Potential solutions investigated to address the situation of individuals with no right of residence
The Ministry of the Interior has completed an investigation into a statutory amendment that would allow a residence permit and alien’s passport to be issued to applicants whose lack of a travel document is the sole impediment to granting the permit. The same project also investigated other potential solutions to address the situation of individuals who have remained in Finland for an extended period with no right of residence.
These investigations are part of a comprehensive package that seeks to prevent social exclusion and the emergence of a parallel society. The aim is to reduce the risks that living with no right of residence poses to individuals and to society. The background is the national Action Plan for the Prevention of Irregular Entry and Stay, which has been updated for the period from 2021 to 2024 in accordance with the Government Programme.
The starting point requires individuals with no right to stay in Finland to leave the country, primarily on a voluntary basis. The measures proposed in the investigation report will not modify this basic policy. A mere policy of return is nevertheless insufficient under current circumstances, as cooperation with countries of origin does not always work as intended.
“Undocumented migration is not something that will disappear of its own accord, and further solutions are also needed in addition to the policy of return. It is these solutions that we have now investigated,” explains Krista Mikkonen, Minister of the Interior.
Margin of discretion proposed for travel document requirement
The investigation concerning the issuance of an alien’s passport reflects an entry in the Government Programme promoting more flexible access to workers’ residence permits for unsuccessful asylum-seekers who have secured employment.
The ability of applicants to prove their identity with a reliable travel document is a basic condition for obtaining a residence permit. The inability of an applicant to present a valid national passport has been an impediment to issuing a permit in some cases. Obtaining such a document can be difficult, especially if the individual’s country of origin has no diplomatic or consular mission in Finland, as it is not possible to travel to another mission or to the country of origin without the required documentation.
The investigation report proposes that a residence permit and an alien’s passport could be issued to an individual who satisfies all of the conditions for issuing a residence permit in Finland, other than the travel document requirement. This would enable individuals to travel, obtain the national passport of their own country of origin, and prove their identity when subsequently applying for an extended permit in Finland.
The principle of equal treatment could also justify not assigning a special status to rejected asylum applicants by limiting the scope of the new provision to these applicants alone. Individuals in similar circumstances would thereby not be treated differently depending on the type of permit requested or on any prior application process. The ability to set aside the travel document requirement could likewise justifiably apply to all residence permit applications filed in Finland, and not only to those based on work.
Residence of a specified group could be regularised at a stroke
The report on potential solutions addressing the situation of individuals with no right of residence includes a preliminary reflection on the cases of individuals who applied for asylum in 2015–2016 and have remained in Finland for a prolonged period with no right of residence. The report examines the conditions under which their residence could justifiably be regularised, and how this would be achieved. This work draws on solutions applied in other European countries, such as Sweden, Norway, Germany and Ireland.
It is difficult to amend current provisions of the Aliens Act to address the situation of this heterogeneous target group while responding to the challenges of the future. A separate act providing a non-recurrent solution for a specified group has therefore been considered.
This target group could comprise individuals who sought asylum in Finland on or before 31 December 2016 and are still residing in Finland with no residence permit when the act enters into force. It would also be possible to restrict the target group to families with children. The procedure would be time-limited, for example enabling residence permit applications to be filed during a 6-month window of opportunity. The conditions for issuing such a permit could be that the individual has remained in Finland almost continuously after submitting an asylum application and has not committed any criminal offence.
It is estimated that fewer than 3,000 people residing in Finland originally sought asylum in 2015–2016 or earlier, and are either still in the asylum system or for whom the latest legally final refusal has been issued recently. About ten per cent of these individuals are children living in Finland with their parents.
Government to decide further measures
Individuals with no residence permit are in danger of social exclusion, either drifting into criminality or at risk of being exploited by criminals and even becoming victims of human trafficking. A clearly defined and readily applied, non-recurrent regularisation measure could benefit these individuals and society as a whole.
“In Ireland, for example, a regularisation programme is currently under way that enables a residence permit to be issued, under certain conditions, to families of children who have lived in the country for more than three years with no residence permit, and who have otherwise been undocumented for more than four years. This kind of non-recurrent regularisation would be a humane solution that recognises the vulnerable position of the undocumented. It would also be in the interests of the government and society as a whole to reduce the grey economy and the abuse of labour,” Minister Mikkonen explains.
“The Government has jointly recognised the problematic status of the undocumented, but if support for a non-recurrent regularisation proves insufficient, then relief will have to be sought in some other way. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is currently preparing a government proposal on healthcare for the undocumented. Ensuring the status of undocumented children is a matter of particular urgency,” the Minister says.
The investigations now completed were prepared at the Ministry of the Interior. Key public authorities were consulted in these preparations, together with other specialists and participants such as civic organisations. The Government will decide on any further preparatory measures.
Jutta Gras, Senior Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 29 548 8650, [email protected]
Kukka Krüger, Chief Specialist, tel. +358 29 548 8270, [email protected]
Tiina Kivinen, Special Adviser, tel. +358 50 566 1922, [email protected] (requests to interview Minister Mikkonen)