Not many people outside of Scandinavia know that there is a Swedish-speaking minority in Finland. About 300,000 people in Finland speak Swedish as their mother tongue, and they comprise about 5.5 percent of the population. Even if the minority is quite small, Finland is officially a bilingual country, and the Swedish speaking population has for example the right to use Swedish before courts of law and other authorities. There is also education in Swedish from primary school to universities, and several Swedish newspapers and Swedish broadcasts on Finnish radio and television. Lately, there have been reports on more negative attitudes towards the Swedish-speaking Finns, and there have also been discussions about the government trying to weaken minority-rights through ongoing reforms.
With this as a backdrop, there is a debate going on in Finland about the Swedish speaking population fleeing to Sweden to find greener grass. This has led to a worry about brain drain: that the competence and the greatest talents within the minority are disappearing from Finland. Kaisa Kepsu-Lescelius, head of research at the think tank Magma, has studied the migration flows, and wrote the rapport “Hjärnflykt eller inte?” (Brain drain or not?). She says that even though 17,000 Swedish-speaking Finns have moved to Sweden during the last fifteen years, we shouldn’t be too worried – at least not yet. She goes on to explain:
Of course it is a loss when so many people move. We all have brains – and hands. But whether a brain drain is going or not is debatable.
It is not only the highly educated that are moving, quite the contrary actually – many of the migrants are not very highly educated. On the other hand, many people move to Sweden to study and have not yet reached their highest skill level.
The threshold for moving to Sweden has always been low for the Swedish speaking population in Finland. During the past two years emigration to Sweden has accelerated. At the moment, especially a lot of young people are moving from the capital Helsinki and the area around it.
Kepsu-Lescelius points out that the debate should not only focus on highly educated people, since emigration on all education levels can have consequences.
Of course it is difficult to pinpoint which sectors are affected, but it can involve for example health care workers, people that are needed to secure and maintain the Swedish service in Finland.
Kepsu-Lescelius also says, that the image of a more positive and tolerant attitude in Sweden was mentioned in the interviews that she conducted as a background for the study.
About half of those who emigrate move back after a while. This means that the Swedish-speaking part of Finland has lost about 8,000 people to Sweden during the last 15 years. Losing skills is only one part of the problem, the emigration also influences the structure of the population.
You can see it in the age structure, because it’s often young women that move. They are at an age when they soon begin to have children, which means it also affects the future age structure, which in turn affects the dependency ratio in Finland. Overall it is a great concern in Finland. How we will support our future pensioners?
Locally and nationally, the consequences are different. If many move away from a certain municipality, it will also affect the language structure and the minority rights that are tied to how many we are.
The report doesn’t go on further into the reasons behind the accelerating migration, but Kepsu-Lescelius says Sweden’s attractiveness and the differences in the labour market was highlighted in the interviews.
It is not the whole explanation, but there were many who highlighted the opportunities in Sweden: Opportunities to study other subjects than what is offered in Finland, and future career opportunities. In particular, those who don’t speak Finnish so well thought they don’t have a lot of options if they stay in Finland.
Kepsu-Lescelius reminds us that there after all are more sides to the emigration. For the individual moving it usually brings only positive things. But it is also positive that new connections are created between Finland and Sweden and Kepsu-Lescelius says that they could be taken advantage of even more.
We have a lot of international mobility right now, and we have wanted to be in the EU and have free movement in the Nordic countries. At the same time we have to ask ourselves how Finland can be competitive, and what kind of future prospects and career opportunities we can offer young people.
This article was originally written in Swedish for Liber, the members magazine of Svensk Ungdom, an IFLRY member organisations from Finland. The author of the article, Susanna Rapp, is the magazine’s editor.