Legality control of negative decisions completed, results ready to benefit the development of Finnish Immigration Service’s work
Most of the decisions that the Finnish Immigration Service inspected in its legality control had been duly processed in compliance with the statutory requirements. However, the Finnish Immigration Service takes very seriously the fact that it had not met all its legal obligations in 9 per cent of the decisions that were inspected.
In December 2022, the Finnish Immigration Service conducted an internal inquiry into a case reported on by Helsingin Sanomat on 10 December 2022, which concerned a customer who had completed a degree in Finland and applied for a residence permit to look for work. The inquiry found that errors were made during the processing of the case in question with regard to the procedure and the interpretation of the law.
After the inquiry, Ilkka Haahtela, Director General of the Finnish Immigration Service, decided to have a separate legality control conducted. The task was given to the agency’s own legal services unit. In January–February, they examined negative decision issued in 2022 on extended permits that were applied for on the basis of work, studies or family ties.
“Each and every case must be processed in a customer-oriented manner and in compliance with the law. In addition to arranging an internal legal control inspection, I decided to order an external audit of our operations. The results of all these investigations will be put to use when we update our guidelines and instructions on the application of law,” says Director General Ilkka Haahtela.
In the separate legality control that was conducted, the Legal Services of the Finnish Immigration Service assessed the accuracy and quality of the agency’s decision-making by focusing on the duty to ensure that a matter is sufficiently and appropriately examined, on the hearing of the views of the applicant, and on the overall consideration of an applicant’s circumstances. The Legal Services also evaluated how extensively the reasons for the decision were presented in the decision document and how the best interests of the child and the protection of family life were assessed in the decisions. In addition, the Legal Services examined to what degree the statutory processing times were observed and how the principles of a customer-focused approach were followed.
Procedural errors regarding the examination duty and the hearing of the customer’s views were found
A total of 176 negative decisions issued in 2022 in matters concerning extended permits were selected for inspection: 76 decisions were based on work, 50 on studies and 50 on family ties.
Out of the decisions on extended permit that were inspected, 160 decisions (91%) had been appropriately processed, whereas in 16 decisions (9%), the Finnish Immigration Service had not met its statutory obligations. Most of the procedural errors that were detected were related to the duty to ensure that a matter is sufficiently examined or to the duty to hear the views of the customer and his or her family members.
“In practice, this may mean, for instance, that a customer had not been given an opportunity to express their view on a possible removal from the country or that the family member residing in Finland had not been heard when a matter regarding his or her spouse was decided,” says Haahtela.
Regarding the decisions in which a procedural error was detected, the Finnish Immigration Service has started taking the necessary measures for correcting a material error as defined in section 50 of the Administrative Procedure Act. If a customer has appealed against a decision that contains a procedural error to an administrative court, the Finnish Immigration Service has notified the administrative court in question of the initiation of the correction process. If an erroneous decision has been with the police waiting to be served on the customer, the police have been told that the Finnish Immigration Service will reconsider the customer's matter. However, all erroneous decisions did not require correction if, for instance, the customer already has been granted a residence permit on some other grounds.
“We have contacted the customers whose decisions will be reconsidered,” says Haahtela.
In addition to procedural errors, quality problems were detected in the decisions that were inspected. The quality problems concerned, for instance, the assessment of family unity and the best interests of the child. In decisions based on family ties or work, the statutory processing times had been exceeded in some decisions.
“The Legal Services observed that the overall consideration of a customer’s circumstances could be expanded in many cases. The overall situation of the customer must always be considered, and the decision must state the facts that are in favour of a positive result even if a residence permit cannot be granted,” says Haahtela.
Measures to be taken by the Finnish Immigration Service
The separate legality control that was conducted proved that improvements are needed in the processing of residence permits and in the quality of decisions.
“Finding out that there are customers whose matter was not processed in accordance with the statutory requirements is being taken very seriously. The observations made in the legality control have been discussed with those who are responsible and will be taken into account in future decisions,” says Haahtela.
In addition to correcting the factual errors in the reviewed decisions and making changes in the agency’s internal instructions, the Finnish Immigration Service will take the following measures based on the findings of the legality control that it performed:
- Document templates, such as templates used for writing decisions or requests for additional information, will be updated and internal instructions will be clarified.
- Instructions for considering the best interests of the child will be updated, and further training will be provided for the staff on overall consideration, on assessing the best interests of the child and on making the best interests of the child a primary consideration. We will track the impact of these measures on the quality of our decisions during the year 2024.
- The agency will reform its guidelines, and an external audit will be conducted to ensure the quality of the guidelines. In addition, the policies regarding the interpretations made in connection with decisions will be developed further. This work has already been ongoing for several months.
- In accordance with the agency's legality control plan, five inspections will be carried out during the year, focusing on different types of residence permit decisions. The aim is to monitor the legality of our decisions and to ensure that a customer-focused approach is followed. We also aim to find ways to harmonise the way the law is applied. In addition, we aim to harmonise our practices and streamline the processing of applications and the decision-making process.
- Ilkka Haahtela, Director General, tel. +358 295 433 037, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Final report on the legality control of negative decisions issued in 2022 on applications for extended permits (in Finnish)
- Press release, 16 December 2022: Finnish Immigration Service conducts inquiry into case of Mongolian nurse
- Customer bulletin, 18 April 2023: Finnish Immigration Service performed legality control regarding negative decisions issued on extended permits in 2022