The Finnish Ministry of the Interior has published the Migration Review, a document that provides current information on trends in labor immigration and the situation of the asylum seekers in Finland. The study also addresses the most recent legislative amendments affecting the population of foreign origin.
According to its main conclusions, the year 2018 was marked by the arrival in Finland of a growing number of immigrants who applied for residence permits for work or study reasons. In parallel, the number of asylum seekers in Finland continued to fall to below the level previous to 2015 level, before the great refugee crisis.
In relation to labor migrants, the statistics for 2018 confirm what has already been a trend in recent years: the number of first residence permit applications on the grounds of employment continued growing and totaled 10,805. This is almost 25% more compared to the 8,650 applications for work-based residence permits received in 2017.
If we look specifically at the number of permits granted, 7,687 applicants received a residence permit for work reasons in 2018, an increase close to 14% compared to the 6,751 who got this kind of benefit the previous year.
In a press release, the Ministry of the Interior related these changes to the different legislative amendments introduced by the previous Government in order "to make it easier for entrepreneurs and for experts to move to Finland, and thereby promote economic growth and employment".
In search for international talent
"The basic premise is that, in addition to the domestic workforce, Finland needs employees also from abroad. There is intense competition in the world for international talents", declared Jorma Vuorio, Director General of the Migration Department of the Ministry of the Interior.
In this sense, one of the goals of the Finnish Government is to make the the residence permit system "as smooth as possible so as not to complicate the recruitment of talents to Finland". A preliminary study commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior last year looked into the causes of delays in the process and into what could be done to address them. This spring will see the appointment of a coordination group, which among other tasks will coordinate the development of the work permits processing.
The Finnish Government considers that the migration process "has also been made easier" for students and researchers. Following a legislative amendment that entered into force in September 2018, the duration of residence permits of researchers and students from non-EU countries was extended, and these groups are encouraged to take up employment and entrepreneurship with a relevant residence permit.
In addition, in March 2019 the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of the Interior launched a cooperation project to support the entry and integration of higher education students.
Decline in the number of asylum seekers
The study by the Ministry of the Interior also remarks that beneficiaries of international protection represent now "a relatively small percentage of people moving", despite this group of migrants being a prominent topic for public debate. In fact, the number of new asylum seekers arrived in the country has fallen below the level seen before 2015.
In total, 4,548 applications for asylum were filed last year. Of them, a record percentage of 47% were for renewal. This means that there were only 2,409 asylum seekers in 2018 (see graphic below).
In orange color, number of applications for asylum renewals; in dark blue, number of new applications. Source: Migri.
Although few new asylum seekers arrived in Finland last year, the number of customers enrolled in the reception system has fallen quite slowly. At the end of 2017, about 13,300 customers were enrolled in the reception system and by the end of 2018 there were still around 10,700 customers. A large percentage of them has already received at least one negative asylum decision and they are waiting to appeal or to renew their applications.
The Government says that "the system is still overburdened as the number of clients registered in the reception system is decreasing slowly". The Ministry of the Interior explains that this is affected by the asylum procedure having been prolonged by there having been large numbers of applicants in previous years, the numbers of re-applications submitted, the increased difficulty of returns and the unattractiveness of voluntary returns.
Recent legislative amendments have been introduced to accelerate the asylum procedure and to reduce opportunities to abuse the re-application procedure. A legislative change in force since July 2018 requires now the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) to process asylum applications within six months of their submission, as a general rule.
Negotiations for returns to Iraq and Somalia
On the other hand, during the last year Finland has continued bilateral negotiations with Iraq and Somalia concerning the return of their citizens.
In order to "accelerate" those returns, the Government also increased up to 5,000 euros the support (in the cases of Iraqis, Afghans and Somalis) for assisted voluntary return at the beginning of 2019 as regards as in-kind assistance. This benefits include a variety of services or supplies for those who decide to go back, including help in finding a home or starting a business.
However, the results have not been as expected: the study admits that the number of those who went back home with voluntary return decreased in 2018 compared to previous years. In 2018, a total of 646 people returned to their home countries with voluntary return support. In 2017, there were 1,422 returnees, more than double.
Reforms at EU level
Meanwhile, in the European Union (EU) negotiations towards the reform of the Common European Asylum system have continued. Several issues of the Dublin Regulation relating to themes including solidarity and responsibility-sharing have yet to be solved.
"Reform is difficult but necessary. Border checks currently take place at many borders between Member States, which is against the basic idea of the Schengen Area. It may, however, be difficult to discontinue these checks if the EU cannot reach a common view on Immigration policy", said Jorma Vuorio.
During its Presidency of the Council of the EU beginning in July, Finland will seek to contribute towards breaking the deadlock in the negotiations and promote reform in the asylum system. The measures taken by the next Commision concerning the reform are likely to be known at the end of the Finnish Presidency at the earliest.
If you want to download the whole Migration Review document by the Finnish Government it is available (only in Finnish) HERE