Labour demand has indeed been key to Närpes' success in integrating immigrants. Immigration to Närpes has primarily been based on labour force immigration and the fact that the arriving immigrants mainly already have had jobs in the municipality has played an important role in their integration.
The model was extensively studied by Markku Mattila and Krister Björklund in 2013. The authors consider the concept of "model" being used quite loosely and referring mainly to various aspects such as positive attitudes towards migration, actions of the municipality and the active role of the employers in facilitating integration. This overview is primarily based on the research project by Mattila & Björklund.
Developing the integration model over several decades
Närpes was the first municipality outside the largest city regions of Finland to decide to accept quota refugees in the late 1980s. From the beginning, the inhabitants of Närpes were comprehensively and widely informed on the subject of immigration and integration. Education and information were also directed to employers regarding opportunities to recruit foreign labour. Information and communication measures to influence the attitudes of the inhabitants and employers have been central in creating a good environment for integration.
Information and communication measures are still considered important by the municipality. The municipality has actively worked on finding the best information channels to reach both the Swedish-speaking inhabitants and the inhabitants speaking a variety of different languages.
Societal structures for integrating immigrants were developed in the 1980s and 1990s, when Närpes took in small numbers of immigrants. The small scale of immigration to Närpes facilitated the development of well-functioning systems for integration, such as ways to manage day care for the children of immigrant families and ways to organise language courses and to disseminate information. These established structures facilitated an increase in immigration in the 2000s.
In the early 2000s, employers started to consider using labour-market-based immigration to meet their labour demand because they were unable to recruit the necessary labour from the local market. As there already were immigrants in Närpes, the international social networks of the existing immigrants could be used to recruit more immigrant labour. This caused a "snowball effect", whereby the presence of many immigrants in Närpes attracted more immigrants to the municipality. The municipal organisation supported immigration in ways such as providing the structures needed.
Central to Närpes' work with integrating immigrants into its labour market has been the well-functioning cooperation on one hand within the municipal organisation and on the other hand between the municipal organisation and employers. Mattila and Björklund note that employers have actively recruited from abroad, while the municipality has had an important role in providing the societal structures needed for the integration of the labour force. The employers have been exceptionally proactive in supporting the integration work by e.g. helping with providing housing or organising language courses during working hours.
The small size of the community and the employing companies has also contributed to good cooperation between the municipal authority, employers and third sector actors. As the employing companies are small, personal relationships between the employers and employees have also been positive to integration. There have also been several active civil society associations that have had a key role in bringing people together.
Holistic policy approach
The municipality has been successful also in integrating different policy areas in its work with immigrant labour force. It has simultaneously taken care of the different issues such as employment, housing, language education and social infrastructure. At the same time, the municipality has invested in communication measures and finding ways to reach out to the new inhabitants.
Key lessons learnt:
• Coordination, cooperation and communication between the public authorities and employers are key to meeting labour demand by international migration.
• Communication and dialogue are central both to existing and new inhabitants. Efforts should be put into finding ways to reach and engage different audiences across e.g. language barriers.
• Employers can have key role in supporting integration also outside the workplaces.
• Närpes has worked with integration issues in many policy sectors in a holistic manner but it has been lacking an organisation that would have the overall responsibility for integration. By sharing resources and experiences between other small municipalities in the region (so called K5-municipalities), it has now established a Welcome Office to provide information to immigrants in a coordinated manner.
Read more: Markku Mattila and Krister Björklund (2013) Tomaatteja, teollisuutta ja monikulttuurisuutta. Närpiön malli maahanmuuttajien kotouttamisessa.