Finnish foreign minister says decision comes amid influx of Russian tourists using Finland as a gateway to European holiday destinations.
Finland will limit the number of visas issued to Russians to 10 percent of the current volume from September 1 due to rising discontent over Russian tourism amid the war in Ukraine, the government has said.
“Tourist visas will not stop completely, but their number will be significantly reduced, ” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday in Helsinki, amid a rush of Russian visitors bound for Europe.
Haavisto said the decision had come as an influx of Russian tourists began using Finland and its Helsinki-Vantaa airport as a gateway to European holiday destinations, after Russia lifted pandemic-related border restrictions a month ago.
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 approximately 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 lacks.
“This could make the situation in certain circumstances much easier for journalists or NGO workers”, Haavisto said.
Just days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Finland joined a string of Western countries in closing their airspace to Russian planes in response, making it difficult for Russians to travel to Europe.
The foreign minister also announced that Finland and the Baltics would together propose that the European Union discontinue a visa facilitation agreement with Russia. This would increase the price of tourist visas from 35 euros to 80 (from $35 to $81).
Finland intends to raise the issue at the next meeting of European Union (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.
“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-19 levels, there were more than 230,000 border crossings in July – up from the 125,000 seen in June.