One-in-four Finnish women married to Iraqi nationals will see their spouses' applications for Finnish residence permits rejected, according to the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) data. However, Thai women married to Finnish men are almost always granted residence permits.
According to Migri's data, many Finnish-Iraqi couples have had their spouses' applications for residence permits turned down in recent months.
In 2017, Finnish officials ruled on residence permit applications requested by Iraqi men with Finnish wives. Officials denied the applications in 34 or 27 percent of those cases.
So far in 2018, Migri officials appear to have maintained the same rigour. By the beginning of March, officials had ruled on 39 cases, turning down 19 applications, or nearly half.
Since 2015, one-in-four marriage-based residence permit applications lodged by Iraqi men with Finnish wives have been rejected.
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The number of unions between Finnish women and Iraqi men has been on the rise -– in 2015, Iraqi men were the ninth most popular husbands for Finnish women, but by 2016, they outranked all other nationalities as husbands of Finnish women.
Migri's data for March shows a dramatic hardening of the agency’s approach to dealing with young Iraqi adults seeking asylum over the years.
It is possible that that strictness has spilled over into the residence permit process.
Men face tougher time getting permits
Iraqi men are not the only group of non-Finnish husbands who are often confronted with denials when they apply for residence permits. Statistics show that overall, men have a more difficult time receiving residence permits than women.
Between 2015 and 2018 on average 13.5 percent of male applicants were denied residence permits compared to six percent of female applicants.
Migri inspector general Sanna Helariutta said she was surprised by the numbers.
“This is completely new for me. I don’t know what’s behind this. Gender can never be a determining factor in this process and the criteria are the same for everyone. But perhaps this shows that residence permit applications with asylum seeker backgrounds are men,” she commented.
Lapland University researcher Laura Tarvainen said research suggests that the asylum seeker process appears to favour women.
“My guess is that this is about the same thing. Women are seen as more vulnerable and weaker and therefore more entitled to protection,” said Tarvainen, who studies refugee rights.
Nationals from Gambia, Nigeria, Vietman rejected most often
Relatively speaking, apart from Iraqi men, male spouses hailing from Gambia, Nigeria and Vietnam receive the highest number of residence permit rejections, and such decisions rise well above the average for other groups.
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Tarvainen said that she was not surprised by these findings.
“For one reason or another, some newcomers are considered more trustworthy than others. I have seen this in my own research,” she remarked.
She said one reason could be applicants' way of explaining themselves to Finnish authorities in interviews related to their applications.
“The narrative may begin in distant childhood and suddenly jump to the present. Even this kind of deviation from what is expected can have an impact,” she explained.
According to data reviewed by Yle, the countries that head up the list of the highest number of rejections are not affected by gender.
All the same, the authorities seem to take an equally dim view of male spouses from the countries whose nationals Finnish women most often marry, such as Gambia, Iraq, Morocco and Turkey.
Easier for Finnish men to bring spouses home
In Finland, men are only slightly more likely than Finnish women to marry someone from abroad. The clear favourites for Finnish men are wives from Thailand or Russia.
Since 2015, nearly 1,000 Thai women have joined their husbands in Finland and only four percent of them have been denied a residence permit. Among Russian brides, meanwhile, just two percent have not been granted a permit to reside permanently in the country.
In other words, it is easier for a Finnish man to have his foreign spouse join him to live together than it is for a Finnish woman to do the same.
“Is it so that if a young Iraqi man marries an older Finnish woman it is a fake union? But on the other hand, if old Finnish men can marry young Thai women, it is ok and credible? Now that does sound rather patriarchal,” Tarvainen responded.