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Estonian Migrants’ Aspiration for Social Citizenship in Finland: Embracing the Finnish Welfare State and Distancing from the ‘Non-Deserving’

Abstract

The consequences of immigration for the welfare states has received increased attention by scholars and in political and media debates in Europe. However, migrants’ subjective understandings of the welfare state remains an understudied research topic. This study aims to address the topic by analysing the question in the Nordic context by looking at Estonian labour migrants’ understandings of the Finnish welfare state. Our data consists of 51 biographical interviews with Estonian migrants in Finland. Based on the interviews, we traced interviewees’ attitudes towards the Finnish welfare state. In Finland, Estonians aspire for social citizenship, which in their case refers to gaining economic welfare and embracing Finnish welfare state institutions. This aspiration for social citizenship is revealed in Estonians’ ‘identity talk’, which takes two forms: embracement and distancing. By embracement, we mean their positive sentiments towards the institutions and norms of the Finnish welfare state. The interviewees highlight their participation in the labour market, diligent payment of taxes, justified use of the welfare benefits and services offered by the Finnish state, and membership in trade unions and unemployment funds. The interviewees underline the link between work and the deservingness of welfare benefits. They describe themselves as deserving, which, they claim, should put them on par with native Finns. Moreover, by means of distancing, the interviewed Estonians distinguish themselves from ‘others’—in their opinion—‘non-deserving’ migrants who ‘do not contribute’ to the Finnish welfare state.

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Acknowledgements

This research was conducted within the research project ‘Industrial Citizenship and Labour Mobility in the EU: a Migrant Centered Study of Estonia-Finland and Albania-Italy Labour Mobility’ based at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland and funded by the Academy of Finland (Grant nr. 265572). The authors of this article would like to thank Kairit Kall and Laura Mankki for having contributed with conducting research interviews, which have been utilised in this article. We would also like to thank Ayca Arkilic, Mika Helander, and Ville Kainulainen for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this text. The authors would also like to thank the interviewees and the two anonymous manuscript reviewers for their valuable comments.

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Correspondence to Rolle Alho.

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Alho, R., Sippola, M. Estonian Migrants’ Aspiration for Social Citizenship in Finland: Embracing the Finnish Welfare State and Distancing from the ‘Non-Deserving’. Int. Migration & Integration 20, 341–359 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-018-0606-9

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Keywords

  • Social citizenship
  • Distancing
  • Embracement
  • Labour migration
  • Welfare state
  • Social benefits
  • Deservingness