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Gov’t suggests drastic changes to immigration policy, experts say proposals unconstitutional

Finland’s government announced plans for tightening the country’s immigration policy on Friday. Among other things, the government wants to assess the option of transferring people who have been granted asylum away from the sphere of residence-based social assistance to a new bespoke ‘integration programme’. They also seek to cut the amount of money asylum seekers receive.

Turvapaikanhakijoita Kemin vastaanottokeskuksessa
Asylum seekers in a Kemi reception centre. Image: Lehtikuva

Finland’s government is planning to tighten Finnish immigration policy. They say their objective is to get skyrocketing immigration under control. A list of some of the proposed measures follows.

  • Launch an immediate evaluation seeking to lower the amount of reception funds asylum seekers are entitled to.
  • Explore whether it is possible to change the system of state support so asylum seekers would not fall under the sphere of residence-based social assistance any longer, but instead be assigned to a separate ’integration programme’ of their own.
  • Lower the basic level of financial support asylum seekers receive in the integration programme below the current residence-based system levels.
  • Consider introduction of a notification obligation for labour authorities, to ensure that asylum seekers are not in fact living elsewhere while they are receiving support.
  • Enact a notification obligation whereby foreigners who have relied on social assistance for long periods are reported to the Finnish Immigration Service.
  • Adopt internal border controls in the Schengen Area, including limited spot checks, as an active option.
  • Demand shipping companies check the necessary entry documents to Finland in connection with the sale of passenger tickets, just as when travelling by air.
  • Inform the countries of origin of the potential changes to Finland’s immigration policy.
  • Boost the resources of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service to combat terrorism.
  • Tighten criteria for reuniting families.
  • Speed up the deportation of perpetrators of serious crimes, repeat offenders and persons deemed a threat to public order originating from outside the EU.

At the same time the government is looking to cut state funding and services to asylum seekers, they plan to invest in measures to encourage faster integration.

  • Ensure asylum seekers have quick access to language training and other integration-supporting measures in their journey towards acquiring their own livelihood.
  • Ensure local TE-Offices that assist Finnish residents to find employment are prepared for increasing number of clients and make sure immigrants have access to their services. 
  • Make certain that all asylum seekers that have been granted a residence permit participate in integration measures. This decision cannot be left to the asylum seekers to decide; rather it must ultimately be a condition for receiving social assistance.
  • Arrange sufficient Finnish and Swedish language instruction at asylum seeker reception centres.
  • Monitor inter-ethnic relations, as part of the “zero tolerance for racism” government programme.

Legal experts weigh in

Experts in Finnish constitutional law Tuomas Ojanen and Juha Lavapuro denounced the government proposals in their blog on Friday, saying the outlined changes to immigration policy contain blatant, insurmountable constitutional problems.

Tuomas Ojanen is professor of constitutional law at the University of Helsinki and Juha Lavapuro works at as associate professor at Tampere University. Together they write a blog on constitutional law.

They take as an example the government proposal to introduce a separate and lower system of social assistance for asylum seekers that sidelines the social benefits all Finnish residents are entitled to.

The legal experts point out that the idea is in direct opposition to the Finnish Constitution, as well as several human rights conventions. According to their interpretation, the Articles of the Finnish Constitution leave no leeway for creating a separate, weaker form of basic social assistance for asylum seekers, who once they have been granted a residence permit, are in Finland legally and entitled to every benefit other legal foreign residents enjoy.

Ojanen and Lavapuro wonder whether Finnish lawmakers learned anything in their unsuccessful bid to push through social welfare and health care reform last term. They say the government should know better than to run up against constitutional law once again.

“It is in no way sustainable that the government is almost daily introducing new proposals and policies that are immediately shown to have serious problems in light of Finland’s international legal obligations and constitutional law. There’s no sense in ‘taking steps’ in any direction, if they are only prone to stumble,” they write.

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