On 21 January, Finnish parliament member Olli Immonen stated in his blog that “Finland currently has the loosest asylum policy in the Nordic countries when it comes to, for example, family reunification.” Our research shows that norms and practices related to asylum policies are so complex that it is not possible to make a reliable comparison between countries.
Immigration is a big point of discussion in Europe and will likely be an important theme for the upcoming EU election. According to the Eurobarometer conducted in 2018, immigration was an important theme for most Finnish responders. According to the same survey, immigration was also an important theme in Finland.
Immonen is a member of the Finns Party. Both he and his party are known for their immigration-critical rhetoric. According to their immigration policy program from 2019, they want to put an end to humanitarian immigration to Finland.
We could not reach Immonen to comment on what sources he based his statement on.
For fact checking we utilized the website of Finnish immigration service MIGRI, an e-mail interview with the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre and also reports by the immigration services of the countries compared as well as their websites.
Because Immonen used family reunification as an example of Finland having the loosest refugee policy in the Nordic countries, we will be focusing on family reunification regulations specifically. We did not compare the entire asylum policies which would have been too vast a task.
Because family reunification is an extremely broad and multifaceted subject, we focused on the most comparable and simultaneously relevant areas. These are, for example, income requirements and residence permit applications and their processing times. The criteria used were recommended to us by an expert on the subject.
During our process, we realized that Finland and Sweden have the least restrictive regulations when it comes to family reunification. Iceland, Denmark and Norway have distinctly tighter criteria and regulations. For this reason, we will mainly focus on comparing Finland and Sweden.
The sponsor and the applicant
The sponsor is the family member already in the destination country seeking to bring his or her family over.
In Finland, the sponsor is required to have a valid residence permit at the time of application. Family members that can apply for reunification are spouses, registered partners, cohabiting partners, parents and children under the age of 18.
In Sweden the sponsor must have a permanent residence permit or they must have been granted asylum as a refugee. If the permit of the sponsor is temporary, they are required to be at least 21 years of age and they must have cohabited with the person who they will be living with.
In Denmark the criteria are stricter than in Finland. The sponsor must have lived in the country for a minimum of three years and he or she must have a permanent residence permit and they must also pass two exams in Danish. In Iceland and Norway, the sponsor is required to have lived in the country for a minimum of four years. They must also be able to prove they are either working or studying.
As such, in this regard the criteria in Finland are the least strict.
The age of the applicant is also a relevant question. An underage applicant is defined differently in different countries. In all other Nordic countries with the exception of Denmark, an underage applicant is defined as being under 18 years old. In Denmark an applicant under the age of 15 is considered underage.
When comparing maintenance requirements, we looked at the requirements for households comprising two adults.
In Finland, the required income for two adults is 16 800 euros a year. Some welfare benefits received also counts as income.
In Sweden, in 2019, the required income for two adults is 9 261 euros a year. The income must be work-related, which includes for example pay from work, unemployment benefit, sickness benefit or earnings-related old-age pension. In this regard Finland’s requirements are at least in most cases stricter than Sweden`s.
The residence permit application process
In Finland the one submitting the application must always be the applicant themselves and the applicant must also deliver the application onward by themselves. The application process itself is less strict in Sweden than in Finland. In Sweden, it is possible to ”outsource” the application process to another person by granting them a power of attorney.
The processing time for a residence permit application in Finland is 8 to 9 months. In Iceland it’s at maximum 6 months, in Denmark 10 months and in Norway approximately 20 months. In Sweden the processing time floats between 13 to 21 months.
As such, only Iceland has a shorter processing time than Finland. When researching these approximate waiting times, we used the same sample-applicant, a Syrian applying for reunification with their spouse.
Residence permit granted based on family reunification
In Finland, a successful applicant initially receives a temporary permit typically ranging from 1 to 4 years in length. In Sweden, the initial permit is typically 13 months, but it is technically possible to be granted a permanent residence permit right away.
In Denmark and Norway a successful applicant is typically granted a year-long, temporary permit. In Iceland the length of the granted permit is tied to the length of the permit of the sponsor.
As receiving a permanent residence permit is possible in Sweden right away, their regulations in this regard are more lenient than in Finland.
The factuality of the statement is very hard to prove or disprove. Family reunification regulations and criteria are complicated and there are exceptions and individual differences.
The officials who have looked into the matter have also stated in their reports that direct comparison between the Nordic countries is very difficult.
Based on the criteria we looked into, we came to the conclusion that Immonen’s statement cannot be proved as either fully true or false. We concluded that Finland and Sweden have the least restrictive regulations when it comes to family reunification. However, determining which criteria are the most important is not directly possible.
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