Nafisa Yeasmin: More dialogue and research on underemployment of academic immigrants is needed

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Following discussion on social media and an article by UNIFI, with which I fully agree, we need to utilise and somehow promote and secure jobs for academics based on their educational background, and similarly for immigrants, including international researchers, who suffer from underemployment. This is a challenge for Finnish society.

As many immigrants in Finland cannot find jobs that match their educational background, there needs to be a better solution in order to utilise the human resource potential of immigrants.

We need an improved integration strategy. I know a few international researchers who have changed their path as a researcher in order to find a position that is based on their educational background. Indeed, I know many immigrants who have master’s and equivalent degrees from Finnish universities and yet are underemployed.

Different groups of immigrants need different services

One one hand, some immigrants experience shortcomings in the integration services required by different groups of immigrants, particularly in terms of economic integration. On the other hand, some immigrants believe that Finland provides a wide range of immigration services. However, it means we need to have balanced measures for all groups, since different groups have different opinions. Even if many immigrants are experienced, and sometimes over-qualified, diverse services from diverse sectors can create disorientation among groups of immigrants when choosing the right path for their integration. Many are struggling to have a stable path towards gaining access to the labour market based on their educational background.

To some extent, underemployment is one of the main reasons that immigrants who are highly educated are not satisfied with a labour market which can also hinder their integration into the respective region. Indeed, poor economic integration hinders subjective well-being, a topic that has been studied earlier.

It is difficult for me to consider that the integration measures set in place by the government are not enough to lessen the dilemma of underemployment of educated immigrants. However, certain institutional practices might be improved to solve the problems of underemployment.

While conducting a project on promoting labour market opportunities to immigrants, a realisation forced me to think that before offering any services, we should consider for whom the service is intended. Is it for dependent immigrants, interdependent or independent/motivated immigrants? As my empirical research suggests, these three groups have widely varying needs. Therefore, the question is whether to offer services according to customer requirements.

From this follows a discussion on creating a coherent approach to “customisable” policies that could gradually reduce the problem of underemployment and similarly could reduce the frustration and disillusionment of being underemployed or even unemployed despite having a university degree.

The regions need to find ways to attract a skilled labour force

Based on observations, many prefer the positive environment of cities with their stronger labour market opportunities and available services, in addition to the positive attitudes of both employers and society towards immigrants. Services and opportunities can be maximised by reforming policies in terms of minimising the risk of underemployment and unemployment.

As we can see, some regions are more attractive to immigrants than others. As shown by many previous studies, migrants follow their families, friends, similar lifestyles and job availability in order to stay in a particular region. Municipalities that can offer a more positive living environment and plenty of economic opportunities can attract more migrants.

Many regions need a skilled workforce, be it highly-skilled, semi-skilled or low-skilled, to overcome our recent and predicted future labour shortage. We also need to entice the new workers along with those who are underemployed or already employed in the labour market, to stay in the regions that need skilled people by closing any gaps they perceive in system management.

We need more discussion on underemployment in Finland, both nationally and regionally, and indeed, further research on these questions is warranted. More research with policy recommendations might be needed to strengthen the value of university degrees in securing better labour market outcomes.

The writer is a project manager at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland and a researcher who has studied immigration, integration and regional development.

Photo: Heidi Volotinen

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