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Expert criticises “panic-induced” family reunification law changes

University of Eastern Finland researcher Anna-Maria Tapaninen has strongly criticized the recent parliamentary decision to support the government’s tougher legislation on foreigners in Finland. She says previous amendments to Finland’s Aliens Act were already strict, and that the new changes were an unnecessary, panic-induced decision.

Maahanmuuttoviraston myötämiä asiakirjoja
Image: Kare Lehtonen / Yle

Anna-Maria Tapaninen, a university researcher specialising in family reunification and immigration policy, has criticised recent tightened amendments to Finland’s laws concerning family reunification for foreigners. She says the impact of stifling changes made to the law just a few years ago have not even been evaluated yet.

Legislation on family reunification in Finland was already strict before the changes the parliament approved on June 22 were made. Conditions were tightened in 2010 and 2012, for example, making the submission of the family reunification forms much more difficult.

“At the time, people said that we’ll monitor the impact of the tougher requirements. And the effects have been clearly visible, dramatically so. Asylum applications from family members of persons who had received international protection dropped by 70 percent after the new law entered into force, and the proportion of negative decisions grew. They have now tightened a law that was already tight enough,” said Tapaninen.

Tapaninen said the previous amendments had already made family reunification prohibitively difficult, but the new decision to increase net income requirements makes it virtually impossible for families with limited finances.

Net income requirement unreasonable

The Finnish Immigration Service now requires that asylum recipients and quota refugees prove they have a net income of 2,600 euros per month, for example, if they wish to have a spouse and two children join them in Finland. This net income requirement includes state benefits granted for children and housing, but precludes income support, which cannot be used to support a family.

The new income requirement also applies to refugee children who have arrived in Finland without a guardian.

Before the vote, 17 NGOs including the Finnish Red Cross protested the move, saying it requires a level of income that even most Finnish adults cannot reach.

Three-month deadline

The income requirement is not enforced, however, for asylum recipients whose family members submit their family reunification applications within three months of the asylum decision.

“The applicants must possess a lot of capital to handle all the bureaucracy involved: they have to hire a lawyer, communicate with the embassy and complete their DNA testing within the three-month deadline. Very few of them are able to embark on a project like this,” said Tapaninen.

The non-governmental organisations that protested the June 22 decision also said that three months is an impossibly short time for application proceedings.

“Due to the limited resources of the embassies, receiving an appointment to submit the form can take months. For example, Syrians must take a difficult and perilous trip to Turkey, to the Finnish embassy in Ankara, whereas people from Afghanistan must travel to New Delhi, India,” their joint press release stated.

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