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Finland's welfare system appeals to Indian IT engineers

Finland's welfare system appeals to Indian IT engineers

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén; Photo: Mikael Nybacka

Indian IT engineers Naveen Kumar Korupolu (32) and Basa Ravikiran (33) arrived in Helsinki from Hyderabad with their families five years ago. They have successfully fought off both long, dark winters and cultural differences. Finns are nice and life feels safe.

"I have a sauna at home. It is being used a lot during winter," says Basa.

Both work for the Indian consultancy firm Wipro, whose customers include Nokia. Their job is to test new software for mobile telephones. Compared to India work here is well-organised, flexible and stress-free. Days are short. 

"In India you will be working 10-hour days. And you can add a three hours commute to that. Here I have five extra hours to spend with my family every day," says Basa.

Their wives also work, while the children attend day nursery. Their salary is double what they would get in India, and even though taxes and higher living costs erode the difference, neither have any plans of returning to India. They praise the welfare system. 

"It feels like I get more back than what I actually pay in taxes," says Naveen. 

It is important too for a vegetarian South Indian that the selection of Indian vegetables has grown over the past few years.

Missing the parents

There are hundreds of Indian engineers working in Finland. At Nokia's research facility alone there are nearly 100. Wipro employs some 300 people in Finland, their competitor Tata Consultancy Services employs 600. Naveen knows several Indians who have moved to work for Finnish companies and who have settled permanently in Finland. He himself does not entertain that idea. In not too long his parents are going to need help to manage at home in Hyderabad, and he sees it as his duty to return because there is no welfare system to speak of there. Finish laws also forbids a family reunion in Finland for Naveen's parents, and visa rules mean they can only visit twice a year.

"It is bad that we cannot bring our parents over, they need our support and in India we care a lot about our parents," says Naveen.

He has hardly seen his younger brother's son, and misses festivals and family parties.

Toughening debate

Even though Basa and Naveen haven't met with any opposition, the attitude to foreign labour has hardened in step with the worsening of the economic crisis in Finland. 

And next year the parliamentary election will kick up a political debate on immigration which already is beginning to swing in a populist direction. The right of centre government works actively to recruit more foreign workers, a policy so far being questioned only by the marginal True Finns party.

But the tide is turning. Recently the Social Democrat's former spokesperson Eero Heinäluoma demanded that the government started cutting immigration and offer jobs to unemployed Finns. Heinäluoma leads the party's parliamentary group and has been severely criticised not only by the government but from within his own party for pitching the unemployed against immigrants. Yet he gets support from trade unions.

Engineers are among those who are hardest hit by the crisis, because many of their jobs are linked to the export industry. There are now 11,000 engineers looking for a job, and Pertti Porokari from the trade union New Engineers is dead against the official policy of recruiting foreign labour. He argues a "patriotic" policy should aim to employ those who are already unemployed, even though he is not in principle against immigrants who are integrated into society.

Too many students

There are also too many engineers being educated in Finland, and Porokari has called for the number of university places to be cut by a third because the system was designed at a time when the world looked different than today. 

"It should be possible to predict the situation four to five years from now when the engineers enter the labour market."

He also argues that free education for foreigners should be scrapped, seeing as most return to their home countries when they finish their studies and contribute nothing to Finland in return. He does not accept the employers' arguments that foreign workers have high skills that are needed.

"There's something strange in the argument that Indians are so mathematically clever."

The real argument, according to Porokari, is that employers can push down wages by using foreign labour. 

Finland is tempting 

The Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, TEKES, sees the  development as nothing but positive, however.

"It is encouraging that Finnish innovators attract Indian companies who wish to set up shop here and employ Indian experts," says Kari Komulainen, head of technology at TEKES.

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