In a historic move, the Finnish government has granted international students and their families residence permits for the “entire duration” of their studies.
A new act has been proposed to make it easier for students to apply for permanent residency and “work after graduation,” but the announcement also states that students will “remain responsible for their livelihood throughout their studies.”
According to Labour Migration and Integration Unit government counsellor Jarmo Tiukkanen, the government’s main objective is to “triple the number of new students by 2030” and boost the number of third-country students who stay to work after graduation from 50% to a lofty 75%. Finland is expecting 4,856 incoming exchange students in the fall of 2021. Over 20,000 international students are estimated to be studying at higher education institutions across the country, while the country hosted 31,913 inbound students in 2019, according to IIE’s Project Atlas.
In 2016, the government formed a steering committee to develop an international strategy for higher education and research. Finland also intends to triple its international degree student population 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 said.
The legislative reform, which took effect on April 15, aims to “attract significantly more international experts” to Finland’s universities while also making it easier for students to “focus on their studies.” Universities are also “welcoming the law,” knowing how beneficial it will be to international students’ mobility on their campuses. As per Tiukkanen, university degree level students will be granted the A permit, which allows them to stay in Finland indefinitely, while other students will be granted a temporary B permit, which allows them to stay in the country temporarily.
According to several surveys, flexible visa portions and attractive post-graduation employment prospects are highly valued even at the stage when students are researching and selecting their future study destination abroad. Oluwatoyin, who runs a YouTube channel for international students from various countries, stated that the “real highlights” are the job permit extension from one to two years, as well as the increase in weekly work hours.
A further benefit is the application window; instead of applying immediately, job seekers can apply within “five years of the expiration of the residents’ permit.” Tuula Haatainen, Minister of Employment, stated in the announcement that the Finnish government wants to make it “easier for international students” by implementing “seamless permit practises.”
As part of the new permit legislation, students will be permitted to work for 30 hours per week in order to support themselves while studying in Finland. Moreover, the new legislation does not address the issue of tuition fees, which means that students will have a more difficult time studying in the country.
KELA potential advantages include general housing allowance, sickness allowance, and child benefits. The assumption appears to be that many such students will now be able to work sufficient hours to support themselves, but this does not address the question of what will be done for those students who are unable to work.
Besides this, the proposed changes point to 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 thus more “international experts,” who are in demand, will be more inclined to stay in the country, according to Haatainen.
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