Prime Minister Petteri Orpo at a plenary session. LEHTIKUVA

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The Finnish government’s proposed changes to immigration and citizenship policies have faced strong criticism from a coalition of professionals, including IT experts, doctors, academics, and students. Now human rights groups have also expressed deep concerns about the policy, emphasizing that it sends a message of unwelcome to migrants and may contribute to an escalation of hate speech and racism within the country. They argue that such a policy could have detrimental effects on social cohesion and the overall human rights climate in Finland.

Hundreds of educated immigrants gathered outside Oodi Central library on June 18 to protest against the proposed reforms to the immigrants policy. Similarly, several people including immigrants and concerned Finnish citizens demonstrated in downtown Helsinki on June 27 against the Finnish government's plans to tighten immigration rules. The demonstration was organized by the African Anti-Racism Society Finland and Diaspora Glitz Magazine.

The general message from the groups is that the proposed changes in the government programme regarding immigration and citizenship reform are not in Finland’s best interests. They assert that even though the migrants have made substantial efforts to comply with the existing rules on income, language proficiency, and residence requirements for citizenship and permanent residency, the new programme targets and treats immigrants as labour market tools and not as human beings.

“Migrants are human too”

One of the key grievances expressed by the groups is the extended residence time required for permanent residency and citizenship. Under the proposed changes, the residence time for permanent residence is increased from 4 years to 6 years, with exceptions based on factors such as having a degree obtained in Finland, earning over 40,000 euros annually, or possessing exceptional language skills. Similarly, the residence time for citizenship is being extended from 5 years to 8 years. These longer residence requirements are viewed as unnecessary delays for individuals who have already met the integration conditions and are actively contributing to Finnish society.

Amnesty International Finland believes that the government's strict stance on asylum and work-based immigration fails to consider the interconnected nature of different immigration categories. The message being conveyed is that only a specific type of immigrant is welcome, while bringing one's family becomes exceedingly difficult and discouraged. “Migrant workers should be seen as humans, as individuals with human rights. Therefore, we shouldn’t be talking about migrant workers as work force. Even now it has been very difficult for people to get their families even visiting visas from certain countries. You have the right to your family, you have the right to see them and spend time with them, but the immigration policies of EU and Finland have made it extremely difficult to enjoy this right, and now the current government plan is making it even more difficult,” Pargol Miraftabi, Amnesty International Suomen osasto / Finnish Section told Helsinki Times

“Moreover, if you know that the sentiments towards immigrants are negative, even racists, why would one want to put themselves in such a situation,” Miraftabi said adding that the proposed restrictions on permanent residency and citizenship, along with limitations on family reunification, may deter individuals from choosing Finland as their permanent home. “Immigrants are already facing hate speech, and the suggested policy changes and the rhetoric used is likely to increase that,” Miraftabi said. African Anti Racism Society Finland also raised similar concerns saying that it is a political move to reduce how many Finnish citizens of foreign background would have voting rights. “It is not only economical but it is also a political move to keep immigrants as “subjects” rather than political participants in the Finnish society,” Eugene Ufoka, Chairperson of AFARS said.
Employment woes

Another contentious aspect of the proposed changes is the cancellation of residence permits and deportation if a permit holder remains unemployed for more than three months. This policy puts skilled workers in vulnerable positions, as it restricts their ability to change jobs without leaving the country, potentially granting employers undue leverage in terms of working conditions and salary negotiation. AFARS claims that this proposal is harsh, problematic and fails to consider the challenges faced by job seekers in finding employment.
Additionally, they stressed on the time and effort required to update skills and language proficiency for job opportunities. “Immigrants will be put under discrimination because they are the group most often under temporary contracts. Immigrants will be discriminated within different groups when they’ll be able to apply for residence permits faster based on income levels and fields,” Ufoka said.

“Especially the 3-month rule for re-employment will cause a lot of mental stress and forces people to make short-term decisions due to the time pressure. People will not have time and space to re-educate or upskill themselves and reach their full potential,” Ufoka added.

Discrimination among migrant work-force

Their main concern lies in the discriminatory nature of the proposed changes, particularly affecting those working in sectors with labor shortages and lower prevailing wages. Daycare workers, nurses, aged care workers, and tradespeople, who play vital roles in society, will face longer waiting periods for permanent residency. “This approach fails to acknowledge the valuable contributions made by individuals in income sectors such as nurses and service professionals, who are essential to meeting Finland’s workforce demands,” International Working Women of Finland said in a statement.

IWWF claims that the proposed policy in Finland includes measures that differentiate social security and benefits for immigrants and permanent residents, potentially creating inequalities and hardships for immigrants. “While permanent settlers in Finland would be entitled to full social security, immigrants would face limitations in accessing such support. This distinction contradicts the principles of equality and fairness, perpetuating inequalities, and potential hardships for immigrants,” the group said in a statement.

Impact on refugees and asylum seekers

The Finnish government plans to reduce the refugee quota by half, decreasing it to 500 individuals per year from the previous year's quota of 1050. The groups believe that this reduction, coupled with streamlined permit and return processes, restricts opportunities for individuals seeking international protection.

“The proposed policy limits the granting of asylum to a maximum period of three years, necessitating a reassessment of the need for international protection thereafter. This approach fails to consider the complexities and challenges faced by individuals seeking refuge, compromising their safety and well-being,” IWWF said in a statement.
Lack of transparency

Furthermore, the new policy has garnered criticism over the lack of transparency in the decision-making process and calls for the government to provide a clear rationale for the proposed changes. The groups have suggested that the government should engage in consultations with unions, civil society, and industry groups to develop a comprehensive policy that addresses the demographic and financial situation.

“We learned about these changes from the news like everyone else. We have not been invited to any discussion and have not heard of such invitations for dialogue anywhere. We are hoping we could discuss with the government and that they’d be open to work together with the communities,” Ufoka said.

The groups emphasize their commitment to a safe Finland, endorsing measures to remove individuals convicted of violent crimes from the community and combat welfare abuse. However, they argue that any tightening should target the specific individuals engaged in such activities rather than affecting the entire honest immigrant population. They express concern that the proposed changes will deter skilled labour from moving to Finland, leading to a decline in international competitiveness and prosperity for the country in the long run.

“This is a government plan for Petteri Orpo’s government. Therefore, it is crucial that the civil society, NGOs and others remain active and try to impact the legislative process. We have already seen a lot of activism, demonstrations and people are also informing their communities in their native language about the proposals, which is vital, because people still have the power to impact things. It’s important to stay active, to stay alert, and to explain to the politicians what these amendments mean in practice and present the human rights implications of the amendments,” Miraftabi said.

They urge the government to provide clear explanations for the rationale behind the proposed changes and share the research and data supporting their decisions.

Contradictory goals

Moniheli, the Finnish multicultural network, has also raised concerns about the goals and implementation of the new government program stating that while many desired outcomes seem positive, the means proposed may lead to contradictory results. It highlighted that while efforts to enhance language education for employment opportunities in supporting integration are commendable, the program fails to address the issue of language-based discrimination in recruitment. It is essential to actively combat linguistic discrimination in the workplace and create equal opportunities for all in the labour market.

“Currently, the situation is that a mere foreign name often prevents progress in the recruitment process, regardless of the applicant’s language skills. The government program does not specifically mention discrimination in recruitment and its role in making it difficult for immigrants to find employment. Language-based discrimination in working life should be tackled actively and concretely,” Moniheli said in a statement.

The group also raised the issue of cuts in funding for organizations. The government program emphasizes improved collaboration between organizations and the administration, recognizing the importance of organizational activity in integration policy. However, the program also includes a 100 million euro cut to funding for associations and foundations in the social and health sector by 2027.

“Cooperation with organizations is planned in, for example, mental health, digital support, food aid and elderly service matters, in the implementation of a cross-administrative welfare program and in the production of social security services. This cooperation threatens to be rushed, if the government intends to implement the activities before it cuts the subsidies of the organizations by more than 25% in 2027. The extensive adaptation measures caused by these cuts will probably cripple the organizations’ opportunities to carry out other activities,” Moniheli said in a statement.

Sonali Telang
Helsinki Times

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