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Navigating the Finnish Labour Market: Insights from Turkey-born Highly Skilled Professionals

by Nilay Kılınç

Over the past two decades, Finland has emerged as an attractive destination for highly skilled professionals from around the world. Recognising the benefits of acquiring global talent to address labour and skill shortages, enhance productivity, and foster innovation, Finland has actively sought highly skilled workers, reflected in initiatives like the Talent Boost programme.

However, while efforts have focused on attracting these professionals, less attention has been given to retaining them and supporting their economic integration within the country. This raises questions about the alignment of Finnish labour migration policies with current and future labour market needs, the promotion of integration and inclusion of skilled migrants through national policies and strategies, the recognition of foreign skills and qualifications, and the conditions necessary for fair and ethical recruitment.

Despite the rising numbers of international students and highly skilled professionals, there is limited empirical knowledge about country-specific needs and challenges. Turkey is one of the countries which, in the last decade, experienced a ‘brain drain’ at a large scale and Finland has become an increasingly popular destination for students and highly skilled professionals in particular sectors such as IT and innovation, engineering, health care, arts and design. These new flows of global talent have been transforming the already existing Turkish diaspora in Finland which has been mainly employed in traditional service industries, marking a changing dynamic in Turkish-Finnish migratory ties.

Based on 31 in-depth interviews conducted with highly skilled professionals from Turkey living and working in Finland (collected in 2021-2022), my published paper analysed various immigration paths and their impact on labour market integration. Other than immigration through study programmes and work, the paper identified that highly skilled Turkish professionals also migrate to Finland to reunite with their partners (co-nationals, or Finnish nationals). Each immigration path has its advantages and disadvantages for career development in Finland, and individuals’ unique resources and capabilities create varied labour market integration scenarios.

The experiences of highly skilled professionals from Turkey provide valuable insights into the challenges faced by third-country nationals (i.e. citizens of non-EU nation-states) in obtaining work and residence permits in Finland. This challenges the one-size-fits-all approach to labour market integration, emphasising the importance of recognising and addressing highly skilled professionals’ diverse needs based on their immigration reasons and related structural factors.

The exploration of the highly skilled Turkish migrants’ labour market integration paths shows that structural factors such as restrictive immigration policies, limited residence permits, and sector-specific job opportunities create ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the labour market, regardless of high education and skill levels. Furthermore, the road to successful labour market integration is nuanced, with each immigration path (study, love/marriage, work) and its unique challenges interplaying with the mentioned structural factors. Nonetheless, highly skilled individuals also create their own chances to overcome these difficulties by proactively strategizing and finding ways for career development.

The paradoxical journey of students pursuing English-taught Master’s degrees showcases their proximity to the labour market yet struggles to be fully recognised as a sought-after international talent by the Finnish labour market. Limited residence permits expiring before potential job placements pose a significant challenge, making them the ‘losers’ of the labour market integration as many students settle for jobs below their educational and skill level just to secure extended residence permits. The students mainly depend on their university contacts to have access to suitable job opportunities and whilst those in applied sciences, IT, and engineering programmes have a smoother transition to the labour market, students from fields related to social sciences, arts and humanities struggle more due to limited Finnish language proficiency and lack of previous job experiences in Finland. To address residence permit-related limitations and lack of labour-market experience, there is a pressing need for Finnish higher education institutes to invest in paid internships, providing non-EU students with professional experience for labour market integration.

Those migrating through love and marriage represent a diverse group, straddling the spectrum between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in labour market integration. Professionals migrating through marriage encounter certain challenges, including career slowdowns, de-skilling and a lack of social networks. In some sectors, diplomas from non-Finnish institutions are not given equivalency, resulting in these professionals getting a second Master’s degree in Finland. These findings highlight the importance of providing accessible and tailored training and certificate programs for professionals who immigrated as ‘spouses’ in order to support their entry into the labour market. The advantage of this group is extended residency permits based on marriage which provide ample time to explore job opportunities, however, challenges lie in the initial lack of social connections and reliance on spouses’ networks. Strategic networking, adaptability, and tailored training programs emerge as crucial factors influencing their success in overcoming obstacles and building meaningful careers in Finland. In some instances, entrepreneurship becomes a last-resort avenue for career advancement.

Short-term project workers, often facing challenges in securing continuous work, require tailored solutions such as companies and institutes providing additional support for career development. Professionals migrating through work, particularly those with permanent contracts, emerge as ‘winners’ in labour market integration. They are usually employed in sectors such as IT, innovation, engineering, pharmacy and finance, working in international teams where the dominant language is English. Their advantage is further attributed to generous relocation packages, managed residence permits, and accommodation support provided by private companies. While these individuals leverage networks for long-term positions, they experience limited socialisation beyond their workplaces which hinders their work-life balance, sense of belonging and also Finnish language acquisition. The income disparity among employed individuals of Turkish background in comparison to other nationality groups raises questions, urging further research to uncover the underlying reasons.

While these findings provided an overview of the labour market experiences of highly skilled individuals from Turkey in Finland – a group which has not been studied before – it served as a foundation for future exploration. Subsequent studies could delve deeper into the experiences of highly skilled professionals in social and professional life, the role of gender, including language learning, job interviews, work culture adaptation, and discrimination. As Finland anticipates an increase in students and highly skilled workers from Turkey, understanding the unique challenges and successes of this group can also help shape tailored services provided by companies and organisations which work with immigration, integration and recruitment-related matters.

This blog is based on the following article:

Kılınç, N. (2024). Ketkä voittavat, ketkä häviävät? Turkkilaissyntyisten korkeasti koulutettujen maahanmuuttosyyt ja integraatio suomalaisille työmarkkinoille (Who are the winners and losers? Turkey-born high-skilled professionals’ immigration reasons and labour market integration in Finland). In Renvik, T. A. & Sääväla, M. (eds.) Kotoutumisen kokonaiskatsaus 2023: Näkökulmana väestösuhteet (pp. 65-73). Helsinki: Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö.

Nilay Kılınç is a postdoctoral researcher at the Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies, University of Helsinki. She is currently leading a project funded by the KONE Foundation, focusing on the engagement of creative migrants in democratic processes within the socio-political framework of Finland.