Employment promotes well-being and cultural learning of immigrants – obstacles for working should be removed

Immigrants often find it harder to find employment in Finland than the native population. However, working significantly improves adaptation to a new country and increases the well-being of immigrants. The Helsinki City Executive Office's new interview study focuses on immigrants from different cultural backgrounds, particularly on their economic adaptation to Finland and the relation of employment and well-being. In addition, the study also looks at the career paths of the interviewed immigrants and their adaptation to the country from a broader perspective.

The study shows that especially for immigrants who have recently arrived in the country, almost any kind of employment can enhance their well-being and further their later employment opportunities in their own line of work. In order to be beneficial, the job does not even have to be a full-time job nor match the qualifications of the immigrants: even in practical work training and part-time jobs, the participants learn the language and culture and become a part of the work community. For this reason, accepting a job should not be hampered by the fear of losing social benefits nor having to deal with excessively complicated paperwork, something that is quite common according to the study, when combining small or irregular income with social benefits.

Employment provides an income, but also social contacts and building blocks for identity and self-esteem

In addition to providing income, working also promotes well-being in many other ways: it activates and enables social interaction and creates a feeling of working towards a common goal. It also enhances self-esteem, which is connected to the person's identity and to how the person experiences his or her status in society. A majority of the immigrants interviewed for the study had gathered cultural capital in Finland from different kinds of practical work trainings and pay subsidy employments. Even different kinds of low-income and low-education entrance jobs had been functioning as stepping stones for some to jobs that match their skills. The labour market's ability to identify the immigrant's skills must yet be improved, as among the people interviewed, mainly those who had been especially active, determined and able to network had found work. Even many highly qualified immigrants had been caught in a spiral of unemployment, practical work trainings or further education.

Also unemployed immigrants need opportunities to meet Finns, to be able to learn the language and the culture and become a part of the Finnish society. If finding a job on the open labour market is difficult, solutions allowing the arranging of meaningful activities that maintain the immigrants ability to function and work, as well as promotes their well-being, self-esteem and social relations are needed.

Immigrants consider paying taxes a civil duty

Take-up of social benefits had a negative impact on the self-esteem of the people interviewed, especially among the unemployed: they emphasised their wish to earn their living by working. Paying taxes was seen as a civil duty, but also as a kind of proof of full membership in society.

Personal guidance often needed for identifying immigrants' skills

Diverse and appropriate utilisation of the immigrants' skills and potential is important considering both the well-being of the immigrants and the competitiveness of Finland as a country on the global market. However, the research results show that immigrants interviewed need long-term personal guidance so that their skills can be better identified and that they can reach career paths that match their skills. The researchers of the study recommend the active promotion of means to get Finnish organisations to open their doors to immigrants.

Interview study about immigrant career paths and the significance of working for their well-being and adaptation

The Helsinki City Executive Office's study about immigrant career paths was conducted by interviewing 41 immigrants in Finland from different cultural backgrounds, who lived in Helsinki or Turku at the time of the interview and who had experience of job search and/or working in Finland.

The interviewees were divided into three groups according to their position on the labour market: employed, unemployed and inadequately employed, i.e. those who at the time of the study were not working full-time or were working in jobs that did not match their qualifications. Before this study, only a few systematic studies have been conducted about the effects of inadequate employment on well-being.

The study is part of the Polkuja työhön -project financed by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland. The study features a comprehensive summary in English.

Further information:

Project Manager Anu Yijälä, Tel. +358 40 3344 772, e-mail: anu.yijala(at)hel.fi


Anu Yijälä & Tiina Luoma: ”En halua istua veronmaksajan harteilla, haluan olla veronmaksaja itse” − Haastattelututkimus maahanmuuttajien työmarkkinapoluista ja työnteon merkityksestä heidän hyvinvoinnilleen, Helsinki City Executive Office Research Series 2018:2, pdf publication, Issuu-publication, the results of the publication in a nutshell. (Links only in Finnish)