The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) has been granting underage asylum seekers two-year residence permits to stay in the country when they would have been entitled to a four-year permit, according to an Yle investigation. The cases in question concern individuals who entered the country as minors, and are now applying to Migri for a permit extension for the second time, as their two-year term has expired.
Migri is supposed to grant a first-time extension of two years, with four year extensions the norm for the second round of extensions.
Immigration Service unit director Olli Koskipirtti says the confusion was due to ambiguous in-house guidelines.
"The guidelines say that extensions can be granted for one or two years, if the applicant has reached adult age during the period of the previous permit. However they don't say whether the customer is applying for a renewed permit for the first or second time," he says.
Koskipirtti says Migri is taking steps to amend the situation, and will write up clearer instructions in the early autumn. He points out that renewed permits can be granted for shorter periods on other grounds, as well, as things like school performance and criminal records are considered in the permit decisions.
Long processing times lead to restrictions
The authority for granting renewed residence permits in Finland was transferred from the police to the Immigration Service at the start of 2017. Hanna Laari, a lawyer with the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, said that reports of inconsistent and truncated permit extensions began to surface shortly after this. She says she has come across several cases in her work.
The Finnish Immigration Service pays for legal representatives to be appointed for unaccompanied minors that arrive in the country to seek asylum. This representative is responsible for making sure the child's best interests are being considered in different situations.
Finnish law stipulates that the first residence permit issued on the basis of individual humanitarian purposes be valid for one year. Processing of the permits may sometimes drag on for up to a year.
"Young people have to manage without a residence permit card. They are legally in the country because they have a certificate that they have applied for a residence permit, but it is impossible for them to travel and difficult to receive services," says Jukka Kursula, who has worked as legal representative for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers for close to two decades.
Legal reps dropped when applicants turn 18
Laari says the onus is on the legal representatives to make sure that the decisions minors are receiving are in line with the law. Some minors that arrived to Finland in 2015 have had a poor "luck of the draw" in this area, she says. The fact that the legal representative drops out of the picture when the applicant turns 18 is also a problem.
Migri's Koskipirtti says that the processing time for renewed permits is currently in the neighbourhood of four months. The Refugee Advice Centre's Laari says in her experience, the wait is often seven to eight months.