1,2 million Schengen visas was issued by Finland to Russian citizens last year. This year, the figure will be even higher. Finland now counts for one third of all Schengen visas issued in Russia.
The 150 employees at the Finnish visa center in St. Petersburg are working double shift issuing visas. No other centers in the world are issuing more visas. Finland is also boosting the number of visas to Russian’s in the north, up 23 percent last year according to the Barents Secretariat publication Barents Review. The number of visas granted to Russians by Finland rose by 25 percent in the first six months this year compared with the same period 2011.
“I would like to thank Finland for its positive attitude toward granting visas,” Foreign Minister Lavrov said when visiting Helsinki in August. Russia’s approach is full visa-freedom with the EU. That will not happen tomorrow. The issue remains a key sticking point in Russian-EU relations.
Among Russians, Finland is seen as the easiest of the 26 Schengen member states to obtain a visa to. With a visa to Finland, Russians can travel freely to all other Schengen nations as long as Finland is the first and main country they visit. In practice, many Russians get a Finnish Schengen visa, cross the border to Finland for shopping and then travel further to other European countries. That is good business for Finland. Last year, Russian visitors spent around €1 billion in Finland, as reported by BarentsObserver.
Many other Schengen member states are critical to the liberal Finnish visa policy. Ex-diplomat Heikki Talvitie welcomes the flow of Russian shoppers to Finland, but suggest a better coordination of the rules.
“It can’t continue much longer like this. We need coordination between the Schengen countires, Talvities says to Huvudstadsbladet.