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Prepaid cards making life and work easier for asylum seekers in Finland

About 3,000 asylum seekers in Finland receive their allowances and salaries on prepaid cards, which makes everyday life in Finland much easier for them. However, there are some significant limitations about how the cardholders are allowed to use them.

Mohammad Javid
Mohammad Javid receives his wages on a prepaid card. Image: Markku Pitkänen / Yle

About 3,000 asylum seekers in Finland receive their reception allowance and salaries sent electronically to a personal payment card, following a successful trial by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri).

In Migri's trial, which started in late 2015, asylum seekers able to prove their identity to a sufficient degree are paid their monthly reception allowance on a prepaid Moni card, rather than through a bank. 

Mohammad Javid from Afghanistan says he has been satisfied with getting payment through his card.

"Asylum seekers who do not have a prepaid card have to resort to a middleman to get their wages. For example, the employer pays the salary to a bank account of a Finnish friend who then hands over the money to the asylum seeker," says Javid who has been in Finland for two years. 

He also says employers are not keen to pay the workers in cash, because deducting social security and tax contributions would create extra paper work for them.

The staff at reception centres is also pleased as the transfer of money using the prepaid cards is easier, quicker and safer.

"We have 500 asylum seekers in our reception centre in Nihtisilta, so distributing 91.25 euros to each of them in cash once a month would be quite the project," says Marika Salovaara from social and healthcare services company Luona, which operates some asylum seeker reception centres in the country.

Limits to the prepaid card use

Asylum seekers can use the prepaid cards to pay in shops and restaurants in Finland, but online purchases and bill payments are off-limits.

"If I want to buy a membership card for a gym, the payment must go through my Finnish friend’s account," Javid says. 

In addition, the transactions made using the prepaid cards are not private.

"The reception centre can see all the purchases I make, where I go for coffee and so on," he adds.

Migri considers the trial a success and says it plans to give prepaid cards to all asylum seekers in the future.

One billion people without official identity

According to the United Nations, there are over one billion people without official identity in the world.

Many of them are refugees, undocumented or stateless people, who have no means of proving who they are.

As a result, they are unable to open bank accounts, access healthcare, receive education or vote in elections.

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