Able hands needed to support growth

Mika Lintilä, Minister of Economic Affairs, Finnish Government

Tourism in Lapland has grown more quickly than in the rest of Finland and other Nordic countries in general. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 put a nearly complete stop to tourism in Lapland, but the general trend is positive and provides employment. During the past decade, overnight stays by international customers have doubled in Lapland. There is no reason to assume that this trend will become a permanent decline.

In 2019, the travel industry employed as many as 8,000 people in Lapland, including seasonal workers. The availability of employees is a challenge given the industry’s growth. Tourism is also a large employer outside major travel centres like the surroundings of Lapland’s seven national parks.

Many sectors are struggling with the mismatch issue and the shortage of skilled employees. While the coronavirus pandemic has presented an unexpected problem to tourism, the shortage of employees was already a chronic headache before it. Finland needs more work- and study-based immigration to provide companies with enough able hands. In the case of tourism, the impact of immigration on the national economy and on Lapland is significant.

Without sufficient immigration, workforce availability and the employment situation will decrease considerably, which will have an impact on Finland’s economic dependency ratio, the number of employees, and the fiscal sustainability gap.

Diversity in society and business life will make Finland more attractive in the eyes of international professionals and investors, and have a crucial impact on improving the employment rate of immigrants already resident in Finland.

A more international working environment will encourage international degree students and researchers to stay in Finland and prevent the human capital flight. Promoting work-based immigration calls for long-term cooperation between different administrative fields, regions, towns, municipalities, companies, and higher education institutions.

The Finnish Government’s goal is to at least double the amount of current work-based immigration by 2030 to achieve a total increase of at least 50,000 work-based immigrants, as defined in the sustainability roadmap. After 2030, the goal is to increase the number of work-based immigrants by at least 10,000 annually.

The number of new international degree students should triple to 15,000 by 2030, and 75 % of international students should be able to find a job in Finland.

To improve the legislation and permit processes governing immigration, a large cross-governmental project was launched in April 2020 to accelerate the process for work- and study-based applications. The project will reform process-related legislation, procedures, and online systems.

The goal is to have each work- and study-based residence permit application processed within an average of a month. This goal is to be achieved in stages during the current Government’s term.

The new law, to enter into force in the spring of 2022, will extend students’ residence permits to cover their entire studies. Graduate residence permits for jobseeking will be extended to two years. A “fast track” residence permit process for specialists and growth entrepreneurs, as well as their family members, will be introduced in the spring of 2022.

Diversity and non-discrimination in working life and Finnish society at large play a critical part in providing immigrants with employment and in attracting skilled employees, international students and investment to Finland. Companies benefit from diversity.

The coronavirus pandemic has far-reaching consequences, and the recovery will take time. From the travel industry’s perspective, the short-term outlook is looking much more promising than a year ago, but unfortunately it isn’t yet time to breathe a sigh of relief. Coronavirus is still a cause of significant uncertainties, and the future outlook remains challenging.

Before the pandemic, Finland’s travel industry grew and internationalised rapidly. International demand increased by up to eight per cent annually. Domestic tourism has increased throughout the pandemic. The recovery and increase of travel demand and employment especially depend on the recovery of international demand.

As a result of the pandemic, people’s values, needs and preferences are changing, shaping expectations related to tourism: safety, experiences and environmental awareness are strengthening. The need for new operating models and travel services will increase. Finland has good opportunities to respond to changes in tourism: we have worked hard to promote sustainable travel and digitalisation in the sector, and Finland also attracts international travellers as a destination offering unique nature and culture experiences.

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