Kenya-born Michael Kiriama moved to Finland to study in 2005. He has now worked as a cleaner for four years after failing to find work as a cabinetmaker.Kitchen assistants, office workers and warehouse workers.

These are examples of occupational groups whose members may be denied entry to the country if authorities in Uusimaa determine that there is already a sufficient number of unemployed job-seekers in the sector in question.

Last year, a total of 650 applicants were denied an employment-based residence permit as a result of this so-called labour availability consideration process. Statistics compiled by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) also indicate that a positive decision was granted to roughly 2,400 applicants.

The process allows authorities to cite the number of unemployed job-seekers as grounds for denying employment-based residence permits to applicants arriving in Finland from outside the European Union even if they have been offered a position by a local employer. Therefore, the vacancy must be filled with an applicant who is already a resident of the country.

The process is not applied to expert positions. In Uusimaa, it also does not concern health care professionals, restaurant and catering workers, domestic workers as well as office, hotel and industrial cleaners. On the other hand, waiters as well as pizza and kebab chefs fall within the purview of the process.

The occupations excluded from the consideration process may vary according to region.

Companies affected by labour shortage have questioned the merits of the process.

“It's a continuing challenge,” bemoans Visa Myllyntaus, the head of human resources at Lassila & Tikanoja. He reveals that after seeing virtually all of its applications rejected Lassila & Tikanoja has decided not to seek residence permits for workers from outside the European Union whenever it is known that their application will be subjected to the consideration process.

Duration is another problem associated with the process, he adds. “We typically need workforce immediately. It's no good if we can hire someone months from now.”

Myllyntaus points out that finding suitable employees in the cleaning industry can be difficult despite the number of unemployed job-seekers in Finland. “At worst, they write in their application that the employment office forced them to apply for the job,” he reveals.

The Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce similarly estimates that the consideration process represents yet another hurdle for employers. “Employers don't hire workers from outside Finland just for the fun of it,” stresses Markku Lahtinen, the manager of education affairs at the Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce, referring to labour shortage.

Employee representatives, in turn, oppose the calls to abolish the consideration process out of fear that the use of low-paid labour could increase. Lahtinen believes such fears to be overblown as wages in Finland are largely determined on the basis of collective agreements.

Jukka Rikama, an expert at the Employment and Economic Development Office of Uusimaa, reveals that companies that are about to recruit employees from abroad are occasionally asked to open the position for applications for a specific period in order to determine if a suitable employee can be found in Finland.

The consideration process is applied relatively arbitrarily, and its merits have been subject to a long-running debate.

Juhana Vartiainen, the director general at the Government Institute of Economic Research (VATT), proposed in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat on 21 January that the process be abolished. The process is no longer in use in Sweden. The Cabinet of Matti Vanhanen similarly sought to abolish the consideration process but failed to carry out the reform.

Jaana Vuorio, the director general of Migri, refrains from commenting on what she believes is essentially a political question. She is, however, of the opinion that the current two-faceted permit procedure should be rationalised.

At present, the permit applications of employees from outside the European Union are first presented to an Employment and Economic Development Office for a decision and only then to Migri for a final decision. “The procedure is so complicated that the binding four-month processing time is often not enough for officials,” she says.

Katja Boxberg – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Heidi Piiroinen / HS