In the year 2016 Kenyan Quivine Ndomo sat on his friend’s sofa in Helsinki and marveled at his clothes. A friend from a Kenyan university said he was going to work, but he was wearing a tattered t-shirt and a big bunch of keys around his neck.
“In Kenya, people dress formally for office work,” explains Ndomo.
When Ndomo wondered about it out loud, it turned out that the friend was working as a cleaner, even though he had a master’s degree from a Finnish university. A roommate who had a bachelor’s degree from a Kenyan university also worked as a cleaner. A third roommate who attended the University of Turku distributed magazines.
Ndomo was taken aback. Why were people with a university education working in low-wage fields?
The subject of the thesis had been found.
Seven years after the sofa episode, Quivine Ndomo defended his thesis in English at the University of Jyväskylä The Working Underclass: Highly educated migrants on the fringes of the Finnish labor market i.e. the Labor underclass: Highly educated immigrants on the fringes of the Finnish labor market.
In his dissertation, Ndomo investigated how the Finnish immigration administration and integration institutions shape immigrants into a workforce subordinate to the Finnish labor market. Ndomo’s research was qualitative, and he interviewed 51 non-EU immigrants, most of whom were black Africans, for the study.
The dissertation was published at the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy of the University of Jyväskylä.
Ndomon according to Finland, a new subcategory has arisen, into which almost all immigrants who came here from third countries – regardless of education – fall. Ndomo says that on the surface it may appear that immigrants have chosen their jobs themselves, but a deeper examination reveals that the reason is a system that discriminates against immigrants.
Directing immigrants to low-wage fields already starts during their studies, says Ndomo. According to him, most of the people arriving from Africa, except for several arriving from Somalia and Congo, come here to study. Just like Ndomo himself. He ended up at the University of Jyväskylä on the recommendation of his cleaner friend mentioned earlier.
Students from other countries are lured to Finland with advertising slogans that say that they can study in English.
“And that’s how it works. Among European countries, Finland offers the second largest number of English-language education programs.”
This gives a message to students coming from elsewhere that Finland is a very international country, where students from elsewhere are welcomed openly.
No one remembers to tell those applying here that even though studies are successful in English, Finnish language skills are usually required for jobs. Ndomo thinks this is misleading.
“It should be made clear to those who come here that if you want to stay and work here, study Finnish. And the studies should include several mandatory Finnish studies.”
But even knowing Finnish is not always useful.
“Many who want to become nurses go to school in Finnish. Still, they are not hired as nurses, but, for example, as nursing assistants, and language skills are used as the reason.”
Ndomo says that he understands that some Finnish jobs require knowledge of the Finnish language, but he does not understand that immigrants are required to have native-level skills. He believes that language skills might be used as an excuse when they don’t want to hire immigrants.
“If you have trained for a profession for three and a half years in Finnish and graduated from school, how come your language skills are still seen as insufficient?”
When an immigrant ends up working as a home care nurse instead of a nurse, he also often ends up as a gig worker, because a large part of the home care nurse’s work is in private institutions such as nursing homes for the elderly. This leads to the fact that when an employee does not have a permanent employment relationship, he also does not have paid holidays, and he is not entitled to the services provided by the employer.
“As long as you are healthy and strong, you can take as many shifts as you want and you can earn well. But if you get sick, you’re on your own.”
Life is overshadowed by the constant stress that deportation could come at any time.
“Immigrants adapt and adapt.”
Ndomon according to Finnish society should check its expectations if immigrants are wanted in Finland. Or the talk about integrating immigrants into society should be forgotten.
“All official statements say that integration is a two-way street. But how is integration a two-way street in Finland? Immigrants adapt and adapt, study again and again, but always come second.”
According to Ndomo, this is not discussed because the system works for the benefit of Finnish society. Finland needs low-wage workers: caregivers, Wolt drivers and cleaners.
The status of immigrants last came up for wider discussion in November, when the Tax Administration published tax data for 2022. One of the founders of Wolt became the highest earner of the year Mikko “Miki” Kuusi as well as several other company executives.
The discussion heated up when a respected economic influencer Anne Brunila said in the message service X that he was ashamed of Wolt’s actions.
“I am ashamed when I see Wolt’s food couriers pedaling on starvation wages without the basic security of employment,” Brunila wrote.
At the beginning of February, HS presented how foreign labor is exploited on Finnish construction sites.
Many students, both Finnish and foreign, go to low-paying jobs during their studies, but the reasons for doing the work can be different. According to Ndomo, in the case of immigrants, it is usually a question of escape. In order for them to renew their temporary study permit, the account must have money or a work contract.
“So they end up taking any job to get money. I call these jobs ‘bad first jobs’.”
And unlike Finnish students, low-wage jobs continue for immigrants even after studying.
Ndomo says that partly immigrants can also look in the mirror. The fact that they take jobs that do not match their education strengthens the system.
However, not everyone can act as Ndomo himself did. When, after completing his master’s studies in Finland, there was only a job as a cleaner, Ndomo left for Kenya.
“When I got there, I was offered a job in Finland. I accepted the job and came back.”
Ndomo has no direct answers to what Finland should do to change the situation. But he is sure of one thing: Finland cannot afford to lose know-how if it is going to succeed in the international world.
Finland’s migration goals and their fairness need to be reconsidered – and according to Ndomo, also the education offer. He thinks it doesn’t make sense to attract students to Finland if they can’t be offered jobs in their own field here.
“If, for example, university degrees are not what is needed in the labor market, then something must be done about it.”
Ndomo currently works at the University of Jyväskylä. Pesti lasts another 11 months. There are no plans after that. He says he is a typical immigrant who takes one day at a time when there is nothing else he can do.
In the fall, a position opened up at a Finnish university for which Ndomo’s education would have been perfect. But: “I wasn’t qualified for the job because I don’t know Finnish.”
Ndomo has considered other countries where longer work contracts are available and where you can get by in English.
“I love Finland, but I am ambitious and I will go where I can continue my career.”