Q&A about customer service at the Finnish embassies

Finland’s missions have operated throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions by local authorities and the disease situation in each country have placed restrictions on operations and customer service and have required significant additional measures to ensure the health security of customer service. It has been possible to contact missions’ customer service normally by email or telephone.

This article answers to following questions: 

Backlog in processing applications

Applying an entry permit to Finland

Other questions

Backlog in processing applications

Why are Finland’s missions around the world unable to provide customer services normally?

Finland’s missions have operated throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions by local authorities and the disease situation in each country have placed restrictions on operations and customer service and have required significant additional measures to ensure the health security of customer service. It has been possible to contact missions’ customer service normally by email or telephone.

What is the reason for the backlog in processing applications?

A significant proportion of visa and residence permit applications are normally received by an external service provider, which sends applications electronically to the mission for processing. Following the temporary suspension of external service provider services due to the pandemic, missions have made every effort to handle duties related to receipt of applications in addition to their other duties. Missions’ premises and human resources are limited, however. 

In many places, it has already been possible to restart external services to a limited extent, which is helping the situation. In many missions, queues have been cleared, but at several missions this process is still under way.

Why has processing of family reunification cases, for example, been delayed?

Although services were temporarily suspended, applications have accumulated in the electronic residence permit system (EnterFinland) continuously throughout the pandemic. Processing of these applications requires a personal customer service meeting at the mission, for example to verify the identity of the applicant and to save biometrics. Due to the limited availability of customer service visits and the large number of applications submitted electronically in some places, the processing process has unfortunately been protracted.

Why do missions not increase personnel to ensure that a backlog in application processing does not occur?

Increasing personnel would not solve the problem, because it is not possible for the physical customer service premises at missions to accommodate a higher number of customers at the same time while ensuring health security. 

In addition, travel and entry restrictions imposed by local authorities as well as, to some extent, the lack of air connections adversely affect or prevent the sending of additional personnel. In many places, travel restrictions and lockdowns also affect our customers in cases where they have to travel within the country to the capital city where the mission is located.

In addition, although Finland has a comprehensive network of 90 missions around the world, there is not a mission in every country. Travel and entry restrictions imposed by other countries have, in some cases, made it difficult for our customers to travel from their country of residence to the country where the embassy handling the affairs of their country of residence is located.

Applying an entry permit to Finland

How is health security ensured in services at missions?

As a rule, personal services are arranged by appointment to ensure that the number of customers is not excessive. To avoid infections, there can only be one customer at a time in waiting areas. The customer area is ventilated and disinfected between customers.

Why isn’t it possible for a relationship partner to submit a visa application? Why isn’t it possible for a partner to enter Finland with a visa, even though according to a Government decision this should be possible?

By a decision of the Government, as of 6 August 2020 visa applications based on an established relationship are accepted at all Finnish missions based on the exceptional case policy.

Sometimes, however, the pandemic situation causes temporary, unavoidable interruptions to customer service at missions or make it more difficult for the customers to travel within the country to the mission. In a number of countries, air transport has been suspended by the authorities of the host country, so there is no actual possibility to travel to Finland or return to the host country.

It is good to remember that, despite the exceptional case policy, all the conditions for issuing a visa under the Schengen Visa Code must be met in the normal way in order for a visa to be issued. The final decision on a person’s entry is made by the Border Guard at the Finnish border.

If Finland does not have a mission in the visa applicant’s country of residence, have a look at the next question.

If Finland does not have a mission in some country, can a visa application be submitted to the mission of some other country?

A Schengen Member State may represent another Schengen Member State if they have entered into a visa representation agreement with each other. Due to the pandemic, representation agreements have been suspended since 19 March 2020 until further notice. The missions of all the Member States are in the same difficult situation. Consequently, the possibility of having a visa matter handled by another Member State has unfortunately been limited.

Finland has sought to promote a common decision arrangement between the Schengen countries. Pending a common decision arrangement, Finland has proposed bilateral arrangements for visa representation. With visa representation agreements still suspended until further notice, the policy for applicants belonging to special groups is that Finland submits, on a case-by-case basis, a request to the country representing Finland to process the visa application of the person in question. Applicants for a visa on the basis of family ties and an established relationship belong to this group. Additional guidelines can be found here.

In visa matters, the country representing Finland makes all decisions throughout the visa application process in accordance with the Visa Code and the country’s own national requirements and guidelines. These guidelines are determined at a central administration level, i.e. in capital cities. Missions act in accordance with the policies of their own central administrations. It is therefore possible that, even though Finland’s policy is to accept visa applications based on the exceptional case policy, the country representing us may not accept the application if the applicant's situation does not meet the representing country’s own requirements. Moreover, any consideration of a visa and the decision to grant the visa are also at the sole discretion of the representing country. Finland cannot influence a person’s receipt of a visa, even though the exceptional case policy has been issued.

The visa processing procedure of the representing country may also be lengthy and congested, and unfortunately Finland cannot guarantee that the visa representation agreement partner country will process the application.

If Finland does not have a mission in some country, can a residence permit application be submitted to the mission of some other country?

With a few exceptions, Member States to not accept residence permit applications of another Member State for processing. Finland has always requested this option in connection with outsourcing, but no other Schengen state has agreed to accept Finland’s residence permit matters for processing.

Member States do not have the technical capacity to store and send to another Member State’s system an applicant’s biometrics, such as fingerprints and image, for an application.

If Finland does not have a mission in some country, then why can’t the application be submitted to an external service provider in that country?

Only since 2 February 2020 has the Visa Code allowed the possibility of an external service provider being located outside a mission’s host country. No Schengen Member State has yet advanced to making this change, as the coronavirus pandemic suspended the outsourcing projects of all Member States.

Outsourcing is a process in which the personnel of an external service provider are trained specifically in the immigration rules of the country in question, and in which the electronic transfer of information obtained during the visa application, such as biometric data, is arranged on an IT basis from the external service provider to Finland’s visa system. An external service provider cannot therefore, without a separate agreement and information system interoperability, accept a Finnish visa application nor transfer information to Finland’s visa system for decision-making.

In some countries, it has not been possible to accept applicants who need an interpreter for the residence permit interview. Why is this?

This is due to the unsuitability of premises for the pandemic situation. The interpreter normally sits very close to the customer in a small interview room.

This does not ensure a sufficient safety distance for the customer or the interpreter.

The Finnish mission in my country has a queue and it is not possible to submit my residence permit application immediately. Why can’t I travel to a Finnish mission in another country to which there are flights from my country? 

In accordance with the Consular Services Act and the Decree of the President of the Republic, missions have their own jurisdictions and each mission serves the people living within its jurisdiction. Within the area of its jurisdiction, a mission has deep and extensive knowledge of local documents, contacts with local authorities and actors in the area, and the opportunity to serve customers in the language of the area. 

The pandemic is restricting the activities of Finnish missions around the world.

Other questions

Why can’t Finland, like other Schengen countries, issue a national visa instead of a Schengen visa?

Finland currently has no national D visa in use. Legislative preparation on a D visa was launched in autumn 2020, led by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the authorities. 

Does the poor availability of immigration services in many countries violate Finnish law or Finland’s international agreements? 

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a very exceptional situation in which not all services can be organised in the same way as in normal circumstances. 

Legal oversight of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ activities is exercised by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. If a party considers that their rights have been violated, they can submit a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The Parliamentary Ombudsman may also take matters for consideration on his or her own initiative.

What new means could be used to facilitate applications for visas and residence permits and cross-border travel? 

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is working continuously to ensure that safe international traffic is also possible in the future. Utilising digitalisation, it is possible to facilitate processes considerably.

Means include the above-mentioned national visa as well as exploring the possibility of conducting remote interviews, both of which are currently being promoted by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.