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Agencies explore idea of Finland as 'remote working paradise'

The pandemic is an opportunity worth billions for Finland, says the country's consul general in Los Angeles.

Work from anywhere. The Koivula-Hulls moved their five-person family from the Bay Area to Kontiolahti in Northern Karelia. Jonathan Hull works for Facebook while Ulla-Maaria Koivula is the founder of education platform ThingLink. Image: Lauri Hämäläinen

A sparsely populated country and relatively stable coronavirus situation are making Finland an attractive destination for an increasing number of people able to work remotely, according to some government agencies.

California is seeing a pandemic-induced exodus, Stefan Lindström, Finland's consul general in Los Angeles, told Yle.

"One of my friends, an Indian-American, is moving to Estonia next week," he said, adding that countries are now competing for nomadic top talent.

The All Points North podcast explored the idea of Finland becoming a haven for remote workers during the pandemic. You can listen to that episode on the embedded player here or via Yle Areena, Spotify (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Apple Podcasts (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or your usual podcast player.

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In addition to Estonia, which recently launched its Digital Nomad Visa programme, the Netherlands is also fast-tracking visas for start-up entrepreneurs, IT professionals and investors. Canada meanwhile offers two-week processing times for certain work permits.

Finland has a lot to offer in this space, according to Lindström.

"Kids' education, work-life balance, nature, green thinking. The fact that Finland is a safe country always attracts interest and so do the happiness reports," he said.

Lindström said queries from Americans about moving to Finland have shot up during the pandemic. But Finland won’t grant Americans work permits unless they have a Finnish employer.

"These aren’t people who would draw on our social welfare system. They would employ themselves in a matter of seconds. They should be allowed to move to Finland," he argued, saying that innovations and investments would transfer to Finland.

EU citizens have a relatively simple route to come to Finland and work as they don’t need a work permit. Arrivals from outside the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) face a longer, more complicated process for which they require a job offer or employment contract.

Helsinki vs Stockholm

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has also taken notice of migration patterns during the pandemic. State growth-promoting agency Business Finland is ramping up its marketing efforts in California’s Silicon Valley while also trying to assess how serious locals there are about a potential move to Finland.

Earlier this month Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen proposed creating a visa shortcut for highly skilled workers arriving from outside of the EU. These people could see their applications processed in two weeks, according to Vanhanen.

But it’s unlikely that Finland will roll out a remote worker visa anytime soon, according to Laura Lindeman, who works with international talent attraction at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

She said expediting visas for certain types of professionals would require a legislative change.

Lindeman, however, argued that antiquated views are the main obstacle when it comes to revamping visas. She said Finland’s foreign policy has traditionally placed security concerns ahead of economic ones.

Marja-Liisa Niinikoski, who works at Helsinki Business Hub, a promotion agency for the capital region, said she doesn’t understand why work-based visas require a Finnish employer.

"Global nomads go where they like and take their wealth with them. We’re arriving late to this game of competing for talent,” Niinikoski said. "This is the first time Helsinki has a brand that could supersede Stockholm’s."