Policy brief explores political participation of immigrants – Expanding voting rights could support integration  

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment
Publication date 18.11.2022 14.18
Press release
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The number of immigrants in Finland continues to grow. However, their turnout in elections and participation in politics is much lower than among the native-born Finnish people. A new policy brief of the Centre of Expertise in Immigrant Integration of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment presents ways to strengthen the political participation of people with a foreign background. 

A new policy brief of the Centre of Expertise in Immigrant Integration examines the political participation of immigrants. The policy brief 2/2022 Kotona politiikassa: keinoja tukea Suomeen muuttaneiden poliittista osallisuutta has been written by Hanna Wass, Docent of Political Science at the University of Helsinki.  

Foreign citizens may only vote in local elections in Finland. The voter turnout of immigrants is clearly lower than that of native-born voters. However, political participation varies considerably between different groups. 

Right to vote increases political activeness 

According to research, the right to vote plays a significant role in the development of political participation. Granting immigrants the right to vote quickly after immigration may encourage both voting and other political activeness. Correspondingly, a limited right to vote may reduce interest in voting in elections even when this right exists.

“The mismatch between limited political rights and the increasingly diverse population underlines the need to develop solutions for strengthening the political participation of immigrants,” Wass says. 

Non-discrimination as a condition for party funding?

The political participation of immigrants is not the end result of integration. Instead, participation in decision-making that has an effect on one’s own life strengthens integration. According to Wass, Finland should therefore consider the following reforms: 

  • Explore the option of extending the right to vote in national elections to foreign citizens residing permanently in the country. 
  • Give permanent residents the right to file and sign citizens’ initiatives. 
  • Assess systematically the functioning of the different forms of participatory democracy (e.g. citizens’ dialogues and participatory democracy) from the perspective of immigrants’ needs. 
  • Include non-discrimination in the criteria for party subsidies. 
  • Provide targeted support to immigrants to organise election campaigns. 
  • Develop an open online vote matcher focusing on key issues for the population with an immigrant background. 
  • Define more precisely the tasks and opportunities to exert influence of bodies representing immigrants. 
  • Support cooperation between election authorities and political parties with immigrant organisations, religious communities and educational institutions between elections too.
  • Carry out a regular publicly funded data collection on immigrants’ political values, attitudes and experiences of inclusion

Previous briefs addressed employment

The Centre of Expertise in Immigrant Integration has published four other policy briefs. They deal with the employment of immigrant women, the performance of those with a foreign background in school and working life, the effect of immigration on employment and wages, and wellbeing of children with immigrant background. 

Minna Säävälä, Chief Specialist, tel. +358 50 536 2986