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Finnish Immigration Service allows for cheap labour

Counter to labour laws, the Finnish Immigration Service considers housing allowances and per diem payments as part of the salary paid to foreign experts who come to Finland to work. A recent case of foreign experts being paid substantially less than Finnish employees came to light two weeks ago when the Regional State Administrative Agency called out Nokia for wage discrimination -- several non-Finnish employees were being paid monthly salaries as low as 750 euros.

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When Migri, the Finnish Immigration Service, grants residence permits for foreign experts to work in Finland, it also approves daily allowances and housing benefits.

Anna Hyppönen, division head for Migri, says that a monetary salary must be given to a worker.

"Benefits can't replace a monetary salary, but in addition to a salary there can be per diem payments," she says.

But Migri does consider per diem payments and housing benefits as part of a salary.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment believes that Migri's practice is problematic.

Olli Sorainen, the Ministry's legal counsellor, says "If the message to employees and employers is that part of a salary to a foreign expert can be paid with per diems -- so that the actual salary is below acceptable levels -- that can lead to serious issues with other agencies such as the tax authority and occupational health and safety."

Sorainen says that if a significant amount of a salary is paid as per diem payments, then the actual salary is so low that it is not comparable to what an expert should be paid.

If that's the case, he asks, Is the practice being used to intentionally circumvent checks?

Specialist resident permits are popular among professionals in the IT industry. They are convenient as authorities do not need to justify whether a job opening requires a worker with special skills from outside the EU. While the recommended monthly salary should be at least 3,000 euros, that sum can include benefits.

In the case of Nokia, which was caught out two weeks ago for paying foreign experts working in Finland salaries as low as 750 euros a month, all of the permits appear to have gone through and been approved by Migri.

In 2015 Migri granted 985 resident permits for experts working in Finland, which was 168 less than in 2014.

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