Authorities in Finland are preparing for a high number of family reunification applications in the next few years, as record numbers of asylum applications are granted. So far this year, some 30,000 people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa have arrived seeking asylum.
The asylum process for the people who have arrived in Finland this year will wrap up some time next summer and immigration officials expect to see an increase in family reunification requests once refugees settle in. Records show that asylum seekers tend to file applications for an average of three family members to join them in Finland.
However the government is moving to ensure that it further regulates the system for granting family reunifications. In addition to tighter regulations introduced over the past few years, the government will add new rules from next year. The Interior Ministry is currently working on legislation to ensure that refuges who bring their families to Finland have the means to support them financially, as well as in integrating into Finnish society.
The government aims to circulate a draft bill for commenting early next year, before bringing it before MPs next spring. The goal is to ensure that the new regulations are in place by the time the current group of asylum seekers begins to file family reunification applications. The regulations will also bring Finnish practices in line with already stringent European Union directives on the matter.
The following are the main areas that the draft legislation will address:
Applicant must have a job
At the moment persons living in Finland with a residence permit must have a certain income before they can have their families join them. The Interior Ministry’s bill will likely expand the requirement to include refugees who apply for family reunification. This would mean that a family with two children would need a minimum net monthly income of 2,600 euros. If the arriving spouse has no job lined up in Finland, the income requirement would apply to the single applicant. The applicant may also need to prove that he or she has health insurance.
Applicant must have a home
Family reunification applicant may in future have to prove that they have a home in Finland. In the event that the application meets the minimum income requirement, this would hardly pose a problem
Applicant must live in Finland a certain number of years
In future officials may require applicants to have spent a minimum length of time in Finland before bringing family members to join them. The EU directive recommends a period of two years.
Applicant must speak Finnish
The Ministry may want applicants to prove that they are actively involved in integration programmes, however it has not yet defined what it means by integration as it relates to family reunification. At the very least it will mean some kind of Finnish competence and may involve an oral or written test.
Applicant’s arriving family members may also be required to speak Finnish
The EU’s directive on family reunification may also make it necessary for arriving family members to prove that they have some competence in the Finnish language.
No decisions yet
According to senior inspector Tuuli Tuunanen of the Interior Ministry’s immigration unit, the proposed measures are just that – proposals up for consideration. No decisions have yet been made.
For example the ministry is well aware of the improbability of family members coming from Iraq or Syria being able to meet the Finnish language requirement.
"It’s highly unlikely that this would end up in the regulations," Tuunanen said.
However it’s more likely that the minimum income requirement would be implemented. Tuunanen said that she understood that meeting the requirement would be very difficult for some groups of asylum seekers, which is exactly what the government is hoping.
"Our mandate is to tighten the criteria. This is also written into the government programme. How much tighter they will be is what we will be considering," she added.