An EU directive aimed at streamlining procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status will come into force as of 1 July of this year.
The terms of this new asylum procedure regulation sets a time-limit for the examination of applications, in principle six months at the administrative stage. The six month limit can be extended in cases that may hinge on complex legal questions.
It also provides for the possibility to accelerate the processing of applications that are likely to be unfounded.
Current average more than a year
The new time frame will mean a significant change of pace for the Finnish Immigration Service, Migri.
According to Migri, the processing time for asylum applications filed last year was estimated at 16-20 months. There are presently approximately 1,400 people waiting for a decision on their initial applications. Around 100 of those were filed as long ago as in 2016.
Esko Repo, who heads Migri asylum affairs unit, believes however that the new six-month limit can be met.
"We know how many application decisions can be made by a certain sized staff. It's estimated that with present staff the number of pending applications can be handled. That is what we are aiming at," Repo told Yle.
At present, according to Esko Repo, there are a good 250 officials working in Migri's asylum affairs unit, less than half the number employed there in 2016. However, he points out that two years ago the workload was at its peak following a record influx of refugees in 2015.
"The queue was appalling. In 2016, decisions were made on 28,000 applications. Before that crunch, the average processing time was less than five months.
The new six-month time limit being implemented in July will not affect asylum applications that are already under review. Esko Repo says that it is possible that processing these may take even longer if there are increased pressures for the fast resolution of new applications. An effort will be made, though, to ensure that the waiting time for decisions on older applications does not become unreasonably long.