Finland’s Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that it intends to roll out a pilot project whereby family reunification claims for applicants from the Middle East will be handled at its embassy in the Turkish capital, Ankara.
The ministry said that the trial will begin at Finland's Turkish embassy in November and December. Immigration authorities are expecting up to 17,000 family reunification applications this year.
The ministry said that it is trialing the services in Turkey because Ankara embassy staff are unable to cope with the growing number of family reunification applications. In addition to applicants from Turkey, the embassy also processes applications from Iraqis in Finland.
"We don’t have enough resources. We are receiving many more applications than before," said head of consular services Pasi Tuominen.
Ancillary services to be handled by external provider
Actual processing duties will be outsourced to VFS Global, a specialist that provides visa and passport issuing services for governments and diplomatic missions. The company has had the Finnish government as a client for years and has offered its services at visa centres in Russia, Ukraine and Thailand.
The ministry said however that external service providers will not have discretionary or decision-making power. However they will assist in areas such as providing general guidance to applicants, setting up appointments, collecting fees, receiving family reunification applications and feeding data into the system, collecting biometric identifiers, photographing applicants and taking sample signatures among other duties.
"In this way embassy officials will have enough time to process the applications. So we will focus on core matters," Tuominen added.
Official: Faster processing times for applicants
Ministry officials believe that the pilot means good news for clients – migrants trying to bring their families to join them in Finland.
"What we are aiming for is that people will be able to file an application and secure an interview in a faster timetable."
While the application process will likely pick up pace, it will also become more expensive. Currently persons applying for reunification with their families must pay a processing fee of 455 euros per adult and 230 euros per child. In the future they will also have to pay an additional VFS Global processing fee estimated at up to 30 euros per visa application.
Tuominen observed that preparations for the pilot would set the ministry back "hundreds of thousands of euros". He added that officials expected application fees to cover the cost of the trial.