Haavisto: Finland to limit tourist visas for Russians
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is looking for models “that would be both legal and effective to prevent Russian tourist visa fraud,” Haavisto said to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
Finland is today along with Norway the only European country with a direct border to Russia still issuing tourist visas. The Baltic states and Poland no longer issues visas unless the applicant has a special reason, that be for instance exile-journalists, humanitarian reason, or family relations.
While Norway for the most only issues tourist visas, or so-called Pomor-visas, to Russian citizens from the northern regions of Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Nenets, Finland has granted tourist visas to all Russians. That has made the country a popular passageway for people heading to other destinations in Europe.
A tourist visa to Finland opens the door for travel to the entire Schengen Europe.
Haavisto said Finland plans to raise the visa issue at the extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Czech Republic later this month.
“This is clearly a question for the Schengen system. For example, many people come to Helsinki-Vantaa airport with visas from other Schengen countries,” Haavisto said to Helsingin Sanomat.
The foreign minister notes that there are a few other Schengen countries that issues far more tourist visas to Russians than Finland, like Greece and Spain. But with all passenger and private flights between Russia and Europe halted, the land-border route from St. Petersburg via Helsinki has become a popular route after Russia lifted its covid-restrictions at land borders on July 15th.
How the new rules will look remain to see. The foreign minister said to broadcaster YLE that prioritization of visa applications and longer processing times are some of the legal ways to deal with the situation.
“With this kind of arrangement we could give priority to applicants in real need,” Haavisto said.
Some restrictions already in force include refusing to grant multiple-entry visas to first-time applicants and limiting the number of applications to 1,000 per day.
Giving priority to Russians applying for student, family, and worker visas would push tourist applicants further back in the line.
In a grassroots initiative launched last week, more than 7,000 Finns have signed a call for banning new visas and canceling existing visas for Russians. If gathering 50,000 signatures within half a year, Finnish law says the issue must be considered by the parliament.
Cross-border travel on both from Russia to both Norway and Finland has increased since the covid-restrictions were lifted three weeks ago.
While traffic over the single checkpoint Storskog-Borisoglebsk on the Norwegian-Russian border more than doubled since July 15th, the three busiest checkpoints on the Finnish-Russian border, Imatra, Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa were up 3 to 4 times compared with July last year, an overview from the Finnish Border Guard shows.