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Finland accepts “quota refugees” through a relocation program administered by the UNHCR as well as asylum applications from individuals arriving at its borders.  Persons who seek asylum status receive cash benefits, schooling, and health care provided by the government.  Persons who are granted asylum receive social services from the local municipality where they live.  

An asylum seeker can gain Finnish citizenship after four years as a continuous resident followed by five years as a permanent resident of Finland. Before attaining continuous residency an asylum seeker receives temporary residency of varying duration.

By the fall of 2015 the number of asylum seekers in Finland had increased nearly tenfold from 2014 levels, from 3,600 for all of 2014 to over 30,000 between January and November of 2015.  Because the largest increase was seen among Iraqi citizens, the Finnish government was prompted to negotiate a repatriation agreement with Iraq.

I.  General Background

Asylum is regulated in Finland’s Aliens Act[1] and in special legislation that prescribes how asylum seekers should be treated while they await a decision.[2]

A.  Categories of Asylum Seekers

1.  Refugees

Finland has acceded to the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (and its protocol).  The Convention defines a refugee as someone who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[3]  The country receives quota refugees (a set number of refugees as decided by Parliament)[4] for relocation through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) system.[5]  Historically, Finland has accepted some 750 quota refugees per year through the UNHCR program.[6]  In 2014 and 2015 Finland welcomed 1,050 quota refugees per year.[7]  The Finnish Parliament decides how many quota refugees Finland will accept annually.[8]  Quota refugees receive nonpermanent, so-called “continuous” resident permits of four years, which can be extended.[9]  In addition to receiving quota refugees, the country provides for receiving persons requesting asylum upon arriving in Finland.[10]

2.  Persons in Need of Subsidiary Protection

In addition to UNHCR refugees, Finland also grants asylum to persons seeking subsidiary protective status (alternative protection).[11]  A person in need of subsidiary protective status is defined as a person who “is subject to a real risk of serious injury if he or she is sent back to his or her home country or country of permanent domicile, and he or she cannot or because of that risk does not want to avail him or herself of that country’s protection.”[12]  “Serious injury” is defined as (1) the death penalty or execution, (2) torture or other treatment or punishment that is inhumane or degrades human life, or (3) serious or personal risk that stems from indiscriminate violence in connection with an international or internal armed conflict.[13]

An asylum seeker must be refused permanent residence under subsidiary protection if there is a well-founded reason to suspect that he or she has committed “[c]rimes against peace, war crimes or crimes against humanity as defined in international conventions; a serious crime; or an act that violates the purposes and principals of the United Nations.”[14]

Persons may receive residence permits because of a need for subsidiary protection despite not meeting the criteria to be considered bona fide refugees.[15]

3.  Persons in Need of Humanitarian Protection

Asylum seekers who do not qualify for asylum as refugees or persons in need of subsidiary protection may still receive asylum in Finland on the grounds of humanitarian protection.[16] Humanitarian protection is given to persons who do not qualify as refugees or persons in need of alternative protection, but who cannot return to their home country due to an environmental catastrophe, a violent conflict, or a serious situation threatening human rights.[17]

B.  Ground for Refusing Asylum

All asylum categories are subject to limitations.  Asylum cannot be granted in any category to a person who has committed the following crimes:[18] war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity or crimes that violate the purpose of the UN Conventions.[19]  Finland also refuses refugee status to anyone who can be helped by a UN agency other than the UNHCR.[20]

In addition, a person who has a legal residence in a safe place will not be granted asylum, and an asylum seeker must seek refuge within his or her own country if that country has safe areas.[21]  Finland does not have a pre-approved list of save countries; each case is considered on its own.  For example, areas of Afghanistan are now considered generally safe for people seeking alternative protection as of December 8, 2015.[22]  

Although a person might not qualify for protective status because he or she has committed crimes in Finland, it may still be impossible to deport him or her.[23]  In certain instances deportation violates the UN Convention, at other times Finnish law.[24]  Regardless, such an individual only receives a residence permit, which is valid for one year at a time; refugee status can later be reexamined and the person deported when there is less of a risk associated with sending the person back to his or her country of origin.[25]

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II.  Application Process

Asylum can only be sought in person in Finland or through the UNHCR quota refugee system.

A.  Screening Procedures

1.  Screening of Quota Refugees

The UNHCR screens and recommends refugees for relocation to Finland, Finland receives documentation, and the UNHCR allows Finnish representatives to interview the refugees at UNHCR refugee camps prior to accepting them.[26]  The Finnish Security Police has a role in reviewing the documents and the identities of the intended refugees.[27]  Emergency refugees who, as determined by the UNHCR, are in dire need of relocation are not interviewed prior to arriving in Finland.[28]  

2.  Screening of Asylum Seekers at the Border

Asylum seekers arriving in Finland are interviewed by the police and have their fingerprints taken.[29]  Thereafter an application is lodged and the asylum seeker can either find housing on his or her own,[30] or is assigned housing by the state.[31]  

The Migration Agency first determines if Finland is the correct country to hear an asylum application from the individual by researching whether that person should be sent back to another European Union (EU) Member State under the Dublin Regulations or if the person has a legal residence in another safe country.[32]  Once the Migration Agency determines that it should hear the application an interview takes place, after which an analysis of the totality of the circumstances is carried out and a decision made.[33]  In early 2015 (before the current migration crisis) the average processing time for asylum applications was 157 days.[34]

B.  Determining Whether a Person Is a Bona Fide Asylum Seeker

A bona fide asylum seeker is someone who meets the criteria of refugee under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.[35]  The UNHCR makes a determination concerning all refugees received under the UNHCR relocation program.[36]  Government employees at the Finnish Immigration Service make the determination of refugee status for all other asylum seekers.

Finland carries out background checks on all asylum seekers.[37]  It also analyses whether the asylum seeker could have sought refuge within his or her home country.[38]

Finland also carries out medical testing to determine the age of asylum seekers.[39]  Consent is required but refusal of consent results in the person automatically being considered eighteen years of age or older.[40]  

C.  Large Groups

Finnish law allows for special treatment of asylum seekers when a mass immigration is taking place.[41]  This includes housing asylum seekers in special housing centers as well as allowing the government ministers to issue regulations directing where (in what municipalities) such housing should be set up.[42]

D.  Family Reunification

A person must have been granted asylum before he or she can apply for family reunification.[43]  Family reunification is possible for legal guardians, spouses, and children under the age of eighteen.[44]  Family reunification is also possible in rare cases for other family members who are dependent on an asylum seeker who has been granted residence.[45]  Proof of financial capacity to care for one’s family members is not required for the reunification of immediate family members.[46]

Family members of quota refugees (see Part I(A)(1), above) receive compensation for the cost of travel to Finland associated with bringing the family member to Finland.[47]  Family members of other groups who have received international protection in Finland do not receive any monetary help to facilitate family reunification.[48]

Family reunification can be refused in cases where there is reason to believe that a person has received legal status by providing false information to the authorities.[49]

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III.  Benefits

A.  Monetary Benefits

Asylum seekers arriving in Finland receive a monthly cash benefit.[50]  The benefit is meant to cover such things as the cost of clothing, minor health care expenses, and personal expenses such as telephone service.[51]  The amount is contingent on whether the asylum seeker receives free meals at the government-assigned housing.[52]  The amount is adjusted for inflation to keep benefits at the same level as it was in the base year of 2010.[53]  At that time singles received a monthly benefit of  €85 if meals were received for free at their housing facility and  €290 if no free meals were received;[54] spouses received €70 each if meals were included and €245 if they were not;[55] children received €55 if meals were included and €185 if they were not.[56]  For 2016, asylum seekers will receive €314.91 (about US$340.31) or €92.30 (US$100.70) respectively for singles, €266.04 (about US$288.44)or €76.01 (US$82.45) for asylum seekers who share households, and €200.89 (about US$218.11) or €59.72 (US$64.83) for children living with their families.[57]   

In instances where the asylum seeker lives in a type of housing that provides for those things that the cash benefit is meant to cover (typically, special housing for unaccompanied minors) a smaller allowance is provided at a rate equivalent to US$48.86 for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds and US$27.15 for unaccompanied minors under sixteen.[58]  The 2010 index amount (see above)  is €25 per month.[59]

B.  Social Services and Urgent Health Care

Asylum seekers are entitled to social services[60] and urgent health care.[61]  “Urgent health care” is defined as “immediate evaluation or treatment that cannot be postponed without the illness being worsened or the injury exacerbated and that applies to an acute illness, personal injury, deterioration of long term illness or disability,” and includes “dental, health care, substance-abuse care and psycho-social support.”[62]

C.  Schooling

Children who permanently reside in Finland are mandated to attend school starting the year they turn seven years old.[63]  Asylum-seeking children (both unaccompanied minors and minors arriving with their legal guardians) have a legal right to attend school free of charge.[64]  Schooling for persons who do not permanently reside in Finland may be carried out remotely.[65]

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IV.  Path to Citizenship

A.  Residency Permits

Persons who are granted asylum receive either a temporary residence permit (one year for persons in need of humanitarian protection and four years for refugees and persons receiving subsidiary protection)[66] or a continuous residence permit.[67]  Temporary residence permits for persons who seek international protection can be renewed if grounds for international protection still exist.[68]  A temporary residence permit can turn into a continuous residence permit.  Once the asylum seeker has lived for four years in Finland under a continuous residence permit, he or she can apply for a permanent residence permit.[69]

B.  Citizenship

Citizenship can be acquired after five years of uninterrupted permanent residence, or, if there is an interruption in residence, seven years of residence after the person is fifteen.[70]  Applicants must be eighteen years of age, not have committed an offense or crime for which the penalty exceeds that of a disciplinary fine (ordningsbot),and reliably account for their income.[71]  

Special rules require that refugees only need to have lived four years continuously (or six years in total after the age of fifteen of which the last two must have been continuous) in Finland as counted from the day of their asylum application to qualify for citizenship.[72]

In addition, applicants must speak Finnish or Swedish, or Swedish or Finnish sign language.[73]  Language abilities are either tested or proven through successful completion of studies carried out in Finnish or Swedish.[74]  Language tests are waived for persons who have received asylum and are more than sixty-five years old.[75]

Applications for Finnish citizenship increased by more than 30% in 2014.[76]

Children of parents who have both been granted asylum receive Finnish citizenship at birth.[77]

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V.  Monitoring by Police and Restrictions on Travel

A.  Reporting Requirements and Police Access to Information

When asylum seekers arrive at the Finnish border they must first report their asylum-seeker status with the police or border control.[78]  The police take asylum seekers’ fingerprints and identification information and register them in their systems.[79]  Thereafter the migration authorities assign asylum seekers temporary housing.[80]  During the review of an asylum application the Finnish migration authority (Finnish Immigration Service) collects information about the applicant. The Finnish Security Police are allowed to participate in the final discussions of a case, if needed because of national security interests.[81] In all cases the police investigate the truthfulness of all assertions made by the applicants during the application process. [82]

The police, Finnish Immigration Service, and customs agencies have a right to receive classified information on asylum seekers who are unaccompanied minors.[83]  Asylum seekers can be required to report to the police and the Finnish Immigration Service.[84]  Asylum seekers may also be confined if needed to ascertain their identity.[85]  The surveillance of asylum seekers is regulated by law and must be proportional to the purpose of the surveillance.[86]

An asylum seeker may receive an identification card that specifies that the holder has sought asylum in Finland.[87]  Such identification cards include the asylum seeker’s name, birthdate, and citizenship, along with a picture and information regarding whether the asylum seeker has been able to prove his or her identity.[88]

B.  Travel Restrictions

An asylum seeker must surrender his or her travel documents to the Finnish Immigration Service before receiving travel documents indicating his or her status as a refugee.[89]  Individuals who have been granted asylum are allowed to travel within the Schengen Area for a total of ninety days during a 180-day period.[90]  They must carry their asylum documentation, however.[91]  Persons with permanent residence permits are allowed to travel for a total of six months each year without losing their status as permanent residents.[92]

Finland keeps a registry of all aliens in the country, including asylum seekers and refugees, and tracks the travel of all aliens.[93]

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VI.  Role of Municipalities

Finnish municipalities have a right to self-governance that is regulated in the Finnish Constitution.[94]  Prior to the refugee crisis of 2015 the Finnish Immigration Service had to consult with the municipal leadership before placing an asylum center in a community.  As of September 2015 such inquiries are only made if the asylum center is to be run by municipal agencies or in municipal facilities.[95]  A municipality must still be notified before the housing of asylum seekers is initiated within the municipality.[96]

Social services such as health care and financial support to citizens and persons with temporary or permanent residence in Finland are provided for and financed by the municipality in which the recipient lives.[97]

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VII.  Response to Current Refugee Crisis

In the fall of 2015 Finland saw a steep increase in asylum seekers, primarily from Iraq.  As of November 20, 2015, Finland had received 30,000 asylum applications for the year, of which 19,000 were from Iraqi citizens.[98]  This compared 3,600 asylum applications in 2014,[99] of which 800 where Iraqi citizens.[100]  

As a result of the increase in asylum applications, especially by Iraqi citizens, Finland has started negotiations for a return agreement with Iraq.[101]  Such an agreement had previously not been in place.  Moreover, Finland has revised its policies on Iraq under which connection to a certain region is no longer enough to qualify for asylum—each person must show a personal risk of persecution or violence.[102] 

In addition Finland is revising its asylum provisions on humanitarian protection to better reflect EU standards.[103]

The Finnish Security Intelligence Service reports that extremism, including both extremist Islamist and anti-immigration hate crimes, has increased following the rapid influx of asylum seekers.[104]

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Prepared by Elin Hofverberg
Foreign Law Research Consultant
March 2016

[1] Utlänningslag [Aliens Act], Finlands Författningssamling [FFS] 30.4.2004/301,, archived at

[2] Lag om mottagande av personer som söker internationellt skydd och om identifiering av och hjälp till offer för människohandel [Act on the Reception of Persons Who Seek International Protection and on Identification of and Help for Victims of Human Trafficking], FFS 17.6.2011/746,, archived at

[3] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees art. 1(A)(2), July 28, 1951, 19 U.S.T. 6259, 189 U.N.T.S. 137,, archived at; Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Jan. 31, 1967, 606 U.N.T.S. 267,, archived at  However, Finland provides special most favorable treatment for Nordic Citizens.  See Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, supra, ch. 2, Declarations and Reservations: Finland, 177.html, archived at

[4] Kvotflyktingar, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, asyl_i_finland/kvotflyktingar (last visited Dec. 15, 2015), archived at

[5] 87 § Aliens Act.

[6] Kvotflyktingar, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, supra note 4.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Schematisk bild – Valet av Kvotflyktingar, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket (Jan. 29, 2013),, archived at  

[10] See section II.A.2, infra.

[11] 88 § Aliens Act.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. 88a §.                                                                                                

[17] Id.

[18] Id. 87, 88, 88a §§.

[19] Id. 88a §. 

[20] Id. 87§.  

[21] Id. 88e §.

[22] Press Release, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, Alla personer från södra och östra Afghanistan beviljas inte längre alternativt skydd (Dec. 8, 2015), pressmeddelanden/1/0/alla_personer_fran_sodra_och_ostra_afghanistan_beviljas_inte_langre_alternativt_skydd_64227, archived at

[23] Press Release, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, Brottslingar avlägsnas alltid ur landet då lagen tillåter detta (Dec. 7, 2015), brottslingar_avlagsnas_alltid_ur_landet_da_lagen_tillater_detta_64205, archived at

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Schematisk bild – Valet av Kvotflyktingar, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, supra note 9.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Ansökan om asyl, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, ansokan_om_asyl (last visited Dec. 15, 2015), archived at

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Sökanden får en uppskattning av behandlingstiden för en asylansökan vid asylsamtalet, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket (May 5, 2015), behandlingstider_internationellt_skydd/1/0/sokanden_far_en_uppskattning_av_behandlingstiden_for_en_asylansokan_vid_asylsamtalet_54132, archived at

[35] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees art. 1(A)(2), supra note 3.

[36] Schematisk bild – Valet av Kvotflyktingar, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, supra note 9.  

[37] Information for Asylum Seekers, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket (last visited Jan. 7, 2015),, archived at

[38] Press Release, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, supra note 22.

[39] 6 a§ Aliens Act. 

[40] Id.

[41] Id. 133 §.

[42] 12 § Act on the Reception of Persons Who Seek International Protection and on Identification of and Help for Victims of Human Trafficking, 17.6.2011/746, 20110746, archived at

[43] Uppehållstillstånd för familjen kan ansökas först efter beslut om asylansökan, Maahanmuuttovirasto/ Migrationsverket (Nov. 2, 2015), familjen_kan_ansokas_forst_efter_beslut_om_asylansokan_63407, archived at

[44] 37, 114 §§ Aliens Act.

[45] Id. 115 §.

[46] Id. 114 §.

[48] Id.

[49] 36 § Aliens Act.

[50] 19 § Act on the Reception of Persons Who Seek International Protection and on Identification of and Help for Victims of Human Trafficking, 17.6.2011/746, 20110746, archived at

[51] Id.

[52] Id. 20 §.

[53] Id. 22 §.

[54] Id. 20 §.

[55] Id.

[56] Id.  In 2010, the exchange rate was €1 to US$0.697666.  Historic Lookup,,, archived at

[57] Mottagningspenning, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, mottagningsverksamhet/mottagningspenning (last visited Dec. 15, 2015), archived at  

[58] Id.

[59] 21 § Act on the Reception of Persons Who Seek International Protection and on Identification of and Help for Victims of Human Trafficking (equal to US$17.44, using an exchange rate of  €1=US$0.697666).

[60] Id. 25 §.

[61] Id. 26 §.

[62] Häslo och sjukvårdslag [Health Care Act] (FFS 30.12.2010/1326), 2010/20101326, archived at (translation by author).

[63] 25 § Lag om grundläggande utbildning [Act on Elementary Schooling] FFS 21.8.1998/628,, archived at

[64] Id. 46 §.

[65] Id.

[66] 53 § Aliens Act.

[67] Id. 49, 112, 113 §§.

[68] Id. 54 §.

[69] Id. 56 §.

[70] 13 § Medborgarskapslag [Finnish Citizenship Act],, archived at, overview in English at Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, Fact Sheet: Finland’s Nationality Act (Dec. 2013), 16429_Suomen_ kansalaisuus_eng.pdf?d367b8f351b8d288, archived at  

[71] 13 § Finnish Citizenship Act.

[72] Id. 20 §.

[73] Id.

[74] Id. 17 §.

[75] 18b §.

[76] Fortsatt rusningstid för ansökningar om medborgarskap, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket (July 1, 2015), for_ansokningar_om_medborgarskap_60960, archived at

[77] 9 § Finnish Citizenship Act.

[78] 95 § Aliens Act.

[79] Applying for Asylum, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, finland/applying_for_asylum (last visited Jan. 5, 2016), archived at

[80] Id.

[81] 97 § Aliens Act.

[82] Id.

[83] Id. 105 §.

[84] Id. 118 §.

[85] Id. 121 §.

[86] Id. 129a §. 

[87] Id. 96 §.

[88] Id.

[89] Id. 137 §. 

[90] Att resa när du har ett uppehållstillstånd,Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, asyl_i_finland/att_resa_nar_du_har_ett_uppehallstillstand (last visited Dec. 22, 2015), archived at

[91] Id.

[92] Id.

[93] Register of Aliens, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, of_aliens (last visited Jan. 6, 2015) archived at

[94] 121 § Finlands grundlag [Finnish Constitution] (FFS 11.6.1999/731), ajantasa/1999/19990731, archived at  

[95]Press Release, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, I fortsättningen utreds kommunernas ståndpunkt endast om en planerad förläggning ska inrättas i kommunens lokaler eller drivas av kommunen (Sept. 7, 2015),
, archived at

[96] Id.

[97] See Lag om hemkommun [Act on Home Municipality] (FFS 11.3.1994/201), sv/laki/ajantasa/1994/19940201, archived at; Health Care Act (FFS 30.12.2010/1326),, archived at

[98] Asylsökanden 1.1-30.11.2015, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket (Dec. 8, 2015),, archived at  

[99] Asylsökanden 1.1-31.12.2014, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket (Jan. 12, 2015),, archived at

[100] Id.

[101] Press Release, Ministry of the Interior, Drop in Number of Asylum Seekers – New Estimate for This Year (Oct. 15, 2015),, archived at

[102] Press Release, Maahanmuuttovirasto/Migrationsverket, Den individuella situationen avgör då irakier söker asyl, inte ursprungsregionen (Oct. 20, 2015),
, archived at

[103] Press Release, Ministry of the Interior, Finland to Review Migration Legislation to Comply with EU Provisions (Nov. 3, 2015), to_comply_with_eu_provisions_63455, archived at