David J. Cord, Helsinki Times, June 18, 2009
High numbers of immigrants and long waiting times are causing a surge in demand for immigration lawyers.
Immigration to Finland has increased steadily since 2003. Last year over 29,000 people moved to Finland, the highest amount since independence. With the ever-increasing number of immigrants there is a growing need for lawyers specialising in immigration affairs.
The Finnish Bar Association lists 41 members who practice law in immigration issues. At least one firm, Juridix, cites legal assistance for migrants and asylum seekers as its main specialty.
Lawyer Joonia Streng is seeing an increasing demand for his services as an immigration lawyer. “Literally, I have clients from all continents, from our neighbouring countries like Russia and Estonia to the most distant places,” he says. “Even once in a while EU citizens need legal assistance in immigration issues.”
Streng deals with a variety of immigration matters, such as problems with residence permits, deportations, applications for asylum and citizenship. The number of citizenship applications has grown in tandem with higher immigration. Last year 6,700 people received Finnish citizenship, almost an all-time high.
Streng suggests newcomers should get legal assistance early in the immigration process before a problem develops. “The best situation is when a client calls me before a problem occurs, so that I can give a consultation how to proceed,” he explains. “For example, by preparing a good residence permit application an immigrant might avoid an unnecessary appeal process.”
Unfortunately many people neglect to get a lawyer’s advice until after they have a difficulty, he points out. “Most of the time I get a case when an immigrant has received a negative decision, whether concerning a residence permit, asylum or deportation. Then I write an appeal letter to an administrative court and try to win the case there.”
Prices for legal services typically vary depending upon the difficulty of the case, but as with all expert assistance are unlikely to be cheap. Juridix mentions that a trial case may cost 122 euros an hour, including VAT. The costs for a simple consultation in their office could start at 24 euros. On Streng’s website, he estimates the cost for residence permits or asylum appeals at between 550 euros and 1000 euros.
The people most likely to need immigration assistance are the least likely to be able to afford it. Some asylum seekers are poor and desperate and the costs of legal aid may be beyond their reach. Streng explains that in some cases people can receive help from the state to pay for their legal costs.
“It depends on two things, on income and on the nature of the case,” Streng says. “For example, if there is a negative decision that can be appealed to an administrative court and the person has low income, then a completely free or partly free trial can be applied. Also, in certain criminal and child custody cases, a free or partly free trial can be applied, as can also be done in other civil law cases. The income levels depend on the size of the family and depend also on housing expenses. I always do the necessary paperwork on behalf of a client for the Public Legal Aid Office, which is the authority with the power to grant free trials.”
Legislation for immigration is a complex issue and regulations frequently change. Streng believes that the proper way to approach these challenges is to act before a snag develops. “The best way is to contact a lawyer before problems occur,” Streng sums up. “But even if something has gone wrong, it is always worth giving a call and asking a legal opinion.”