More Iraqi asylum seekers are marrying Finnish citizens in an attempt to obtain legal grounds to stay in the Nordic country, the Finnish Immigration Service Migri said, citing marriages of convenience as the most frequent reason for rejection.
Sham marriages concluded with the sole purpose of obtaining residence benefits are increasing according to a report by Sunnuntaisuomalainen, a weekend supplement published by four regional papers.
The rise in Iraqis tying the knot with Finns is particularly conspicuous. While this phenomenon was largely unknown before, 270 Iraqis have sought residence permits based on marriage to Finns in the past twelve months alone.
Contrary to popular belief, marriage is by far not a safe route to a residence permit. On the contrary, suspected sham marriages are the most common reason why Iraqi asylum seekers' applications based on family relationships get rejected, Migri noted.
So far this year, more than 40 percent of residence permit applications from Iraqis based on marriage to Finns have been rejected. Migri officials tend to dismiss applications should they conclude that the "just married" actually don't intend to stay together "until death do them part."
"There are numerous reasons for negative decisions, but suspected marriages of convenience are the most common reason for rejection of Iraqi asylum seekers' applications based on family ties," Pauliina Helminen, the head of Migri's immigration unit said.
In 2017, conversion to Christianity was found to be one the most popular grounds for repeat applications from Muslim asylum seekers in Finland. About 70 percent of the repeat applications came from Christian proselytes.
In recent years, Iraqis have constituted the largest percentage of asylum seekers entering Finland during the European migrant crisis. Since 2015, over 20,000 Iraqis have sought asylum in Finland, double the pre-crisis Iraqi diaspora numbering some 10,000 people.
In 2017, Migri's approval rate of asylum applications rose to 40 percent, up from only 27 percent in 2016.
Last year, only 5,000 people applied for asylum in Finland, down from a peak of 32,500 in 2015.