On Friday 8 May the Finnish Government submitted to Parliament a proposal on a temporary amendment to the Aliens Act to extend asylum seeker's right to work. The aim, as explained by the Ministry of the Interior, is "to ensure availability of essential seasonal workers" in agriculture, forestry, horticulture and fisheries.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, border traffic between Finland and other countries is currently limited to essential work-related and other necessary traffic. As a result of the restrictions, the entry of foreign labour has decreased significantly. This makes it challenging to find a sufficient number of workers, especially seasonal workers, in the agriculture, forestry, horticulture and fisheries sectors.
In normal years, some 16,000 seasonal workers arrive in Finland, most of them from Ukraine and Thailand, to be employed in jobs such as picking berries, collecting vegetables and other jobs in farms.
But this year, there will be substantially fewer seasonal workers arriving because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Therefore, there is a risk that farmers could lose their crops, due to the difficulty of finding local labor for these types of jobs.
"For this reason, we also need to find ways to employ a range of domestic and foreign workers who are already in Finland for critical tasks. In its negotiations on 6 May, the Government decided on measures to ensure the availability of seasonal labour needed in agriculture and horticulture," the Government explained in a press release.
Waiting periods temporarily abolished
The reform mainly consists of the temporary abolition of the waiting periods for asylum seekers for taking up employment.
Under the current Aliens Act, an asylum seeker has the right to look for paid work three or six months after submitting an application, depending on whether he or she has a valid travel document or not.
The abolishment of the waiting periods would apply to asylum seekers who are waiting for a decision concerning international protection either from the Finnish Immigration Service or from an administrative court at the time of the entry into force of the temporary act.
Under the amendment, the time left in the waiting period would be set aside for those asylum seekers where the three- to six-month waiting period for their applications has not yet expired. In other words, they can start working immediately as seasonal workers.
Work as long as they are in the country
In addition, asylum seekers could temporarily continue working longer than at present in the above-mentioned sectors. Under the current Aliens Act, asylum seekers’ right to work ends when a decision requiring them to leave Finland that is connected to a negative asylum decision becomes enforceable.
However, the new amendment would allow asylum seekers, despite an enforceable removal decision, to continue working while they are in the country due to the emergency conditions and receive reception services.
The temporary act is scheduled to enter into force as soon as possible. It will remain in force until 31 October 2020.