary of GE Healthcare that develops and manufactures health technology in Helsinki.
“The availability of labour is a challenge in software design, for example. Without employment-based immigration, it can be outright impossible to fill certain open positions in a reasonable time frame. Finland should enhance its appeal in the eyes of highly educated immigrants,” he stated in a recent interview with Kauppalehti.
The focus, he viewed, should be especially on skilled specialists who have started or are about to start a family, as a lack of career opportunities for other family members has shown to be a major disincentive to relocate to Finland.
Although Finland has registered a threefold increase in immigration in the past three decades, its policy approach to the issue has differed notably even from other Nordics, according to Mauri Kotamäki, the chief economist at Finland Chamber of Commerce. “Finland has been a passive bystander on immigration-related questions or, at worst, an inhibitor of employment-based immigration,” he wrote in the report by the Family Federation of Finland.
Kotamäki pointed out that while immigration is often discussed as a broad phenomenon, almost all immigration should ultimately be employment-based immigration.
“Regardless of the reason for immigration, finding employment in the open labour market should be the objective in the case of all working-age immigrants – just as it should be for the native-born population,” he stated, underlining its resultant uptick in “productivity, entrepreneurship and innovation” among other areas.