Wednesday 5/12/21

A #ReformMigri petition fueled by suffering

People queuing early Friday morning outside Migri's office in Helsinki. Photo: Bambi Dang.
People queuing early Friday morning outside Migri's office in Helsinki. Photo: Bambi Dang.

The starting point

I am an Aalto graduate from Taiwan who initiated this #ReformMigri petition partly because I have been impacted by the brunt of Migri’s bureaucracy since 2017.

In fact, on the second day I arrived in Helsinki, I was jet-lagged and disoriented, but needed an appointment to kick off my study. Unfortunately I could not find one earlier and had to wait outside Migri’s service point.

At 7:30 on a chilly morning, a big group of applicants already formed a long queue. Eventually, starved and exhausted, I waited for over 6 hours to finish a 30-min interview.

A jobseeker visa takes up to 4 months

Recently, I was shocked to learn that an extended residence permit to look for work or start a business after graduation not only requires a paper application and an appointment, but also a whopping four months to process it. Upsettingly, job-hunting for foreigners in Finland is laden with obstacles and this jobseeker permit is one of the last straws. It seems like the message from Migri to immigrants is “Go home. We don’t want you here.”

Many others like me feel unwelcome and unwanted.

The jobseeker permit should be easy to process since international students have personal data registered and Migri has records of their previous permits. Along with the latter, a Finnish degree certificate can simply be verified in a digital form through a university’s database for example. However, Migri’s process seems to be ridden with unnecessary complications that hinders these mechanisms from assisting all parties.

Having published a trending post on LinkedIn, Migri responded by claiming to make applications easier and faster, but unfortunately have failed to promise fundamental changes. Therefore, I decided to start a petition and this has shed light on even more unsettling suffering from other international talent.

It seems like the message from Migri to immigrants is 'Go home, we don’t want you here'

Several others who read my LinkedIn post messaged me about their struggles with Migri, their panic, anxiety, and disappointment are overwhelming. I wish I could take their pain away. Luckily, I have met a diverse group of people determined to improve the Finnish Immigration Service.

Unreasonable processing time caused by falling behind a digital era

Migri is quite conservative in public service, which only allowed strong identification to access e-service since 2020 while other institutions have practiced it for years.

Its application process is complicated and time-consuming, for example: a study permit to be issued or for renewal takes 3-4 months.

Due to severe delays, every year, Migri has often failed to secure the study rights of tuition-fee paying non-EU students. In addition, many of them have also been denied services to enter Finland due to COVID-19.

For example, students from Taiwan were left with no choice but to travel to Hong Kong to obtain a study permit, which is dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming with double quarantine time.

I decided to start a petition and this has shed light on even more unsettling suffering from other international talent

Before the pandemic, international students have waited longer for the first study residence permit and missed half of the first semester. Other permits take even longer, for example: a work permit could take 3 to 8 months, while an entrepreneurship one up to 11 to 12 months.

No wonder this type of unbearable bureaucracy is leading to Finland losing international talent in a competitive global environment despite the potential this country holds.

Finland losing global talent due to bureaucracy

Peter Vesterbacka, the founder of Finest Bay Area and Mighty Eagle of Rovio/Angry Birds aptly said:

“Finland has a thriving startup ecosystem and for example the local games companies are known for having produced some of the biggest global hit games. That has been made possible by having access to the global talent no matter where in the world that person happens to be. In the fast moving, ultra competitive, business of startups and games, every single day counts. Having to wait for months and months for global talent to clear the Finnish immigration bureaucracy is a massive competitive disadvantage that Finland as a nation can't afford. This has to be fixed. Now.”

Across the border, Estonia fares much better with an excellent e-service, which processes a long-stay visa in a span of 30 days. Vesterbacka is disappointed to see that in three years, 500+ founders decided to move to Estonia 1500 employees.

Estonia fares much better with an excellent e-service, which processes a long-stay visa in 30 days

Migri’s system is inclined to create backlogs. Permits are delayed over the longest processing time frequently. Besides, the appointment booking system has no mechanisms to limit one booking for each applicant. Some take advantage of the loophole and sell them online to those who are desperate.

It literally takes a village to book a Migri appointment. Family members and friends are clicking back and forth online hoping to snap one when someone cancels it. This also causes serious congestion in service points. People wait in the long line hours after hours in the cold outside because it is impossible to get an appointment online.

A viral post on twitter shared a painful experience about waiting for 7.5 hours outside at +3°C and being told to come back the next day.

Other immigrants have also lost their rights to extended permits by the ill-designed booking system and overloaded service capacity. For example, a researcher lost the chance to get a permanent residence permit, and the four-year hard work record was deleted by Migri.

In another case, a software developer from Pakistan who has been a taxpayer in Finland since 2018 was forced to be separated from his wife. She is only allowed to await a residence permit in the home country and might wait up to one year.

He said: “I feel that this is an unreasonable amount of time, as my spouse has to wait in her home country in limbo, and it has taken a toll on our relationship."

Migri can play a key role and should start by ceasing to be an obstacle for national development

Finland is an aging society in need of international talents to remain competitive globally and secure a prosperous future. Migri can play a key role and should start by ceasing to be an obstacle for national development.

A streamlined and friendly immigration service can help Finland fight for the best talent in the world and respect those who seek to contribute to Finnish society. Therefore, Migri certainly must be reformed as soon as possible.

Please join us on this petition. Released on May 4th. May the force be with us.

More info: #ReformMigri website and Facebook page.

A #ReformMigri petition fueled by suffering
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