Under the European Schengen rules, which apply to Finland, tourists can be accepted into Finland only if “they are not considered to be a threat to public policy, internal security, public health or the international relations of any of the Member States.” (Schengen Borders Code art. 6(1)(e).) The resolution states that the government based its decision on the concern that, because of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Russian tourists constitute a threat to its international relations and international status, in particular its relations with other European Union (EU) countries and Ukraine, and that Ukraine has asked the government to refuse entry to Russian tourists. The government further explained that Finland does not want to become a transit land for Russian tourists seeking entry to other Schengen countries, in particular noting that other EU member states with land borders with Russia have already limited access for Russian tourists. Finland has the longest land border with Russia among all the EU countries and serves as the de facto gatekeeper for Russian tourist influx into the Schengen area. The Finnish government claims that this places it in a particularly difficult position in its foreign relations with other EU countries because Russian citizens may choose the Finnish land border as a crossing point to reach other countries and “[the] continuation of tourist traffic from Russia via Finland to the rest of Europe may pose a danger to the security of [other] Schengen countries.” The decision will be implemented in practice by the Finnish Border Guard.
The decision, which took effect at 12:00 a.m. on September 30, 2022, authorizes Finnish border agents to refuse entry to Russian citizens arriving to Finland as tourists or tourists who intend travel through Finland to reach other Schengen countries. Similarly, Finnish embassies are to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians, with exceptions made for Russians who are visiting family members in Finland or visiting Finland to work or undergo medical treatment. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto explained during the press conference announcing the decision that the recent developments in the Baltic Sea involving the leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines and the Russian “referendums” taking place in Ukraine spurred the Finnish government to accelerate its decision to bar Russian tourists from entry. Reportedly, several hundred thousand valid tourist visas are currently held by Russian citizens. Following the government decision, these visas can now be declared invalid. Finland previously limited the number of tourists from Russia it accepts in one day, a procedure it now regards as ineffective.
At this time, the decision applies only to tourist visas. Finnish and international law require Finland to admit persons seeking asylum in Finland. However, Finland may restrict the process for such applications. Earlier this year, Finland adopted legislation allowing Finnish authorities to limit where persons can seek asylum physically at the border during hybrid attacks (nonmilitary attacks against the Finnish community from foreign governments). At present, no such limits, where asylum can be sought only at one or two border stations, has been announced. During its press conference, the government announced that, in the coming months, Finnish authorities will make special humanitarian visas available to Russian dissidents or persons fleeing persecution or forced conscription when conscription would involve the conscript being forced to commit crimes against international law or humanitarian law. News reports indicate that the number of Russians who have crossed the Finnish border following the Russian “partial mobilization” has increased by 100%.
Reportedly, the Finnish government has previously expressed interest in building a physical fence on the Russian border, but this undertaking is expected to take several years.