The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) has responded to criticism for the slowness in processing applications for residence permits.
The accumulation of complaints from clients due to poor service has led to the launch of a campaign to collect signatures demanding a comprehensive reform of the immigration agency. The petition is supported not only by immigrants but also by some Finnish organizations and businessmen.
Migri issued a press release on Monday saying that in the first quarter of 2021 the median processing time for work-based residence permits halved compared to 2020.
According to the figures published by the agency, the median processing time for "all work-based first residence permits" was 37 days between January and March of this year, while in 2020 the median processing time was 70 days.
The median processing time means that at least half of the applicants have received their decision in 37 days or under. However, Migri stresses that "there are many different types of work-based residence permits and their processing times vary."
Most of the work-based first residence permit applications are for employees. "This permit is for chefs, cleaners and construction workers, for example," the immigration agency emphasizes.
An employee's residence permit is issued in two stages. In the first, the Employment and Economic Development Office (TE Office) gives a partial decision and establishes whether the employment is temporary or permanent, and whether there is an available labour force within a reasonable time in Finland or within the EU for the work in question. In the second stage, the Migri makes its decision.
First residence permits
In 2020, a record number of first residence permit applications for employees was accepted, 4,504 up from 3,827 in 2019. The median processing time of the permit in 2020 was 107 days. This year, the median processing time between January and March was 57 days, according to Migri's data.
“We have had several new employees starting in January–March, and although training these employees takes time, the positive impact of the new recruitments has already been reflected in the number of decisions processed”, says Anna Hyppönen, Head of Branch.
According to Migri, the target processing time for employees’ residence permits by 2023 is one month.
'Fast track' for specialists, startups
The target of the Finnish Immigration Service for this year is to process specialists’, startup entrepreneurs’ and their family members’ applications in two weeks.
Migri suggests that this objective is feasible if the average processing time for these groups is observed: 15 days for specialists, 14 days for entrepreneurs and 14 days for researchers from January to March this year. However, the complaints made by some members of these groups on social networks suggest that the objective is still far from being real. Or at least, the immigration agency is far from satisfying everyone.“The situation in the processing of the applications of top-level experts is good. The processing of specialists’ first residence permit is already partly automated and the development work in this area continues. We will also introduce a fast track service, which means a faster than usual application service for specialists and startup entrepreneurs”, Hyppönen says.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the number of specialists’ residence permit applications has decreased substantially. Last year, the number of specialists applying for a first residence permit was 853, down from 1,791 in 2019. In January–March 2021, a first residence permit application was submitted by 279 specialists.
Specialists include IT specialists and employees with university degrees who arrive in Finland for employment that requires highly skilled professional workforce.
The most common reasons for people moving to Finland are work, family and studies.
Migri admits that while the processing times for work residence permits have been shortened, "the processing of certain permits is experiencing a backlog."
This could be the case of residence permits for study, which are not mentioned in the press release of the immigration agency.