Finnish berry companies told Yle they are eager to recruit seasonal workers from other southeast Asian countries after Thailand cut the number of berry picking visas for Finland.
Some 2,400 Thai berry pickers arrived in Finland this summer, but Finnish berry firms said this number, a slight reduction from last year's 2,500 Thai pickers, and a significant reduction from the 3,500 exit visas issued by Thailand in 2017, has left them with a worker shortage.
In July, Olli Sorainen, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy's Executive Counselor, told Yle that his department was unable to negotiate additional visas with Thai officials. The 2018 conviction of a berry firm owner for trafficking 26 Thais into Finland may have influenced the Thai authorities' decision to refuse the ministry's request. Last year, the owner of a berry company in central Finland was handed a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay some 200,000 euros in damages to its Thai pickers. The case has since moved to an appeals court.
Berry companies: "We need twice as many pickers"
Janne Naapanki of Sotkamo-based berry firm Arctic International said his company was desperately short of pickers.
"This is an acute problem," he told Yle, explaining that his company was trying to get the visa process going with two southeast Asian countries.
"We hope Finnish authorities open up new visa channels for berry picking," Naapanki added.
Vernu Vasunta of berry processor Kiantama in Suomussalmi said he wants to recruit pickers from Vietnam and China.
The Foreign Ministry meanwhile said it was aware of Finnish berry entrepreneurs setting their sights on workers beyond Thailand.
"The poorer the country of origin, the greater the risk of falling victim to human trafficking in Finland or the Schengen area," Leena Liukkonen, who heads the Foreign Ministry's visa unit, told Yle via email.
Liukkonen also pointed out that visa applications from some countries may be subject to review by other Schengen states.
"In these cases granting visas isn’t just up to Finland," Liukkonen explained.