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Thai officials hold back on visas for berry pickers

Human trafficking scandal influences Thai decision, as this summer's first wave of seasonal workers arrives in Finland.

Thai-poimija kerää mustikoita Luumäellä
Thai authorities have only granted 2,400 visas for berry pickers coming to Finland this year. Image: Mikko Savolainen / Yle

Authorities in Thailand have limited the number of Thai citizens who can apply for visas to work as berry pickers in Finland this summer, despite a request from Finland's Ministry of Employment and the Economy for additional workers.

The total number of applications allowed this year by Thai officials will be approximately 2,400, a figure slightly down on last year's 2,500, and a significant reduction from the 3,500 visas issued in 2017. 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.

Olli Sorainen, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy's Executive Counselor, confirmed to Yle that his department was unable to negotiate additional visas with Thai officials.

First pickers arrive in Lapland

The first group of Thai berry pickers, numbering approximately 600, will arrive in Lapland next week to start their temporary contracts with the Rovaniemi-based wild food company Polarica Marja. The company also operates in Sweden, where they will have about 1,200 Thai pickers working there over the summer months.

The visa wrangle has left Polarica Marja with fewer workers than they wanted in Finnish Lapland.

"The need in Finland would have been for about 800 to 1,000 pickers," the firm's Executive Director Jukka Kristo said.

Story continues after photo

Marjoja kädessä.
Cold weather has created uncertainty over the potential for the berry harvest this summer. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

According to Kristo, the situation is further complicated by the impact the cold early summer has had on berry harvest forecasts in Lapland, and many workers may begin the season by picking bilberries in southern Finland.

"We will wait until we get a more detailed explanation next week," Kristo added.

Early predictions from Finland's National Resources Institute LUKE, however, suggest that berries are blossoming abundantly. LUKE estimates that the cloudberry harvest in Lapland can commence in mid-July, with bilberry picking likely to start in late July.

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