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Nepali diaspora in Finland: Growth, contribution and cultural fusion

Shrwan Khanal

Shrwan Khanal

 |  Helsinki

Nepali diaspora in Finland participating in a Dashain celebration in 2023. (Photo Courtesy: Finnish Nepalese society)

Foreign employment has been an ingrained Nepali experience, with historical roots extending to their involvement in Indian armies and subsequent migration to neighboring parts of India. Today, the Nepali diaspora has a global presence, evolving beyond historical roles such as brave Gurkhas, Lahures, or Bahadur, with contributions visible across diverse sectors worldwide.

In the contemporary landscape, Nepali officials are grappling with the task of the growing number of Nepalis leaving the country daily, addressing issues ranging from labor conditions and home returnees to socio-cultural shifts in hometowns. This migration, initially driven by push factors like poverty and limited job opportunities, has evolved to include pursuits of higher education and family reunification, with an estimated six thousand Nepalis leaving the country each day in search of a better life.

Migration dynamics are influenced by both push and pull factors, reflecting the challenges faced by Nepalis and the attractive policies of developed countries like Finland, designed to balance aging populations and stimulate economic growth.

This article aims to delve into the Nepali presence in Finland, a country with unique policies and climatic characteristics among the Nordic nations. These countries share similar welfare policies guaranteeing health, education, and basic human rights, shaping the narrative of Nepalis' integration into Finnish society.

In the vibrant mosaic of Finland's multicultural landscape, the Nepali community stands out not just as a numerical presence but as a dynamic force shaping the socio-economic and cultural fabric of the nation. As the first Nepali received Finnish citizenship in 1991, the journey of the Nepalis in Finland has been marked by significant milestones, reflecting a story of integration, resilience, and mutual enrichment.

Nepali migration dynamics and statistical trends in Finland
Within the intricate tapestry of migration to Finland, the Nepali community constitutes over 1% of the migrant population among nearly 9% of the total migrants in Finland by 2022. The period from 2015 to 2022 saw a substantial issuance of first-residence permits, with nearly 198 thousand individuals being granted the privilege. Impressively, nearly 2% of these permit holders were of Nepali origin, highlighting the community's steady growth and integration into Finnish society.

Extended resident permits, a marker of sustained residency, revealed an even deeper connection. Out of almost 221 thousand foreigners granted these permits, Nepali nationals constituted 3.6%, securing the 7th position among all nationalities. These statistics assure an exponential growth of the Nepali community in Finland.  

The demographic growth of the Nepali community in Finland is nothing short of remarkable. The first available registry in 1990 recorded a mere six Nepalis, a number that surged to nearly six thousand by the end of 2022. In a decade, from 1990 to 2000, the community expanded from 89 to 257 individuals. The subsequent influx of Nepali students, attracted by Finland's free education system, resulted in a significant spike, reaching 1,176 by 2010.

Even after the introduction of tuition fees for non-EU citizens in 2017, the Nepali community continued to grow. By the end of 2016, there were 3,284 Nepali residents, a number that soared to 5,827 by 2022. The gender-wise distribution reveals a balanced ratio of 60:40, with 3,427 males and 2,390 females contributing to the vibrant Nepali presence in Finland.

The distribution of Nepali residents based on their residency is challenging to ascertain. However, the assumption of rapid growth in work permits, spousal sponsorships, and students suggests a diverse spectrum of contributions to Finland's workforce and community.

People of Nepali origin acquiring Finnish citizenship
The journey of the Nepalis in Finland is not just about residency; it's also about the commitment to the host society. By 2022, a total of 1,258 individuals proudly held Finnish citizenship, with 661 being males and 597 females. This progression from being newcomers to Finnish citizens is a testament to the community's commitment to their adopted home.

Marriage, family dynamics and second-generation
Marriages within the Nepali community reveal intricate social dynamics, with 97 Nepali women choosing Finnish partners and 191 Nepali men finding companionship with Finnish women. However, the journey also encompasses challenges, with 14 divorces among Nepali wife-Finnish husband pairs, 84 among Nepali husband-Finnish wife pairs, and 22 divorces among Nepali couples.

The legacy of the Nepali community in Finland extends to the second generation. Statistics Finland 2023 shows a total of 891 children born from Nepali mothers by 2022, comprising 458 males and 433 females, indicating the flourishing family life within the community. The second generation is growing rapidly, with 802 born in the last decade, 559 born in the last five years, and over 100 new births each year in the past four years. Family statistics further reveal that there are 1,446 families with a Nepali wife, 1,606 with a Nepali husband, and 1,348 families with both spouses of Nepali origin.

Education and employment dynamics
Finland's reputation for quality education has attracted a significant number of Nepali students, of late, making them the fourth-largest foreign applicant group in Finnish higher education institutes in 2017. For the academic semester of autumn 2018, they constituted the highest among foreign applicants in Finnish educational institutions. In the academic year 2021/22, a noteworthy 1,314 Nepali students were enrolled in Finnish institutions, with 429 being new students. This surge in Nepali students underscores Finland's appeal as a destination for higher education.

According to the studyinfo webpage, tuition fees to Finnish higher education institutions vary from five to 18 thousand euros, with living costs ranging from eight to 10 thousand euros per year. Calculating in a layman's style, for a minimum of 100 students paying an average of 10 thousand euros as tuition fees and spending five thousand euros for living costs, Nepal sends 1.5 million euros to Finland --an impactful sum for a country largely reliant on remittances.

Economically, the Nepali diaspora plays a pivotal role, engaging in various sectors from entrepreneurship to the health industry, contributing significantly to the Finnish tax system. In 2022, the employment rate of the foreign background population aged 20-64 (73.4%) exceeded that of neighboring Sweden (72.4%) and the average of 27 EU countries (69.0%).

Nepalis mostly belong to the employed group due to their philosophy of relying on their own earnings. Finnish politicians including migrant critique leaders, often appreciate Nepalis by stating "Nepali migrants are hard workers; they don’t like to be unemployed." This inclination can be attributed to the dominant philosophy in their culture, where receiving anything for free (arkako sittaima khanu hudaina) is considered a sin. In addition, their demographic structure is also an important resource to address the aging problem in Finland. Around 80% of the Nepali-origin migrants are of working age (20-64), with 73% of them aged between 25 and 45 years.

The top eight Nepali taxpayers earned 910 thousand euros and paid 330 thousand euros in taxes in 2021, reflecting a substantial financial contribution. This contribution remained steady in 2022 with the top 8 earners earning 970 thousand and tax paid 333 thousand in 2022.

Social and cultural impact
Beyond the numerical growth, the Nepali community has brought about significant social changes in Finland. The stereotype of Nepali individuals primarily engaged in food businesses is changing gradually. Today, they are spread across various professions, from IT experts and university researchers to medical doctors and account specialists.

Nepal is essentially a male-dominated society. In contrast, women's positions are significantly emboldened among Nepalis in Finland. A Nepali woman has maintained a visible presence in policymaking, for some years, surpassing the participation of men. Notably, three of the highest taxpayers among Nepalis were women in both fiscal years 2021 and 2022 earning roughly 350 thousand and paying the tax of about 120 thousand euros. The Finnish integration scheme, particularly targeting newly arrived spouses, has empowered Nepali women as key decision-makers in family matters, thanks to their rapid integration into Finnish society through language acquisition and other necessary skills.

Cultural exchange is another dimension of the Nepali presence in Finland. Festivals like Dashain, Teej, Holi, Lhosar, and private celebrations bring vibrant colors to Finland's streets. Unique events such as the dog festival (Kukur Tihar) have become part of the cultural tapestry, surprising the pet-loving citizens of Finland. We should not forget the Nepalis singing and dancing in open spaces during summer that astonished reserved Finnish citizens.

Most notably, credit goes to Nepali entrepreneurs who have played a pivotal role in introducing a fusion of Indian dishes with authentic Nepali flavors to every corner of Finland. This culinary movement has resulted in the establishment of over a hundred Nepali restaurants, making them easily accessible not only in the capital region but also in smaller cities. Tandoori Naan, basmati rice, kofta, paneer, and Nepali-style tea have gained immense popularity among enthusiasts of spicy cuisine, providing a rich variety for those who once had limited food options.

The proliferation of Nepali restaurants has prompted major food chains to incorporate these ethnic delicacies, including ready-to-eat options, into their outlets across Finland. While the industry's impact on job opportunities and financial contributions is yet to be confirmed through statistical analysis, the growing presence of Nepali cuisine undoubtedly contributes to the diverse and vibrant culinary landscape of Finland.

It can be assumed that a huge number of remittances are sent to Nepal from Finland. Besides remittances, other spheres of social values such as punctuality, transferability, and accountability might have been impacted directly or indirectly in Nepali culture. Similarly, Nepalis seem to have adopted Finnish technologies and saunas in several places in Nepal.

In a nut shell, the Nepali presence in Finland is not merely a numerical statistic but a harmonious blend of cultures, contributing dynamically to various aspects of Finnish society. As Finland continues to attract and embrace diversity, the Nepali community stands as a shining example of successful integration, economic contribution, and cultural enrichment. The story of the Nepalis in Finland is still unfolding, promising continued growth and collaboration between these two diverse cultures.

(Shrwan Khanal is a researcher pursuing his doctoral degree on Social and Public Policy at the University of Helsinki.)




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