Encouragement and realism – how to get a job in Finland as an asylum seeker?

4 years 7 months ago

“How do you pay taxes in Finland?” This question by an Eritrean asylum seeker illustrates one big differences between countries. The Finnish taxation procedures can seem tricky since in Eritrea taxes are reimbursed after your employment ends. This and many other aspects of the Finnish working life aroused interest at the pilot training sessions organized by IOM for asylum seekers in a reception center.  

A stepping stone to working life

The training pilots were carried out as part of EU relocation programme funded by the the European Union.

Employment offices and municipalities are in charge of organizing integration training for people who have been granted asylum in Finland, thus supporting their possibilities of employment. However, asylum seekers who are still waiting for their decisions also need fact-based and easily understandable information about working life in Finland. This training pilot was developed for their needs.

The aim of the pilot was to support newly-arrived migrants and asylum seekers in recognizing their own skills and preparing for working life. The EU commission developed a skills assessment tool for mapping the skills of asylum seekers arriving from countries outside the EU. IOM country offices in departure countries have used the tool to collect the skills, work life objectives as well as educational and professional backgrounds of the asylum seekers before they arrive in the receiving country.  

The target group for the pilot project in Finland was the Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers who had arrived in Finland as part of the EU relocation programme in the second half of the year 2017. The asylum seekers had participated in the first phase of the skills assessment in Italy and Greece, where information about their backgrounds and objectives was compiled in digital form with the guidance of a local IOM employee.

The compiled information about their own skills might support the asylum seekers later, for example in making a CV.

Basics of Finnish working life

The skills assessments in the departure countries were followed by trainings about working life, organized by IOM Finland, in a pilot reception centre in Finland. Once the groundwork has been done they can start pondering how to find a job in Finland.

When is the asylum seeker allowed to start working after arriving in Finland? Where can one find employment ads and what sort of employment is out there? What should an employment contract contain? Who can help if the employer doesn’t pay your salary?

Job hunting can be an ordeal for a Finn as well. The challenges of finding a job are even greater for asylum seekers, who cannot speak the local language and who come from societies very different from that of Finland.

One should also note that asylum seekers are a diverse group. For some, just looking for jobs online may seem like science fiction. For those with higher education the concern may well be how to be able to utilize and further supplement their education in Finland.

Insecurity in isolation

The sessions obviously responded to a need since the classrooms were filled with enthusiastic participants. However, stress about the asylum process and lack of connections to Finnish society were major sources of concern.

"All this is very interesting, but how can we find any jobs as long as we live here far away from everything?" asked one of the participants. Anxiety about the future is common among all asylum seekers, but at the pilot reception center it is further exacerbated by the remote location. Potential jobs are usually far away, so to start working one needs to move away from the reception center and find accommodation elsewhere.

Asylum seekers’ precarious situation and unawareness of their rights may expose them to exploitation. There have been cases where asylum seekers have been, for example, pressured to pay for getting a job or charged unreasonable rents for accommodation closer to work.

Not just any work but decent work

Recognizing exploitation at work was one of the main themes of the training. Without knowledge of the Finnish language and legislation, asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to violations of their rights. This creates a contradiction: the asylum seekers’ eagerness to find a job is shadowed by the risk of exploitation and abuse.

In the training, many participants were interested in internships and job placements as a way forward. However, reception centres are refraining from supporting unregulated internships, as they can be at high risk to lead to unpaid jobs or different forms of exploitation.

Empowerment and realism

For the trainers, it was challenging to find a balance between encouragement and realism. They wanted to encourage the participants to make the effort of studying the language while waiting for their asylum decision. At the same time, they wanted to be honest: it is not easy to find a job in Finland.

People should be encouraged to be open and flexible when seeking employment, to maybe accept jobs that do not correspond to their education, but at the same time they should be aware of their rights.

All in all, the trainings were very rewarding also from the trainers’ point of view. Things that are very normal and mundane for Finns might be ground-breaking for someone else. Learning was also mutual; the trainers also learned more about Eritrea than ever before.


Taina Renkonen

The writer works at IOM Finland Country Office.

The views expressed by the authors in IOM Finland's blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the International Organization for Migration.