Foreign students to work

Approximately 20.000 foreign degree students study in Finland, out of whom approximately 2.800 graduate annually. Out of this, only 45,5% become employed in Finland after one year of their graduation. A year is a short period to consider however, and findings from for example Denmark show, that this percentage drops significantly over an extended period of several years. Starting this Fall, universities and polytechnics will begin charging tuition fees from students coming from outside the EU, which has already led to a significant drop in applicants. People from these countries are still applying however and it would be in everyone’s benefit that they become employed.

The most commonly stated and experienced barrier to employment is still the lack of Finnish skills. I personally consider this to be odd. Of course, if a company intends to only operate in Finland, provide services only to native Finns, and do so only in Finnish, then this is a valid point. However, modern workplaces should function in at least English as well as Finnish, especially as a growing percentage of the population is born outside of Finland and does not speak Finnish as their mother tongue. The largest markets also exist outside of Finland, where knowing Finnish is not at all useful. That’s why I think the actual reason may be intercultural challenges. This is fortunately passing as backwardness gives way to internationality. A larger portion of young people have grown in a more international environment, where exposure to and understanding of foreign cultures has been gained at a young age.

Since internationality is considered a competitive advantage in companies and foreign talent is sought and hired with good money, why are there no employment opportunities for young professionals graduating from the excellent Finnish school system who already understand the local culture? I do not believe that this is due to conscious resistance towards hiring foreigners, so could it be due to a lack of understanding and experience in how to hire foreign students and graduates? Students gravitate towards startups, perhaps inspired by what is new. However, startups rarely have the resources to pay salaries required by a special expert’s residence permits. The proposed startup residence permit on the other hand is still only in the developmental stage.

Still, it is fairly easy for companies to employ a foreign gradute with a degree from Finland. A Finnish degree currently grants the right to apply for a residence permit based on employment (however, not for applying for employment) without a cut-off point, even if the person has had to leave Finland due to a previously expired residence permit. If the student has worked during his studies he may continue to do so or even start a new job before his new residence permit has been granted. The employment contract must naturally still adhere to the collective bargaining agreement or the established conventions, if the field has not CBA.

It is therefore worth asking, do companies have the tools or understanding to hire foreign graduates? Should awareness be increased?

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