The Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, has come under increasing scrutiny as Finland highlights the need for work-based immigration. So far this year, applicants have had to wait an average of 152 days for work-based residence permits.
When she took office, Prime Minister Sanna Marin declared that the government’s goal was to "ensure rapid and smooth processing of work-based residence permits with an average processing time of one month."
Work-based residence permits require a two-part decision from two government bodies: the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and Migri. The bottleneck lies with Migri, with processing times getting longer from year to year.
Deputy Chancellor calls for action
This year the Deputy Chancellor of Justice reprimanded Migri for repeatedly exceeding processing deadlines and for violating laws that define the maximum processing time for work permits as four months.
"Migri has received them [reprimands] and with good reason. The message is that things are not going well now and something needs to be done," Deputy Chancellor of Justice Mikko Puumalainen said.
Last week the deputy chancellor rapped Migri over the knuckles in a case in which an individual complained that a decision on an application took 15 months rather than the statutory four months.
The case turned on an applicant who sought a work permit as well as international protection in Finland. The delay arose because the agency sought to resolve both pending applications at the same time. On average, processing times for applications for asylum are much longer than applications for work permits.
Puumalainen said this example proves that extended processing times are not only due to a personnel shortage, but also the manner in which permit processing is organised.
"There is a decision-making chain that is not rooted in the law. As a result cases are at a standstill," the deputy chancellor said.
Migri: Many reasons for bottlenecks
Migri’s workers’ residence permit unit director Tuuli Huhtilainen said there are many reasons behind the delayed processing times for workers’ residence permits.
However she said that one major factor has been a considerable increase in applications in recent years.
"At the same time personnel resources have declined. You can only guess what that equation means," Huhtilainen added.
Late last year Migri significantly reduced staff on its payroll, a move that steeply reduced the number of people available to handle residence permits. Huhtilainen said there are currently fewer than 40 people processing work-based residence permits.
The coronavirus epidemic has also resulted in delays for some applicants. The agency said that last spring the Economic Affairs and Employment Ministry called on Migri to prioritise applicants with a nursing background in light of the epidemic situation.
However Huhtilainen said that Migri has taken action to shorten processing times. For example, it has given up the practice of simultaneously processing applications with different grounds for seeking permits.
Automation also on the cards
Hutilainen said that the agency had seen a sharp decline in work-based residence permit applications during the coronavirus crisis. She added however that there would be a delay before the effect would be seen in processing times.
The unit director said that in the future automation would ensure that some applications would be processed by an AI rather than a human, something she said would speed up decision making.
"The system will check whatever can be checked automatically, such as registry information. On that basis it will then make a decision that can be then verified by a human," she explained.
She said that Migri is also awaiting the outcome of the government’s budget talks to see if any additional finding would come its way.
"We need additional resources to process work permits. We will know in the days ahead if we get any," Huhtilainen added.