Exercise and sports have helped many to find their own place in Helsinki.  Photo: Nilla Varpunen, City of Helsinki Material Bank.

First comprehensive review of migrant integration on the local level

The Helsinki City Executive Office's fresh study focuses for the first time on the integration of migrants and on the living conditions and situations in life of their children, on the local level and as a comprehensive whole.

As a consequence of international migration, the share of people with a foreign background has increased rapidly in the metropolitan area. At the beginning of 2020, the combined number of people living in Helsinki who had moved to Finland and their children, who were born here, exceeded 100,000, which means that every sixth Helsinki resident has a foreign background. Some 25 per cent of all people in Finland with a foreign background live in Helsinki.

A large part of the migrants have integrated well into Finland and Helsinki. However, especially those with a refugee background and, partially those who have arrived through family migration, have found it difficult to integrate, especially into the labour market. Signs of a pile-up of disadvantage and exclusion to the same individuals and the same areas can be perceived. 


Integration is a multidimensional and often asynchronous process

Integration is a lengthy process. During that process, the migrant looks for and finds their own place in their new country of residence and home municipality. The integration occurs in the structural, cultural, social and identity dimensions. Finding a place on the labour market plays an important role in the structural integration. Especially many women are outside working life for long. Finding a permanent job is difficult for many people with a refugee background. Working jobs not congruent with the education is common.

A large part of the migrants have learned Finnish or Swedish in the course of time. Generally, part of the people who have moved to Finland have integrated and even blended entirely into the Finnish culture. New linguistic and cultural minorities have also emerged in Helsinki.

A majority of the migrants trust the Finnish social institutions and service systems. Persons belonging to the original population are also mainly trusted. A majority of the people with a foreign background feel that they are a part of the Finnish society. On the other hand, quite few think that they are Finnish and feel that they are entirely accepted. Many lack friends and acquaintances with Finnish backgrounds.

Future Helsinki is increasingly diverse

Each country and city have their own migration history and, due to that, a different kind of population with a foreign background. However, experiences of population development, integration and cultural changes are similar in Helsinki and in other big cities in Northern Europe.

It is important to support the positive integration by means of timely and appropriate measures. In the local integration policy, it is essential to find the points and situations where things can be truly influenced by domestic means. Follow-up data on the integration of migrants and the living conditions of people with foreign backgrounds will also be needed in the future to support the integration.

In the future, it will be increasingly difficult to categorise the population into people with a Finnish background and people with a foreign background and into domestic-language speakers and foreign-language speakers. The share of people with foreign backgrounds of the Helsinki population is growing, especially in the younger age groups. Many children of migrants are currently taking the step from education to working life. The share of migrants of the Helsinki residents is growing among the aged as well. In the capital city, there is an increasing number of ways to be a Finn and a Helsinki resident.

Helsinki is a multiethnic and multilingual city of many religions. The international migration carries a great significance to the development of the entire metropolitan area. The integration of the migrants in Helsinki affects the future of the entire Finnish society.

The study is mainly based on research of statistical data, which has been carried out, for example, at Helsinki’s Urban Research and Statistics unit. The study was completed before the coronavirus outbreak reached Finland.

Further reading:

Integration in the city. General view of people with foreign backgrounds in Helsinki in 2020 (Pdf, in Finnish)

Integration in the city. General view of people with foreign backgrounds in Helsinki in 2020 (Issuu-publication, in Finnish)) 

Summary of the Study (Pdf, in English)

The Immigrants’ Helsinki


Further information:

Senior Researcher Pasi Saukkonen, tel. 09 310 36405, e-mail: pasi.saukkonen(at)hel.fi

Photo: Nilla Varpunen, City of Helsinki Material Bank.