In a landmark move by the Finnish government, international students and their family members will have access to residence permits for the “entire duration” of the students’ studies.
A new act designed to make it easier for students to apply for permanent residency and “work after graduation” has been put forward, but the announcement does also make it known that students will “still be responsible for their livelihood throughout their studies”.
The government’s ultimate aim, according to Labour Migration and Integration Unit government counsellor Jarmo Tiukkanen, is to “triple the number of new students by the year 2030”, and increase the number of third country students staying in work after graduation from 50% to a lofty 75%.
In autumn 2021, Finland welcomed an estimated 4,856 incoming exchange students. It’s estimated that over 20,000 international students are studying at higher education institutions across the country, while, according to IIE’s Project Atlas, the country hosted 31,913 inbound students in 2019.
The government appointed a steering group in 2016 to prepare an international strategy for higher education and research. Finland also aims to triple its number of international degree students by 2030.
“[This new way] the pathway to permanent residence and citizenship will be faster for students – their very first day in Finland will count,” Oluwatoyin K., an international master’s student in Finland, told The PIE News.
The legislative reform, that officially entered into force on April 15, will hope to “attract significantly more international experts” to Finland’s universities, and make it easier for students to “focus on their studies”.
“This particular amended law will level up Finland’s competitiveness among international students”
Universities are also “welcoming the law”, knowing what good it will do for the mobility of international students on their campuses.
“We do anticipate that this will level up Finland’s competitiveness in the long run and also increase the number of international students remarkably,” director of international affairs at the University of Eastern Finland Riikka Pellinen said.
According to Tiukkanen, university degree level students will get the A permit – the continuous residence permit in Finland – while other students will still get a temporary B permit, which covers temporary residence in the country.
“For all students, another change is also that they only need to apply for the residence permit once, because it will simply be granted for the time that their studies take,” Tiukkanen told The PIE News.
“According to several surveys, flexible visa portions and attractive employment prospects after graduation are valued highly already at the stage when students are investigating and choosing their future study destination abroad,” senior adviser at Study in Finland Hanna Isoranta told The PIE.
“Study in Finland believes that this particular amended law will level up Finland’s competitiveness among international students,” she added.
Oluwatoyin, who runs an information channel on YouTube for international students in various countries, remarked that the “real highlights” are the job permits’ extension from one to two years, as well as the extension of work hours per week.
Another advantageous aspect is its application window; instead of being applied for immediately, jobseekers can apply for them within “five years of the expiration of the residents’ permit”.
“If [a student] has work or s/he leaves the country after graduation, s/he can apply for this permit afterwards, in case s/he is wanting to come back and look for work,” Tiukkanen explained.
“The permit can also be used in three phases wherein each are a minimum of six month’s length,” he added.
Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen said on the announcement that the government in Finland wants to make it “easier for international students” with “seamless permit practices”.
“It is also worth noting that the renewed student residence permit legislation allows international students to do more part-time work during their studies,” Isoranta said.
As part of the new permit legislation, students will be allowed to work for 30 hours a week to continue to support themselves throughout their studies in Finland.
However, the new legislation does not take the issue of tuition fees into account; some of which mean that students will have more difficulty studying in the country.
“[It is a concern] that before now residents of Finland on a continuous A permit do not pay tuition in Finnish universities and are entitled to KELA benefits,” Oluwatoyin explained.
KELA benefits encompass things such as general housing allowance, sickness allowance and child benefits.
“The new law says the A permit will be issued to students henceforth and they must still pay tuition with no more benefits from KELA – we need more clarification on that,” Oluwatoyin added.
“Finland will be more attractive than before to those mature students who are ready to settle down”
The assumption seems to be that these students will now be able to work enough hours to get money to support themselves, but this does not answer the question of what will be done for those students unable to work to support themselves.
Despite this, the amendments point to an aim for a more long-term positive outcome – effectively, students will not need to be continuous permanent residents for as long to be eligible to apply for Finnish citizenship – and therefore more “international experts”, which are in demand, according to Haatainen, will be more inclined to stay in the country.
“As a result [of this new permit legislation], Finland will be more attractive than before to those mature students who are ready to settle down and build their future in Finland,” Isoranta said.
“We warmly welcome the law, as it will help the students to save time and energy, and provide more stability when residence permits are admitted for a longer period of time,” added Pellinen.
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