Sunday, 25 September, 2022

Finland to drastically cut Russian tourist visas

Finland to drastically cut Russian tourist visas

HELSINKI: Finland will limit Russian tourist visas to 10 percent of current volumes as of September 1 due to rising discontent over Russian tourism amid the war in Ukraine, the government said Tuesday, reports AFP.

"Tourist visas will not stop completely, but their number will be significantly reduced," Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters in Helsinki. 

Tourist visas from neighbouring Russia will be limited by restricting the allotted opening hours for tourism visa applications, as an outright ban based on nationality is not possible, Haavisto said.

"This means that other types of visas -- visits to relatives, family contacts, work, study -- will be given preference and more time," the minister explained. Currently, Finland processes around 1,000 Russian visa applications a day, Haavisto told public broadcaster Yle separately.

Finland will also look into establishing a specific humanitarian visa category, which the country currently lacks.

"This could make the situation in certain circumstances much easier for journalists or NGO workers", Haavisto said.

The foreign minister also announced that Finland was in favour of discontinuing the EU's visa facilitation agreement with Russia, which would increase the price of tourist visas from 35 euros to 80.

Finland intends to raise the issue at the next meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in the Czech Republic on August 30.

The Nordic country has applied for NATO membership after political and popular support for the alliance soared following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, but it remains Russia's only EU neighbour without restrictions on tourist visas for Russian citizens.

After Russia lifted its Covid travel restrictions on July 15, the number of Russian tourists heading to Finland has steadily increased, spurring discontent.

"It's not right that Russian citizens can enter Europe, the Schengen area, be tourists ... while Russia is killing people in Ukraine. It's wrong", Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Monday.

While the numbers are still well below pre-Covid levels, there were more than 230,000 border crossings in July -- up from the 125,000 seen in June.