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Finland makes it easier for international students to work and stay

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Going forward, international students will receive “continuous” residence permits for the duration of their studies that will make it easier for them to remain in the country after graduating
  • Students’ families will also receive continuous permits
  • The number of hours students can work while studying moves from 25 to 30 hours per week
  • International students can now look for jobs in Finland for two years after graduation (up from one)
  • Finland is attracting a diverse mix of nationalities to its universities

Finland has expanded work opportunities for international students and made it easier for graduates to stay in the country to pursue careers and immigrate. The government’s new reforms, which went into effect on 15 April 2022, represent a new competitive advantage for Finnish educators recruiting in non-EU markets. Speedy visa processing, high visa approval rates, and Finland’s consistently high rankings on quality-of-life indicators are other reasons that international students are drawn to this Nordic study destination.

Road to permanent residency will be easier

International students – and their families – will now receive “continuous” permits valid for the duration of programmes rather than “temporary” permits granted for only two years. This will mean that students will not need to apply for extensions during their studies, and it will also make it easier for them to obtain a permanent residence permit after graduation. This is because permanent residence permits are only granted to foreigners who have held a continuous residence permit for four consecutive years.

To obtain their residence permit, international students must demonstrate that they have adequate financial resources to fund the first year of their studies: €560 per month or €6,720 per year.

The importance of family ties

The decision to include students’ families in the new permit allowance is important; it may have been informed by research showing that students are more likely to choose to immigrate if they have family in Finland. A multi-year tracking study by researchers Charles F Mathies and Hannu Karhunen among more than 13,000 international graduates of Finnish universities found that those students who had family ties in Finland were more likely to choose to migrate there. The researchers noted that “Choosing to migrate is not a choice made in isolation. Often, families (parents, spouses, children) are directly and indirectly a part of the process.”

More work hours during studies

The government also announced that it is extending the number of hours international students can work while studying to 30 per week (up from 25) and extending the duration of the “jobseeker’s permit” for international graduates and researchers from one year to two years. Students can apply for the permit up to five years after graduation, and they can even apply from outside of Finland – a significant detail for those graduates who have left the country in the past few years after running out of time in which to find a job.

Announcing the changes, Minister of Employment Tuula Haatainen said,

“With seamless permit practices, the Government wants to make it easier for international students and researchers to stay in Finland. The new law will enable those who have studied here to look for work and will make Finland a more attractive destination for international experts.”

Finland faces labour force issues that include employers not being able to find qualified workers for open positions. In 2019, more than half (56%) of businesses surveyed by the government said that they had been looking to hire employees in the past 12 months and 44% said they had difficulties finding suitable candidates. Smoothing the pathway for international students to enter the workforce is in line with an effort to fill skills gaps in the Finnish economy.

Educators applaud the reforms

Finnish educators have been eagerly awaiting these immigration reforms. While the reforms were in the proposal stage, Esko Koponen, an international education specialist at the University of Helsinki, told Finland-based Yle News that,

“[The reforms] will facilitate the permit process and remove uncertainty about continuing studies and living in Finland until graduation. Additionally, [the reforms] would improve opportunities for foreign students to find work in Finland after finishing their degrees, which is the goal of many international students.”

Maija Kuiri, the director for study and international affairs at Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), told Yle that the “reforms would send a positive signal to prospective students who were still deciding about which country to study in.”

While international students generally provide high ratings for their studies in Finland, finding a job after graduation has long been a top frustration. In 2017, about half of international students in Finland surveyed for i-graduate’s International Student Barometer said they wanted to remain after graduating but had trouble doing so.

Applications grow despite imposition of tuition fees

There was some speculation that international student numbers would fall in Finland after the government introduced mandatory tuition fees for non-EU students enrolling in English-taught bachelor and master’s programmes in 2017. However, enrolments have fallen only marginally in the years since. Just over 20,000 non-EU students enrolled in Finnish higher education in 2018/19 compared with just over 21,000 in 2016/17, and application volumes rose significantly in 2021 over 2020.
 
Non-EU students’ applications to Finnish universities jumped by 141% in 2021 – from 1,756 to 4,233 – according to the Finnish Immigration Service, and the vast majority (93%) were approved.
 
The bulk of applications came from Russia and China, but universities also reported a significant volume of applications from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. In recent years, Finland has been building a more diverse international student body. In 2019, 31,913 students came to the country from both EU and non-EU countries, and the following chart from IIE shows top sending markets.

Data from the IIE, in partnership with the Finnish National Agency for Education, show that Germany (2,579 students), Russia (2,494), Vietnam (2,428), China (2,193), Spain, (1,249), Nepal (1,052), India (830), Netherlands (796), Bangladesh (773), and Estonia (736) were the top sending markets for Finnish higher education institutions in 2019.

Visa processing and approval rates competitive advantages

Finland is processing students’ applications more rapidly than many countries – in the January–August 2021 period, the processing time for a first residence permit (the permit needed for studies in Finland) was 12 days or less. Research has shown that students consider visa processing delays/difficulties to be a major barrier to study abroad, so Finland’s quick processing of permits is likely helping educators there to recruit students who might be considering more than one destination. By way of comparison, the current visa processing average for Canada is 13 weeks and 3–8 weeks for the UK.

That 93% of non-EU students’ first residence permit applications for study in Finland were approved in 2021 is also noteworthy – it’s a very high approval rate relative to Canada and also higher than the rate in the US (85%). European governments in general are approving more non-EU study visas at higher rates than in North America (e.g., 96.5% for the UK and 92% for Germany).

Asian students go to Finland more than to other Nordic destinations

Finland is attracting more students from Asia than many other European destinations. The OECD notes,

“Among international students in Finland, 39% come from Asia, which is more than in other Nordic countries like Denmark (10%), Iceland (16%), Norway (31%) and Sweden (29%).”

The impressive range of Asian countries represented in Finland’s tertiary student population will be important going forward, as Finland’s ability to recruit in China and Russia may be affected by the Ukraine invasion and by whether Finland decides to apply to NATO as a result of increased Russian aggression.

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