Finland's harsher approach to immigration policy has been reflected in a sharp rise in deportations in 2019. According to new figures from the Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, the agency issued deportation orders for 1,963 persons holding Finnish residence permits last year – an increase of nearly 80 percent over 2018.
The numbers reflect a lower threshold for deporting immigrants who either get residence permits by providing false information, who are convicted for criminal offences or who don't have the means to support themselves.
One factor behind the abrupt rise in deportations is Migri’s decision to deport 333 Uzbek nationals, the majority of whom had secured jobs at construction sites using forged training certificates.
Yle reported in the Uzbek cases in July last year. Immigration officials who screened their permit applications had accepted the training certificates, which were from a non-existent Soviet-era vocational college. The fraud came to light only after a whistleblower exposed it.
Because the Uzbeks had no legal right to their work permits, they were deported for illegally living in Finland. The case was considered exceptional in part because there are so few other Uzbeks in the country.
Closer scrutiny of foreign citizens
Another factor behind the high deportation numbers is the fact that Migri has stepped up oversight of foreigners living in Finland, according to guidance from the centre-right Juha Sipilä government, which held office in 2015-19.
Closer monitoring has helped uncover cases in which foreigners have received residency on the basis of sham marriages or where foreigners who have received a permit on the basis of marriage to a Finn have either left the country or divorced.
"We check the population registry data to see whether or not the customer is still married. In the case of sham marriages, we sometimes get tips from neighbours," Migri unit director Olli Koskipirtti said.
In addition to divorce, Migri may deny a new residence permit in cases where foreigners have either lost their jobs, terminated their studies or have been convicted of a crime.
Ville Punto, a lawyer specialising in immigration matters, said that Finland’s residence permit policies became significantly stricter following a decision to transfer responsibility for continuing residence permits from police to Migri in 2017. He said it also reflects closer scrutiny of immigrants' income in Finland.
"For the police, it had been sufficient that people weren't entirely dependent on social services," Punto added.
The lawyer now deals with clients who are facing deportation merely due to an increase in their daily unemployment allowance, even if another family member is employed or runs a business. Punto said that similar kinds of appeals are being heard by regional administrative authorities across the country.
"There are families with children who have been born in Finland or who are already in primary school here. They are fully integrated and speak Finnish, but based on their incomes they are told that they have to leave the country," he outlined.
Meanwhile Migri has declared that reviewing income levels is part of the process of considering continuing residence applications. If a family is large, business income from one family member would not necessarily be enough to support the entire family, it says.
Differences between police and Migri
Immigration officials also stepped up deportations of persons convicted of criminal offences in 2019. Last year 234 such deportation orders were issued, up by nearly one-third on 2018 figures.
Normally police set the wheels in motion to deport persons found guilty of crimes, while Migri makes the decision to deport them. Police propose deportations entirely on the basis of the crime committed, but Migri said it looks into other aspects of an individual’s life.
"We also consider factors that would allow the person to stay in Finland, such as the length of time they have spent here, whether or not they have family ties, whether or not they are studying, working, how young they were when they came here and the situation in their home country," Koskipirtti explained.
Over the course of two years, Migri approved nearly half of deportation orders requested by police. According to Inspector Mia Poutanen of the National Police Board, the tougher line is deliberate.
"For years we have stressed that police have a low threshold for requesting deportations. That way we can prevent repeat offences," she said.
Police almost always propose deportations in cases where the individual is found guilty of a crime for which the maximum sentence is at least one year in prison. Such offences include theft, drug violations and sexual abuse. Even if the court does not impose the sentence, it is enough that the penalty is prescribed by law.
Migri however said that it endorses deportation if the offence is aggravated. "If someone has been in Finland for a long time and is only found guilty of the basic offence, we often decide against deportation," Koskipirtti noted.
Deportations not implemented right away
A deportation order does not necessarily mean immediate departure from Finland. Proposed deportees usually have 30 days to appeal the decision in an administrative court, which usually hands down a ruling about one year after the deportation decision.
A lot can happen during that time. Many immigrants may get a new job, marry or find another basis for a residence permit. According to Koskipirtti, some deportation decisions are rescinded because circumstances have changed during the appeal period.
If a deportation is crime-related however, the order is implemented more rapidly. Police can return a foreigner convicted of a crime committed in Finland one month after the deportation order is issued, even if the individual appeals the decision.