Finland’s attractiveness for international students is dependent on adequate resources for residence permit processes

This autumn many students arriving from a country outside the EU and EEA have been unable to start their studies in time, because of delays in the processes of residence permits. If Finland wants to continue attracting more international students and experts, the immigration service and embassies must have adequate resources.

Many students arriving in Finland from a country outside the EU and EEA have been unable to start their studies at the beginning of the academic year in September due to delays in the processing of their residence permit applications. This has many negative consequences for students.

The University of Helsinki accepts students from all over the world. Currently the university has a few international students from countries experiencing most delays in the permit application process. At some Finnish universities, the amount of students waiting for their permit application to be accepted can be much higher.

Aino Turunen, a planning officer at the University's Teaching and Learning Services, communicates with the students waiting for a decision on their residence permit. She says they are worried about missing out on orientation week and not starting their studies with everyone else.

“If they get to start their studies in, for instance, January, they have to find their bearings with little recourse to outside assistance,” Turunen says.

A late start can make it difficult for students to become integrated into their new environment, both socially and academically. It can also lead to students having inadequate knowledge for their courses, difficulties in completing them and insufficient support networks. All this can add to their stress.

“Students liable to pay a tuition fee and scholarship recipients generally have it tough because they have to pay for their studies or have been granted a two-year scholarship. As a result, they also worry about having to pay fees for nothing or wasting their scholarship due to not being let into the country,” Turunen points out.

Added costs

Delays in studies are costly to both students and the University. If students have to delay their studies by a year, the University must cancel their registration and reimburse their tuition fee.

The students suffer considerable losses due to banking fees, cancelled flights, extra rent payments and the costs of residence permit applications. In addition, some countries have no Finnish embassy, which means students may have to travel and acquire visas to demonstrate their identity for their application.

Students may also face an unplanned gap year and uncertainty over the future of their studies. At worst, they may already have resigned from their job due to the planned studies, thus jeopardising their livelihood in their home country.

A stain on Finland’s reputation

“Delayed and negative residence permit decisions also affect Finland’s reputation as an educational destination,” says Sini Saarenheimo, head of the University of Helsinki’s Admission Services.

Legislation on registration at higher education institutions does not permit the postponement of studies due to extended permit application processes.  This is frustrating for students, as they have practically no control over permit procedures.

Students can postpone the beginning of studies only if they first lose their right to study and then regain it. This bureaucratic complication and the related uncertainty, inconvenience and processing charges make students feel unwelcome. They also erode students’ trust in Finnish practices – especially as some of them may be paying more than ten thousand euros for their studies.

The University of Helsinki’s opinion is international students should be given the option to postpone their studies if their residence permit is delayed. It would not eliminate the problem of the Finnish Immigration Service Migri’s long processing times. It would, however, send the right message to students, help the University deal with the situation and make it easier to communicate with students when they are enrolled at the University.

The University of Helsinki is also concerned about recent news concerning staff cuts at Migri. Despite the introduction of tuition fees, the number of applicants to the University has seen a 2.5-fold increase in the past two years, with the growth expected to continue.

“We expect the number of applicants and admitted students to increase because the University has made significant investments in its new multidisciplinary degree programmes and global digital marketing, so Migri must be allocated appropriate resources,” Saarenheimo states.