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Finland: “unreasonable” residence permit process limiting int’l enrolments, say universities

Universities in Finland are struggling to increase international student enrolment numbers due to bureaucracy surrounding residence permits, a survey by the country’s national public broadcasting company has found.

Immigration processes did not feature as an area for improvement in a 2017 international student barometer in Finland. Photo: pixabay

Representatives labelled the current processing period "unreasonable"

Speaking with representatives of 18 universities of applied sciences and eight universities in Finland, Yle found that only three of the 26 felt the current residence permit processing system worked well.

“Smooth immigration processes play an important role in the global competition for international talent”

Schools suggested that the length of time the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) takes to make residence permit decisions stretches months, resulting in some new students missing the start of their studies.

Representatives labelled the current processing period “unreasonable” and said that it required “fine-tuning”.

According to Migri’s head of immigration unit Tiina Suominen, while student residence permit applications should be processed within 30 days, applicants have to prove they have enough funds to pay their living expenses during their stay in the country, which leads to delays.

Applications may also not be filled out properly, and the unit isn’t “given any kind of warning that certain groups are coming and they need to start their studies at a certain time,” Suominen told Yle.

The Finnish National Agency for Education EDUFI is working in cooperation with Migri with the aim of “improving digital services for prospective students”, Maija Airas, head of unit, international higher education cooperation, and Hanna Boman, head of unit, support for internationalisation at EDUFI told The PIE News.

“From the perspective of EDUFI, smooth immigration processes play an important role in the global competition for international talent, including international degree students,” they noted.

“This has been widely recognised among various national authorities in Finland.”

EDUFI also welcomed the initiative by the ministry of education and culture and the ministry of interior to create a working group aiming to improve immigration processes and integration of international degree students.

“In view of the existing talent shortage in the labour market, EDUFI finds it important to take a holistic view on how Finland welcomes international students in the first place and how we succeed in integrating international students into the society both during studies and after graduation.”

Airas and Boman explained that the 2017 international student barometer tracking satisfaction with studies and services, reasons for coming to Finland, and plans after graduation did not feature immigration processes as an area that needed improvement.

“It is important to note, however, that there is no data available whether other countries succeed better than Finland in attracting prospective international students, due to their more customer-friendly and accessible immigration services,” Airas and Boman added.

“It’s important to take a holistic view on how Finland welcomes international students”

Teemu Kokko, president of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki said he was convinced that the ministry of education and Migri will find improvements to streamline the residence permit process.

“Traditional migration procedures have to be developed in order to meet up with the new requirements,” Kokko said, adding that the “commercial export of education is a relatively new activity in Finland”.

In 2018, online student choice platform Studyportals suggested interest in Finland from prospective non-EU students was at an ‘all-time low’ since tuition fees were announced in 2016, although the market is expected to recover.

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