Lauri Ihalainen: At home – in Finland
However, the actual work is only just beginning. How can we make all those 180,000 foreign nationals who live in Finland also feel at home in Finland? We must be able to meet this challenge, as the number of foreigners is predicted to grow to half a million by 2030.
At present, Finnish society is in a phase where an increase in inequalities is a regrettable fact. This may have a particularly strong effect on immigrants, and at worst, lead to a vicious circle of marginalisation. Especially in the case of children and young people, feelings and experiences of marginalisation or discrimination can affect their whole life and hinder their growth into adulthood. In order to encourage positive attitudes, a lot of work must be done at day-care centres and schools, in leisure time activities and everywhere where children and young people can be found.
For young people, it is crucial to find their own route to education, training and work. The Government Integration Programme includes two important initiatives: young immigrants will be provided with an opportunity to improve their study and language skills before entering upper secondary school, and the Ministry of Education and Culture will examine permanent solutions by 2015 to ensure that no young immigrant over the age of compulsory education is left without a comprehensive school leaving certificate.
I believe that the most important factors behind strong integration are language skills, education, training and work. The importance of employment can never be overemphasised. If you cannot find your place in the working life, the integration process too often remains uncompleted. The Government has set an ambitious target to reduce unemployment among immigrants by half during the current term of office. The MEE plays a key role in attaining this target. However, we will not meet it alone, but by cooperation.
In order to lower unemployment, services of the employment and economic administration must be tailored, and measures promoting employment, and integration training, in particular, must be enhanced. In the future, the Government will strengthen integration training by allocating an annual additional funding of EUR 5–20 million for the education and training of immigrants to the MEE’s main title of expenditure. In addition, the quality and organisation of education and training are developed in the Participative Integration pilot project. Based on its results, permanent solutions for integration training will be developed.
Diversity and positive attitudes at workplaces must be encouraged. Labour market organisations also committed themselves strongly to these objectives during the preparation of the programme. Here at the MEE, we just approved a new equality plan, which creates the basis for the promotion of diversity and the prevention of discrimination. It is also a good guideline for our work outside the Ministry.
Integration measures are implemented by municipalities in immigrants’ everyday life. The integration programme proposes that funding to municipalities be increased and that national steering of integration measures be developed, in particular, by strengthening the competence of municipal employees. In addition, the need to establish a centre of expertise in integration to support the implementation of integration measures is being examined. The first Government Integration Programme is a good initiative designed to strengthen the development and implementation of integration policy in Finland. It provides a good start for future successes in immigrants’ everyday life.
Minister of Labour