The new Act on Residence-based Social Security in Cross-Border Situations, which will take effect on 1 April 2019, will have consequences for persons moving to Finland from another country and also for the residents of the country who move temporarily outside. The main changes will affect the length of the period that social benefits can be maintained.
The right to social security benefits in Finland can be based on residence or employment. And according to the information published by the Finnish Social Security Institution (Kela), the changes introduced in the law that will take effect in April affect the benefits based on residency.
Those affected benefits include the sickness allowance and reimbursements for prescription drug expenses, the child benefit, the general housing allowance, and the pensions available from Kela. They do not affect such benefits as social assistance or financial aid for students.
Shorter time limit on residence outside Finland
If you are a beneficiary of the Finnish social security system and are thinking of leaving the country for a while, pay attention to the legal changes: until now, it has been possible to live temporarily abroad for up to one year and not have it affect one’s right to Kela benefits. But with the new Act this time limit will now be reduced to six months, with certain exceptions. So the right to benefits is retained only if one intends to stay abroad for six months or less.
The exception is employment in another EU or EEA country. In that case even a short period of employment in these countries will disqualify one for residence-based benefits, Kela remarks.
As for persons staying in another EU or EEA country for reasons other than employment, that could be for example the case of pensioners, Kela will determine their country of residence in consultation with the other country involved.
Even a short period of residence outside Finland can have consequences for eligibility for Kela benefits. Benefit recipients who move abroad must tell Kela in advance about the duration and purpose of their residence abroad, which will allow Kela to check whether the change of residence has any consequences for the payment of benefits.
There are also certain groups of persons will retain their right to benefits beyond six months even after the new Act has become effective. Those include employees who are posted abroad, researchers and development aid workers, who can retain their right to benefits for up to five years, depending on their country of destination.
Students attending a full-time educational programme abroad will remain eligible for benefits for the duration of their studies.
Employees and students arriving in Finland
After 1 April 2019, incoming foreign workers will qualify for Kela benefits if they earn at least 696.60 euros per month (as of 2019). The right to benefits will no longer depend on the duration of the employment or the number of hours of work per week. Kela will consult the national incomes register for salary information.
Further, persons who have worked in Finland for at least six months can retain their right to benefits for up to three months after they stop working or work fewer hours.
The new Act also has consequences for the status of students arriving in Finland. They can qualify for health insurance benefits and certain residence-based benefits. This requires that they move to Finland on a permanent basis. Students who come to Finland for a short period of time, for example one academic year, will not be eligible for benefits.
Decisions on social security coverage
Kela will no longer issue a separate decision on social security coverage in Finland for persons arriving in Finland or moving abroad. Instead, Kela will check their right to benefits if they move to another country or when they first claim benefits after moving. However, persons moving abroad will be issued a decision if they so request.
Kela informs the affected individuals of the consequences of their change of residence as soon as it learns of it either from the population register system or is notified by the individuals themselves. For this purpose, Kela is adopting two new customer service letters aimed respectively at customers who currently receive and those who do not receive benefit payments.
Anyone moving abroad can use Kela’s electronic service to check the information on file concerning their residence in Finland or abroad, which is used by Kela to review their entitlement to residence-based social benefits.