Typography

Does your status as an EU citizen lessen the bureaucratic nightmare faced when moving to Finland?

CURRENTLY in Finland there are just over 60,000 non-Finnish citizens employed in the country. This works out at around 2.6 per cent of the working population. With the numbers of foreigners altogether in the country running at around 3.2 per cent, this shows a healthy representation of foreigners’ contribution to the nation.

Many foreign workers arrive to Finland with a contract already – some 43,000 foreigners are employed in the private sector, with large numbers with Nokia, Kone, Neste Oil, ABB, Stora Enso and the other big-hitters in Finnish industry. For them the move is relatively easy – Nokia and Kone can order qualified workers from wherever they need them, and often everything down to accommodation is sorted out by the employer.

There are however a great number of foreigners in the country who are highly qualified, willing and yet frustratingly unable to work. A common complaint of those who arrive to the country without a job waiting for them is endless bureaucratic red tape and Catch-22 scenarios of residence permits and municipality of residence.

EU citizens
Citizens of the European Union, Liechtenstein and Switzerland all have the right to live and work in Finland without any permit, provided they stay no longer than three months. For longer stays, EU citizens must register their right to reside in Finland with the Immigration Police and apply for a residence permit. Citizens of the Nordic countries are registered at a Register Office.

EU citizens may stay in Finland for longer than three months if they are actively seeking employment and have a “real chance of finding employment,” as judged by the Finnish Immigration Service. Once an EU citizen has resided in Finland for five years, he may apply for a permanent right of residence.

Right of permanent residence or municipality of residence is decided on by the Maistraatti and can be based on residing in Finland for five years, marriage to a Finnish citizen or having a work contract that is for 12 months or more. There seems to be a grey area in decisions made by the Maistraatti and this leads to a lot of frustration. Technically without permanent residence one cannot get a library card or avail of the municipal travel pass for public transport.

Many foreigners who have lived and worked in the country for 3 or 4 years on short-term contracts (unfortunately the norm in Finland these days) feel angered at what they perceive as being treated as second class citizens. There is a case to argue that after years of living here and paying taxes, how can a person not even be entitled to a library card?

Here SixDegrees tries to cut through the maze of government departments one should visit, what forms you need to fill, as well as talking to two people whose stories tell of the frustration so many feel in their attempt to gain employment.

The journeys people taken to reach their goal of living, and most importantly working in Finland are often very different. EU citizenship plays a big role, as we see. A recurring factor is the confusion over which government body handles each aspect of immigration. Integration plans are not always available to some of those who wish to wish to learn the language whilst actively seeking work.

Finland has one of the lowest percentages of foreign nationals of all EU countries and immigration is still, relatively speaking, a new thing here. Do the authorities need to simplify and clarify the process, to get non-nationals contributing to a society that is still cautious about foreigners?

Integration is a myth
Karl is a highly-qualified professional who craves to work and contribute to Finnish society. As a non-EU citizen he’s found that harder to achieve than it sounds.

“I can’t understand why the government here in Finland doesn’t invest a little more time and money in highly-qualified people, to get them into the labour market. A few thousand euros and some months of language training and within a year they have repaid that investment in tax alone,” says Karl, a qualified physiotherapist from Australia. He asked that his real name not be used.

Karl qualified with a BSc in physiotherapy from Australia in July 1997 and worked there for some months before moving to the United States in January 1998 on a student visa, to continue his studies and then to practice as a physiotherapist.

“I received my license to practice in March 1998 and was studying for an MBA in Hospital Management and Healthcare Administration. Then I moved to Michigan from Oklahoma City and spent ten years there working as a physiotherapist having got my work visa in October – life was good and the money was great,” explains Karl

Non-EU citizens
A non-EU citizen seeking to work and live in Finland must apply for a residence permit to engage in any lucrative activities. This ruling applies regardless of whether an individual is employed or self-employed. To apply for the permit, an individual must complete an application form, pay a processing fee and have a potential employer in Finland, who presents additional information on the terms of work.

Applications may be submitted to Finnish embassies or consulates abroad or to police departments within major Finnish cities. However, in most cases, non-EU citizens must wait for the permit to be awarded while abroad. Residence permits for self-employed applicants must contain a business plan, as well as details regarding the business’s operation and size.

According to these guidelines a non-EU citizen cannot enter the country as a job-seeker, or for reasons other than study, or refugee or asylum seeker status.

It was in Michigan that Karl met his future wife and they were married in August 2007. “My wife is from Russia and we thought about where we’d like to start a family and raise our children – we decided on Finland. My brother was working in Finland and married to a Finnish woman. Also Finland is closer to my wife’s home country,”

“I sold my house and took my savings to move to Finland. I came here at first on a visitor visa, with the intention of investing in my brother’s restaurant and availing of the entrepreneur’s visa. I came in January 2008, but had been already investing in the business since its starting up 4 months earlier,”

“When we arrived to Finland the immigration authorities explained there is was point to try for the entrepreneur’s visa, as you need to invest 100,000 euros and I had only 80,000 to invest. We were told to apply for visa on the basis of being employed in the restaurant, but the salary was deemed insufficient,” says Karl.

In May 2008 Karl’s wife gave birth to their baby boy and he felt he needed to stabilise the situation. “I decided to study Environmental Planning and Management in Tammisaari – at that time even just give me breathing space to let me figure out how to settle in Finland. I scored 2nd best in entrance exam from 78 people around the world.”

While on a student visa, a student who is studying for at least two years must have private insurance which covers the cost of medical treatment up to 30,000 euros. Also, 6,000 euros must be shown in the bank at all times for each family member – in Karl’s case 18,000 euros. During that time a student is limited to the amount of hours they can work – making a reasonable income next to impossible.

“My wife and I had applied for a residence permit, which takes a long time, and when our son was born we had to add his name to the application. He may be born in Finland, but he’s not allowed to stay in Finland. So for him to apply for residency he needed a passport. You can’t apply for a Russian passport until a child is six months old, so we got an Australian passport for my son – which was much easier,” says Karl.

List of useful websites:

www.ne-ra.fi

Based at the Kalliola Settlement in Helsinki - Ne-Rå is financed by RAY (raha-automaattiyhdistys) and works in conjunction with universities and universities of applied sciences.
Offers counselling on social services and benefits, a place to discuss your concerns, assistance with filling in forms, support in dealing with authorities and is open for everyone. Ne-Rå functions outside the realm of governmental and municipal services, and promises professional confidentiality.  Ne-Rå’s services are free and it aims for the prevention of exclusion and the promotion of inclusion.

www.luckan.fi

Website info in a number of different languages. Luckan’s Bridge is a Finland-Swedish integration service in the capital region and provides information and help to immigrants to find a job, study place, volunteer work or services. Runs educational events such as writing a CV for a job in Finland, preparing for an interview to the hygiene and training proficiency programme, which is necessary for bar and restaurant work. Website offers excellent links to job hunting sites and a clear ‘Action Plan to get started in Finland’.

www.infopankki.fi

The pages of Info Bank contain important basic information for immigrants on the functioning of society and opportunities in Finland. Website in a number of different languages. It is also possible to call to infopankki’s office and discuss your situation.

www.poliisi.fi

The Immigration Police are responsible for handling licence and investigation issues related to immigration administration in the Helsinki area. The Immigration Unit deals with processing of residence permits (including workers), EU-citizens right to reside in Finland, visa extensions and re-entry visas, passports and travel documents for aliens, nationality issues and identity card issues for aliens. In Finnish, Swedish and English.

www.maistraatti.fi

The local register office maintains a national Population Information System and decides on municipality of residence.

www.migri.fi

This site gives you information on immigration principles and practices applied in Finland. Contains useful flowcharts on the route employed and self-employed people must take on arriving to the country. The FAQ section is also very useful.

“Four years on from first arriving in Finland and I’ve finished my studies now. My wife and child have had to return to Russia as they could not remain on my study visa which has expired – the only way my wife and child can remain in the country is for me to prove earnings of 1,800 euros a month. At the moment I work two jobs and do more 60 hours a week, making studying the Finnish language extremely difficult.”

Under the terms of Karl’s temporary work visa he must work in the area in which he qualified – which is the healthcare sector. Environment planning work is not allowed as there must be a single speciality field, and more profitable jobs, such as taxi-driving, are off limits.

“My main occupation now is care-assistant, and though it’s worthwhile work it’s not what I’m trained to do. No disrespect intended, but I’m basically working as a maid now. When I was in the US I was making over six-figures a year. I’d love a chance to practise my profession as I did in America, but the government is more concerned about making you jump through hoops than helping you to contribute in a real way – both financially and to Finnish society,”

“My main struggle now is to get my wife and child to Finland. A distance of 2,000 km is too far to watch your son grow up.”

Having a job opened doors
Colm is an electrical engineer who has finally found light at the end of the tunnel in Finland. As an Irish and EU citizen his journey was eased somewhat along the way.

“I realised quickly that having a work contract would open previously locked doors. As if by magic I was told that any issues with the immigration service, immigration police, residency permits, Kela, social security number and bank account would be rapidly solved,” says Colm from Ireland.

Having qualified as an electrical engineer from University College Cork in 2006, Colm went on to do his master’s in 2008. He decided to move to Finland last year to be with his Finnish girlfriend of several years.

“I initially arrived over in September of 2011 and within the first day or so went to the EURES (European Employment Services) offices at Kluuvi in Helsinki. There was a very helpful lady there who explained that I may be entitled to help from the Irish social welfare system, were I registered as unemployed there,” explains Colm.

There is an agreement between EU states that if an individual is registered as unemployed for four weeks in their home country they may apply for a U2 (or E303) form. This form authorises you to keep claiming your old unemployment benefit in the new country for a period of three months. It is important to register as available for work with the local employment service in the new country within 7 days of arriving to avoid losing any benefit.

“I returned to Ireland and registered as a job-seeker and applied for the form. After the four weeks I returned to Finland with my U2 form and presented myself at the EURES offices. There was no problem claiming the allowance for three months – in fact the Irish welfare system paid this, so it’s not a concern to Kela – but when I asked about a residence permit I was given the usual line of needing to have means to support myself and address etc,” says Colm.

“It was a frustrating time, being unemployed, and frankly the job-seeking assistance in Finland seems to amount to a fruitless monthly appointment where you basically ‘sign-on’. I’d heard great things about integration plans and state-run language courses, but these were only available to me if I was employed. I figured that now that I was unemployed it might be a good time to become integrated and not later on when I would hopefully be busy with work.”

An unemployed immigrant who has a home municipality in Finland and comes within the sphere of a labour market subsidy and/or social assistance is entitled to be in an integration plan and to receive assistance. In an integration plan agreement is reached on how immigrants will become familiar with their new country of residence, learn the country’s language, supplement their occupational skills and acquire information and skills.

To have home municipality one must go through the asylum seeker/refugee process, be married to a Finn or have a work contract for at least one year. Maistraatti decides on this and as a job-seeking EU citizen Colm could not avail of the integration plan.

“I had a number of job interviews and was feeling increasingly confident that I would get a job, but felt frustrated that I could be learning Finnish, or even Swedish, when I had time on my hands. For the moment I still had job-seekers’ allowance from Ireland, but it’s not a whole lot and language courses seem quite expensive.”

“There was, however, a course run by Ne-Rå called ABC of Finnish Bureaucracy which was really helpful. One particular evening at the course the main speaker was a man who was quite high up in the immigration services. He had apparently lost his notes and for the next two hours faced a barrage of questions from frustrated individuals that he seemed to have little answers for. Not the Finnish efficiency we all hear about.”

“Just recently though I’ve got a job with VTT – Technical Research Centre of Finland. I returned to the employment office, VTT contract in hand, expecting to be finally given some integration plan or Finnish courses and was told, ‘Sorry, this is only for unemployed immigrants with residence permits.’ So, in real terms, it seems to get assistance I need to come, get a job and lose it again.”

“I’ve signed my 12-month contract this week and next week I meet somebody from KPMG who will sort out my paperwork. Everything from residency permit, bank account, Kela number to immigration police and maistraatti. It was like somebody waved a magic wand,” jokes Colm. “But I’m certainly glad I’m not still stuck in the bureaucratic maze – frustrating is the best word I can use.”

Text Dave Dunne, Illustration Marco Bevilacqua