Russian visitors keep Finnish visa centre hopping

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Some 60 officials now check visa applications in Kouvola. (Tuuli Liekari / Yle)
Some 60 officials now check visa applications in Kouvola. (Tuuli Liekari / Yle)

Record numbers of Russians are coming to Finland for holidays, shopping, work or studies. As a result, a visa-handling centre in the south-west of the country is keeping busy – and possibly expanding.

This has been a busy summer at the Foreign Ministry’s visa processing centre in Kouvola, south-eastern Finland. In tandem with the Finnish consulate in St Petersburg, Russia, the centre handles some 5,000 applications a day – sometimes even as many as 7,000. The Kouvola unit processes half of the visa applications submitted at the St Petersburg consulate.

In July, more than 150,000 visas were either granted or rejected. That was about 10 percent more than a year earlier.

“Records have recently been broken at border crossing points and that can also seen in our visa-processing workload,” the head of the Kouvola centre, Harri Heikkinen, told Yle.

“That’s because of the holiday season but also because of the economic situation. And a growing number of visa applications has been a continuous trend,” he adds.

Expansion this autumn?

Last spring, officials said that all of the visa applications handed in to Finnish representations in Russia may be transferred to Kouvola for processing. Heikkinen says this plan is still in the works, although a final decision has not yet been made.

“We have the full readiness here to handle that,” he says. “We may be hiring more staff this autumn.”

There are now about 60 people working at the visa office in Kouvola. It was launched a year ago as a pilot project and made permanent in June this year.

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