The steps by southern Finland's most densely populated region of Uusimaa to simplify the employment process for non-EU construction workers has resulted in an upsurge in applications from Ukrainian job seekers, outnumbering their colleagues from Russia and Southeast Asia.
So far this year, the number of job applications in Uusimaa has risen by roughly 20 percent. Between January and September this year, Uusimaa employment offices have processed over 6,100 work permit decisions, fully or partially approving 5,200 of them. By contrast, some 7,000 work applications were issued in 2016, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.
Olli Sorainen, a senior adviser at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, attributed the rise in job applications to an overall return to economic growth after many years of stagnation.
The ELY Center for Economic Development indicated that Finland should prepare itself for an influx of foreign workers in such areas as cleaning and logistics, should the simplification of the labor legislation persist. At present, the ELY is considering lifting similar restrictions in the hotel and restaurant sector as its next step, despite domestic unemployment.
"There seem to be unemployed people in this sector, but employers still say they have a hard time finding staff," Kari Koivisto of the Uusimaa employment office said.
Finnish trade unions are opposing the simplification, insisting that innovations will not have a better impact on the labor market of the Nordic country. Finland's unemployment rate reportedly climbed to 10.5 percent in April, before falling to 7.5 percent in August this year.
At the same time, 15 percent of employees in southern Finland work illegally, as opposed to only 6 percent of the labor force in the rest of the country. The majority of the illegal workers are employed in public catering, cleaning and building, the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat reported earlier this year.
The Ukrainian community in Finland is young and not particularly numerous, having mostly formed during the post-Soviet years. According to Ukraine's Embassy in Helsinki, the Ukrainian diaspora consists of about 5,000 people.
Contrary to the popular belief, the recent waiver of the EU's visa requirements for Ukrainians only applies to tourist trips, without giving them the opportunity to work or study.