The Government proposes that Finland should adopt the national D visa, which accelerates and streamlines specialists and start-up founders’ entry into the country. The draft law concerning the amendment of the Aliens Act, which was prepared by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been circulated for comments. Making it easier for experts to enter the country via a fast lane is an important initiative from Finland, which is threatened by a sustainability gap in the near future. Finland is currently the only Schengen country without this kind of national visa. It is, however, worth noting that the experts of the future, i.e. students, are not included in this planned D visa. Countries like the Netherlands and Sweden offer students an option to enter the country which is similar to the D visa.
Every year, Finland misses out on approximately a thousand potential international students who accept a university place but who never register as attending. The length of the residence permit application process is one of the main reasons for international students not registering as attending despite having accepted their place. Therefore Finnish universities are losing out on many talented international students.
Let’s look at the issue through a fictitious example, where a promising student applies from a non-EU/EEA country to study for a degree in Finland. She is called Top Expert. Top has always been good at school. She is hardworking and has a bright future ahead of her. After a short visit, Top decides to apply to study at a Finnish university. She has heard that in the Nordic countries, the education is of a high quality, the people are happy, and nature is beautiful. After a challenging application process Top is offered a place at a Finnish university. This is a great achievement, and Top should be pleased with herself.
The next part is the hardest. Top must sort out a residency permit before her studies begin. She takes on the challenge and begins the process. The process is slow and many weeks pass. Things are moving forward, but the process still isn’t finished. Top pays her tuition fees, books her flights to Finland, and takes out the compulsory health insurance. The first day of her studies arrives, but Top still hasn’t been granted her residence permit. Because of the Finnish legislation under normal conditions, she is unable to begin her studies remotely or register as being absent. She is forced to take a gap year, curses Finnish bureaucracy, and decides to apply somewhere else next year. At least the Finnish university will refund her tuition fees.
In this current model, the worst-case scenario is that nobody wins. The slow immigration process makes it more difficult for universities to recruit students and causes them extra work. The university loses out, but so does the student. Finnish society is also among the losers, as it loses out on a future top expert who could help to fill the sustainability gap. These cases are not at all unusual, and as well as the student, Finland also loses out.
Including international students in the target group for the D visa would be an improvement on the current system. The processing time is shorter for the D visa, which allows international students to come into the country and begin their studies. They can then complete their residency permit application for example by providing proof of insurance. This also means that the universities won’t have to worry every year about whether their students will get their residency permits and actually turn up or not. With the D visa, a student who has accepted a place at university and paid the tuition fees or been granted a scholarship should be able to arrive in Finland in time to begin their studies.
The draft of the Government’s report on education policy includes a goal to greatly increase the number of international students. This is a goal worth supporting. In order to achieve this goal, all suitable tools which will support the goal must be put to use. If students are included in the D visa, everybody wins.