This article is about navigating asylum, employment and language policy in a new country as an asylum seeker. Through the story of one individual, we show that profound inequalities are exacerbated when forced migrants are limited in their choice of language they might study or use. The individual is Tailor F, an Iraqi man seeking asylum, and the country is Finland, officially bilingual, with a majority language (Finnish) and a minority language (Swedish). Finland’s official bilingualism does not extend evenly to language education provided for asylum seekers, who are taught Finnish regardless of the region where they are placed. Upon arrival, Tailor F was housed in a reception centre for asylum seekers located in a Swedish-dominant rural area of the country. Through our linguistic ethnography we examine how he navigates multilingually in his early settlement, his current work and his online life. We relate his story to explicit and implicit official bilingualism in Finland and discuss his lived experiences in relation to the contexts of asylum policy and employment. Tailor F’s story shows how, through his practices, he has contested implicit language policy for asylum seekers in order to gain membership of the local Swedish-dominant community, achieve a sense of belonging, and potentially realise his aspirations for the future.

DOI: 10.1007/s10993-020-09554-0
ISSN: 1568-4555