Statement on the government proposal to Parliament for an Act amending the Act on the Promotion of Immigrant Integration (VN/8329/2023) (TAS 581/2023, issued on 23 October 2023)
The Ombudsman for Equality replied to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment's request for a statement from the viewpoint of its powers in the area of gender equality.
Replaced provisions of the Act on the Promotion of Immigrant Integration (sections 61–62)
Section 6 of the Constitution of Finland (731/1999) provides for the governing principle concerning equality and gender equality and the specific obligation to promote equality of the sexes in societal activity. The provision also applies to the legislator. This obligation is complemented by the authorities’ obligation to promote gender equality, provided for in section 4 of the Act on Equality between Women and Men (609/1986, Equality Act).
The proposed amendment, which reduces the period for which municipalities and wellbeing services counties will receive the calculated reimbursement for service provision, is problematic with regard to gender equality.
The purpose of integration is, among other things, to support and promote integration and make it easier for immigrants to play an active role in Finnish society, as well as promote gender equality and non-discrimination and positive interaction between different population groups. Among other things, integration measures promote the employment, education and attachment to Finnish society of immigrants. However, the proposed amendment may lead to cutbacks of integration services in municipalities and wellbeing services counties and thus decrease the availability of services.
The draft government proposal identifies risks related to gender equality. Among other things, it states that, for women, child-care responsibilities tend to accumulate on the first few years after immigration. It is harder for women to participate in language lessons while caring for small children at home, making learning Finnish or Swedish harder for women with children than it is for men. The government proposal states that cutting back on integration services would impair the integration and employment of immigrants.
Furthermore, the government proposal states that the availability of interpretation will have a particular impact on social and health care services. Many immigrant women are of child-bearing age and need services for securing the well-being of themselves and their children. The proposal also predicts that cuts in interpretation services will hinder the detection of honour-related violence and the genital mutilation of girls and women.
Potential service cuts will thus create greater obstacles for the integration of women than men, and the proposed amendment cannot thus be considered compliant with the obligation to promote gender equality, provided for in the Constitution and the Equality Act. Neither would the amendments appear to improve the position of immigrant women, even though that is a specific objective of the Programme of Petteri Orpo's Government.
Fee for the interpretation costs of missed meetings (section 32a)
The government proposal suggests that the municipality or labour authority could, subject to certain conditions, collect a fee for unused services if the provider incurred interpretation costs and the immigrant did not cancel the appointment.
The proposal notes that the collection of interpretation costs could accumulate on immigrant parents with challenges in life management skills due to mental health or substance abuse issues. Immigrant parents with several small children could also end up paying the costs, as they may forget scheduled appointments due to the stress of their everyday lives. The gender impact of this proposed amendment has not been assessed, however.
Such collection is estimated to have only limited positive effects on municipal finances.
According to the government proposal, interpretation costs could only be collected if the client has been informed of the possibility of such fees and given instructions for cancelling the appointment in a language they understand. The proposal also states that municipalities should take individual circumstances into account in the collection of interpretation fees in order to avoid unreasonable effects. However, the government proposal does not indicate whether the costs incurred by the municipalities from investigating such cases have been taken into account in the assessment of the proposal's financial impact.
Support for unaccompanied minors (sections 34 and 69)
The government proposal would decrease the age limit for the support for the transition to adulthood, paid to children and adolescents arriving in Finland without a custodian, from 25 to 23 years. The proposal states that, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the majority of asylum seekers and children arriving without a custodian were boys and men.
Children and young people arriving without a custodian are a particularly vulnerable group. In particular, the position of 23–24-year-old young men in need of intensive support will probably deteriorate considerably due to the proposed amendment. It remains unclear whether the amendment will actually achieve the savings being sought.
The government proposal notes that such young men may need adult social services, mental health services or student welfare services. Therefore, the overall savings will probably remain lower than intended. If service provision is not ensured, these men run the risk of marginalisation, poverty and the problems related to these conditions. Based on the above, the proposed amendment to the age limit for support for the transition to adulthood must be considered problematic with regard to gender equality.