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Minister: Finnish government aims to tighten visa rules for Russian citizens

Russian tourists have been able to access Europe via bus and car rides across the Finnish border.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (Green) Image: Lehtikuva

The Finnish government plans to review its policy on granting tourist visas to Russian nationals, according to Minister for Foreign Affairs, Pekka Haavisto (Green).

He said the ministry is preparing new measures about the matter which will then be discussed at a scheduled meeting of EU foreign ministers at the end of the month.

Haavisto said that Finland plans to tighten visa rules for Russian nationals, but noted that the new guidelines need to be in sync with other Schengen countries.

"It is not enough for Finland to make such a decision [independently], we need to have the same rules throughout the Schengen area," he told Yle on Thursday.

Many politicians across party lines have expressed broad support for tightening visa requirements for Russians, sentiments sparked by Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which started at the end of February.

However Russia has recently warned that it would take countermeasures if Finland stops or restricts the issuing of tourist visas to Russian citizens.

Finland plans to appeal to countries across the bloc to begin following the same principles. Haavisto noted there are some legal aspects about making visa policy changes that need to be addressed.

Prioritisation of visa applications and longer processing times are some of the legal ways to deal with the situation, Haavisto suggested.

"If all visa applications are in the same pile, [there's a risk that] more urgent ones can get buried. With this kind of arrangement we could give priority to applicants in real need," the minister said.

Government is set to continue talks regarding the issuing of visas next week, according to Yle's information.

Finland has already introduced some restrictions, including refusing to grant multiple-entry visas to first-time applicants and limiting the number of applications to 1,000 per day.

Current laws, however, prevent a total suspension of visa processing or the annulment of such travel documents which have already been issued.

Yle survey: Majority want to stop tourist visas for Russians

Meanwhile, more than half of people in Finland think the country should stop issuing visas to Russian tourists, according to a new Yle survey carried out by Taloustutkimus.

The polling firm found that 58 percent out of around 1,000 respondents said Finland should stop accepting tourist visa applications from Russian citizens. In contrast, nearly a quarter opposed such a measure while 18 percent did not express a view on the matter.

Those supporting a tourist visa ban mostly included men, people aged between the ages of 50 and 64, high-income earners, as well as opposition National Coalition and Finns party voters.

In protest against Russia's war on Ukraine, most neighbouring countries including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland stopped accepting tourist visa applications in recent months.

Contrary to other bordering countries, however. Finland has continued to process Russian visa applications.

The ministry did not immediately provide the number of visas it has issued to Russian nationals in the weeks since Covid border restrictions were relaxed this summer by publication time, early on Thursday evening.

However, UK newspaper the Guardian (siirryt toiseen palveluun) has reported that Finland granted around 10,520 new tourist visas during the first three weeks of July.

Finland last passage to EU

With the EU having banned Russian planes from its airspace, Finland's border crossing has turned into the last remaining passage for Russians to access to Europe.

Schengen visas allow for travelling to the entire Schengen area, however trips need to include a main destination. If Finland is the issuer of the tourist visa, for example, the holiday should mainly take place in Finland.

Passengers getting off a bus from St Petersburg at Helsinki Airport on 26 July 2022. Image: Anni Ågren / Lehtikuva

"Coming to Finland on holidays and visiting Rome [during the vacation], would still mean the visa's conditions are met," director general for consular services at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Jussi Tanner told Yle.

It is almost impossible for Finnish authorities to know in advance whether travellers intend to comply with the conditions of their visa, Tanner added.

"If it turns out that during last month's trip to Finland the tourist spent three weeks in Rome, the next visa application will likely be denied," he said.

A recent report by Yle's Finnish-language news service observed that the social media platform Telegram has become popular among people seeking or offering rideshare services between Russia and Finland.

For example, it was found that hundreds of messages were being sent to a carpooling channel each day, most of whom are seeking rides to Helsinki's Vantaa airport, according to the report. A ride to Helsinki from St. Petersburg, for example, will cost the passenger around 250 euros.

Roughly 21,500 Russians passed through the border crossing point in Southeastern Finland during the last week of July. About a third were Finnish granted visa-holders.