Organisations: Income limits for family reunification must be abandoned

Stefan Bremer
Red Cross volunteers welcoming asylum-seekers in Johannisberg, Porvoo.
Image: Stefan Bremer

The office of Amnesty International in Finland, the Finnish Red Cross, the Finnish Refugee Council, the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, Finn Church Aid, Save the Children Finland, the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters, and the Finnish Somali League have criticised measures which would make it more difficult to reunite families.

In the suggested change in legislation proposed by the Ministry of the Interior, the financial livelihood requirements would be tightened. These plans would make it almost impossible for many people in need of international protection, as well as many Finns, to reunite their family.

If the plan is realised, the person wishing to bring their spouse and two children to Finland would need to have a monthly net income of EUR 2,600. Less than 50 per cent of Finns earn that much.

– Meeting this requirement would be hard for many Finns, but even harder for people in need of international protection, says Niina Laajapuro, Policy Director of Amnesty Finland.

People in need of international protection are often employed in fields with low income, which would make it almost impossible for them to reunite their families.

– Tightening the income requirement places everybody, but particularly women, in an even worse situation than before. Even if women do get a job, a net income of over 2,000 Euros is impossible for many, not to mention those refugees who cannot enter work force at all due to health issues or insufficient reading and writing skills, says Annu Lehtinen, Executive Director of the Finnish Refugee Council.

– Those in need of international protection should be completely exempt from income limits, and the limits should be made more reasonable for everyone else as well.

Integration objectives in conflict with the tightening requirements

Making it more difficult to reunite families is in stark conflict with the efficient integration pursued by the Government, as living apart from one’s family is one of the greatest obstacles to integration in a new society. People living in Finland and striving to reunite their families find it difficult to concentrate on language studies or finding a job, while constantly worrying about their families.

Prolonged periods apart affect the mental health of those seeking to reunite their family and their family members alike. People living in Finland without their family often suffer from anxiety and depression.

– The Government has called for controlled immigration. Reuniting families is exactly that: a controlled and safe way to come to Finland”, says Elina Castrén, Executive Director of the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre.

– If this alternative is effectively blocked, as the Government now proposes, family members will be driven to taking dangerous routes controlled by smugglers, to try their own luck on the way. Examples of this already exist”.

The view of the organisations is that the requirements for reuniting families cannot be further tightened. Many of those who would have the right to family reunification are, in practice, unable to do so as it is, because the previous changes in requirements have made it extremely difficult.

It was intended that seeking residency would be made easier in February through the opening of an electronic application service, but now this one relief in the process of family reunification has been postponed.

– The effects of the previous tightenings of regulations, made in 2010 and 2012, have not been studied. Before changing the requirements again, the Ministry of the Interior must draft a report on the practical effects of the previous changes on family reunification, says Secretary General of the Finnish Red Cross, Kristiina Kumpula.

The proposal states that these changes are necessary so that Finland is not seen as a particularly attractive country for asylum seekers. However, according to statistics, Finland does not have a particularly high number of asylum seekers by European levels.

However, the global refugee situation is exceptional. Finland, along with the European Union, must carry their share of the responsibility for assisting with the refugee situation, while respecting human dignity.