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Reaching immigrants outside the labour force with municipal integration services

Why should immigrants outside the labour force be targeted for services? 

This online resource offers a collection of operating methods for reaching those outside the labour force more comprehensively for services that promote integration after the comprehensive reform of the Integration Act. The reformed Act on the Promotion of Integration (681/2023) will enter into force on 1 January 2025. The new act will extend the municipality’s obligations to reach immigrants outside the labour force for integration services. 

Immigrants who are not planning to enter the labour market immediately also need support in the integration during the post-migration years. In particular, the authorities must support the integration of parents caring for children at home. Parental integration has a significant impact on gender equality and the integration and future of their children. Guiding those outside the labour force towards working life is one of the priorities of the Government’s integration policy. 

Reaching immigrants outside the labour force with integration services can be challenging. The further away the immigrants are from working life, the harder it is to reach them for the services provided by the authorities. There are no easy ways to successfully reach them. Success follows from increasing trust and cooperating with communities and individuals, especially in the long term. 

Many organisations and associations have a great deal of experience in outreach work and reaching different language groups. Based on their experiences, this material highlights tips and perspectives that can be useful for professionals engaged in promoting the integration of municipalities. The material can also be used to support the induction of new employees.

Municipalities are very different in terms of size, location and the number and characteristics of immigrants residents. We recommend you adapt the tips to the situation in your own municipality. 

Ensure multilingual, plain and multi-channel communication 

When registering a residence permit, residence card or right of residence, immigrants receive a Welcome to Finland guide or brochure, which are available in several different languages. In addition to the guide, new residents of the municipality need more detailed information on everyday life in the municipality and on municipal services, such as guidance and advisory services or services that promote integration. 

In communications, the municipality can use linguistic, visual and video communication materials, websites and social media channels in various languages. It is important that the communication is clear and accessible and takes place through many channels. The municipality should make use of plain Finnish and/or plain Swedish as well as multilingual materials in communication. Those involved in integration work should cooperate with the municipality’s communication unit and various divisions, and familiarise themselves with the multilingual and plain-language materials produced by other authorities and organisations. 

In order to reach parents caring for children at home and persons with disabilities or health challenges, it is important that the municipal integration services communicate visually and in person in places where families, persons with disabilities and persons with long-term illnesses can be found: the wellbeing services county’s service points, such as maternity and child health clinics, day activity centres, daycare centres and schools. 

Consider diversity in municipal services

The municipality must provide services that take customer diversity into account and promote equality. 

For example, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare has produced public online training courses on equality and non-discrimination. In addition, you can search for training in the subject area on the eOppiva learning platform. Contacts and cooperation with associations and organisations working with immigrants help in the consideration of diversity. Cooperation with different population groups is needed, for example in planning the promotion of municipal integration, equality planning and promoting good population relations. Further information can be found, for example on the website of the Ministry of Justice.

In building and strengthening trust, it is useful if the municipality has employees from different language groups and backgrounds.

Map the municipality’s meeting places

Meeting people is the first and most important step in building a sense of inclusion, language skills, wellbeing and social relationships. The municipality should establish meeting places where immigrants can meet other residents in the same life situation and other immigrants, share their experiences and receive peer support. These places can offer a variety of activities, such as discussion groups, training courses and recreational opportunities. 

Examples of meeting places include

  • family centres’ meeting places,
  • various social media platforms, 
  • libraries and their activities, and
  • youth centres and recreational environments. 

However, just establishing a meeting place will not lead to encounters; activities that bring people from different backgrounds into contact with each other must be organised there. 

Residents of the municipality can also meet each other online. If the municipality has its own platforms or social media accounts, the importance of language skills for interaction and the prevention of hate speech by moderation must be taken into account in online environments.

Connect with local organisations

Municipalities should cooperate with associations and organisations working with immigrants. They have experience and skills that help in reaching immigrants outside the labour force and provide the support they need. When municipalities cooperate with organisations, it is important to take into account their resources, as their work is often dependent on government grants. These bodies can also provide statutory services to municipalities for a fee. You can search for organisations’ activities and services that benefit immigrants outside the labour forces, for example at

Collaborate across divisions

Immigrant services are provided by employment services, wellbeing services counties, the education system and municipalities. Municipalities must cooperate both internally between their own divisions and with all other authorities that provide services that promote integration. Functional everyday cooperation, especially between the municipality and the wellbeing services county, promotes opportunities to reach  immigrants outside the labour force for the municipality’s services.

How can the municipality reach immigrants in practice?

Almost all Finnish municipalities have their own population register, which is regularly maintained with the help of the modified data update service of the Digital and Population Data Services Agency. Many municipalities have an ICT contractor that provides the municipality with a registry maintenance service. Up-to-date data on those who have moved is thus obtained from the information of the modified data update service through the municipality’s own ICT contractor. The information includes all the basic information about persons who move to the municipality, including their mother tongue and citizenship. It is advisable for the person responsible for integration matters in the municipality to contact the administrator of their own municipality’s data administration and inquire about migrant data. 

Based on the information provided by the modified data update service, the municipality can contact all foreign citizens moving to the municipality, for example by letter, email or text message containing instructions on how and where to find information (such as a website). The letter can describe municipal services, such as multilingual guidance and advisory services, in plain language or in several languages. Events, such as a welcome or an information session, can be arranged for new residents.

Approaching new residents of the municipality with a letter can strengthen their feeling of being included in the community.  The letter can be used to convey information to foreign citizens who have moved to the municipality on who to contact in the municipality when they need support for their integration or guidance and advisory services. This will help new residents to contact the municipal authorities themselves. 

Challenges of contacts based on registry data

Even if immigrants are approached by letter or phone, reaching out to them may not always bring results. There may be several reasons for the difficulties:

  • Some of the addresses or phone numbers are incorrect or outdated. 
  • The letter recipient may have poor reading skills or the letter is in a language they do not understand. 
  • Letters go unread or calls unanswered for other reasons.

The recipient’s trust in the authorities, Finnish society in general and/or online communication plays a role in whether they receive or respond to messages. People may not understand or trust the content or nature of messages from authorities. Some may have had negative experiences of authorities in their country of origin and do not consider contact with the authorities useful or desirable if it is not mandatory. Immigrants who belong to communities commonly faced with racism or discrimination have a particularly low level of trust in the authorities. 

However, reaching out by letter, phone or email is still worthwhile. Often, the persons who are the most difficult to reach are those who need support in their integration the most. In this case, additional measures must be taken to reach them. If the municipality has employees who speak the target group’s languages, they could be asked to help if there are no other means to contact the target group. However, it is good to take into account the power structures associated with different communities and the often limited possibilities for multilingual workers to help alongside their own work.

Outreach work builds trust

Personal encounters are the most important in reaching people and building trust. Organisations have experience in successfully reaching and interacting with hard-to-reach groups. Municipalities may not have the resources for such intensive outreach work as the projects carried out by organisations, but municipalities can apply the organisations’ proven practices as far as possible and cooperate when the organisations’ resources allow. 

In their own natural environment, people are also more receptive to messages from the authorities. In this case, trust and the goodwill of the authority are easier to convey than in an office environment, by phone or in writing. 

Parents caring for children at home can be reached by means of outreach work, for example at family centres, daycare centres, playgrounds, shopping centres, maternity and child health clinics, recreational activities or schools where parents are out and about with their children. Immigrants with poor health or disabilities can be reached at health centres and day activity centres. They can be sought in cooperation with professionals from the wellbeing services county. 

We also recommend that you communicate about integration to those municipal service providers for whom these questions are not at the core of the work. In this way, they are able to guide customers who will benefit from integration services to the services.  

The journey from outreach to encouragement: Respect, ask and listen

Contact with an immigrant does not yet guarantee their participation in services that promote integration. Participation in municipal integration services can be promoted by verbalising the customer’s situation and needs with them. It is worth telling the customer how participating in the services can benefit them and their entire family. In case of immigrants with poor Finnish or Swedish skills, it is important to use an interpreter.  

Parents caring for children at home for a long time will not be penalised for not participating in integration measures when they are receiving child home care allowance. A municipal professional may find that this makes it difficult to motivate parents to participate in activities or training that promote their integration. For example, leaving home for education and starting early childhood education may be a change that requires energy that a tired parent may lack. It is important to discuss with the customer the long-term benefits of integration services and early childhood education for the individual themselves, their children and the entire family, and to create a feeling that they and their family are heard and supported. For many immigrants, their family’s wellbeing and the future of their children are the strongest motivators and often the reason why they moved to Finland in the first place. 

The parents may have incomplete information about what the transitioning from a stay-at-home parent to a student or jobseeker involves and how it affects benefits, for example, or what early childhood education and care is like. We recommend you listen to the immigrants’ own needs in the situation and what kind of support they need, and offer them customised integration services where possible. Other adults in the family must also be considered so that the parent caring for the children receives support in their daily life for their decision to join integration services or the labour market. People suffering from long-term illnesses or disabilities, on the other hand, should be encouraged by creating trust that even persons with impaired capacity to work can improve their quality of life through health and social services, education and the labour market.  

How to reach those outside the labour force for municipal integration services?

Municipality’s checklist

Check whether your municipality does the following:

  • offers multilingual and multi-channel information and communication for immigrants;
  • communicates about the services visually and in plain language/clear language; 
  • uses multilingual and plain-language materials produced by national authorities and organisations;
  • provides information on municipal services in locations where the immigrants are; 
  • offers diversity training for staff; 
  • takes advantage of national online training courses produced on the theme;
  • designs services in cooperation with immigrants or 
  • collects their feedback on the services; 
  • has meeting places where immigrants and the majority population can meet each other;
  • offers residents online discussion platforms that are accessible and safe for those learning Finnish/Swedish; 
  • conducts cooperation and networks between associations and municipalities working with immigrants; and
  • maintains well-functioning cooperation structures for the interface work of municipalities, educational institutions and wellbeing services counties.