Finland limits visas to Russians amid rush of Europe-bound tourists

Finland limits visas to Russians amid rush of Europe-bound tourists

HELSINKI: Finland will slash the number of visas issued to Russians to 10% of the current amount from Sept 1, foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday, amid a rush of Russian tourists bound for Europe.

Haavisto said the decision had come as an influx of Russian tourists begun using Finland and its Helsinki-Vantaa airport as a gateway towards European holiday destinations, after Russia lifted pandemic-related border restrictions a month ago.

"And this maybe is not very appropriate if we, for example, think of the airspace restrictions put in place for Russia," 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.

Finland and the Baltics would together propose that the European Union discontinues a visa facilitation agreement with the Russian federation that makes it easier for Russians to travel to and within the European Union, Haavisto said.

Some EU leaders such as Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her Estonian counterpart Kaja Kallas have called for an EU-wide visa ban, which German Chancellor Olaf Scholz contested on Monday, saying Russians should be able to flee their home country if they disagree with the regime.

Finland was looking into creating a national humanitarian visa which could be granted to Russians that needed to flee or visit Europe for purposes such as journalism or advocacy, Haavisto added.

According to European Union rules, a tourist must apply for a visa from the country they intend to visit but can enter the border-check-free Schengen area from any point and travel around it for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

Finland has imposed the same sanctions on Moscow as the rest of the EU, such as forbidding the import and export of some industrial goods and freezing some assets in EU banks. 

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