Mattias warned me that this part could be a little slow because they didn’t have a HR person or anyone else to deal with the paperwork, and he was busy enough as it was. Well, I wasn’t in any hurry.

In a week or so he sent me two documents by email, an employment contract and a TEM-054 form. For two options of applying for a residence permit at once: as an expert and as a regular employee. I guess it’s a good time to examine how these options differ now.

Unlike many other countries Finland, in principle, allows hiring any person from abroad, regardless of qualifications. But it still would be much easier for a specialist. The company would have to fill in much more paperwork for a regular worker; the main paper is the aforementioned form TEM-054. More importantly, the job opening will have to go to the unemployment office, and they will have to make sure there are no possible unemployed candidates from Finland who could fill that position. I suppose it might be possible to state the job requirements in such a way that this step would become a mere formality, but of course I don’t know for sure. But in any case that’s a pretty long process; getting an employee residence permit takes 3-4 months in total.

Things are much easier for a specialist; he or she should get a permit in just a month, and all that is necessary is: 1) a company which is willing to hire them (and made an employment contract with them to prove that); 2) a high enough salary (at least ~3,000 € before tax); 3) high enough qualifications of the person involved. And of course I, and my employer too, had concerns about the third part; this generally means a university degree, which I don’t have, and Migri and most of other relevant official websites say the degree is required. But I saw some mentions on various web forums that it can be substituted by work experience, especially in IT. So of course we hoped for the specialist route, and went for that.

The employment contract was a simple form one page long: an employer and an employee, job title, salary, benefits, date the work starts, term of employment, trial period, and some minor stuff. My contract didn’t have a fixed term, and that’s how it should be. Fixed term for a programmer smells shady, and, more importantly, will likely give you only a B-type residence permit, and we already know that you really want to have an A-type permit. The trial period is usually set to the maximum allowed by the law, which is 4 months. When this period expires it becomes very hard for a company to fire a person, so it makes sense that they still want to insure themselves as much as possible. As for the date of starting work, we put in 1.12. At first it seemed overly pessimistic (it was late September or early October, I don’t remember exactly), then overly optimistic, and in the end turned out almost exactly right.

I printed the contract, signed it, scanned it and emailed back to Mattias, he did the same and emailed it me yet again. After that I was able to start making an application at website. This is done online and the application is sent online, although you can also print it if you really want; the application is five pages long when printed.

Some notable points of the application:

  • Question “do you want to get an EU Blue Card instead of a regular specialist permit”: we already know this doesn’t really make sense
  • Question “do you want your data to be entered into the Finnish population register upon a positive decistion”: you should absolutely agree, then you’ll immediately have a Finnish identity number (it seems in some cases they’re unable to assign it and you have to apply for it in person in Finland later, but in my case everything was fine). Without this number you’re basically a non-person in Finland. The number is the most important thing that distinguishes a resident from a visitor
  • As for education I chose “secondary level” option; if you finished high school in Russia (11 years), this is secondary level, equal to Finnish lyceums/gymnasiums; an actual university degree is considered tertiary education
  • “Date of leaving Finland” — left empty, “I am moving to Finland permanently” — Yes, “How long do you intend to stay in Finland?” — I put in “Indefinitely”. Again, this is Finland, you have to be honest here, it is perfectly okay to admit that you want to live there forever
  • Question “do you want your employer to pay the fee for you”: my employer agreed so I checked this
  • You have to put in employer’s title, adress, company number (every legal entity in Finland has a nine digits number), and contact person details
  • “Principal duties”, which, together with Mattias, we decided to be “Being a core member of a full stack team developing and maintaining an advanced financial software platform”. Pretty much like a CV line
  • Salary and working hours of course should be put in as is too. In Finland you can be paid by hour or by month. In my case it was by month; I suppose that’s the usual case for software developers

You can attach a huge number of documents to your application. All of them aren’t actually required by themselves, but some combination of them should be present. Well, of course employment contract is an obvious thing, and also a scanned passport, including all pages that have anything at all, including any visas and stamps.

This still felt like not enough, so I thought a bit and decided to attach my work record book as well! A work record book (“labor book” literally) is something few countries use, I believe, but Russia has them. Every person who was ever legally employed has one, and when they are employed or dismissed their employers log that into that book. The book is sort of a relic of the Soviet times and other kinds of records (e. g. about commendations) are not usually put there these days but it still turned out quite useful for me, as it was a legal proof that I have a total of 8 years of relevant experience. Well, one year in 2011-2012 when I worked remotely wasn’t logged there, but still. I don’t know if that book helped me to get a positive decision, but it seems quite likely.

Apart from the passport, all attachments to the application must be in Finnish, Swedish, or English. The work record book was of course in Russian, so I had to get an authorized translation of it. I asked for a copy of the book at work (the book resides with the employer while you are employed), and also for a notice confirming that I was still currently employed on the latest position. They I visited the nearest translation agency, and they charged me about 3,000 rubles for the authorized translation, which was quite a bit (~40 €). The translations were ready on the following day. Of course I got English translations, Finnish ones would have been more expensive.  I scanned the original documents and the translations too and attached them as well.

After that the employer had to register at as well, to attach one more document, and to pay a 450 € application fee for me. I could in principle pay that myself, but of course I wasn’t going to refuse this offer. At this stage unfortunately there was a delay for over three weeks; as it turns out, employer registration there is not a very straightforward process. In the end we got it over with too, and the next part was the consulate visit.

You have to bring the originals of all papers to the consulate. And also a photo, because they aren’t going to take your photo there themselves. The consulate in St. Petersburg accepts residence permit applications on weekdays, from 9 to 12, with no need to book an appointment. Of course the rules may differ in other consulates. For the residence permit you have to go to the actual consulate (the one that is located at the Preobrazhenskaya Square in St. Petersburg) rather than a visa center (on Marata Street in St. Petersburg). I’m not sure if these 9-12 hours use Finnish time zone, so I went there at 10 🙂

The photo required is the same kind as for the tourist visa, so on my way from my St. Petersburg apartment to the consulate (which was a pleasant 40 min walk at the time) I just stopped at some random photo studio and asked for a “Finnish visa” photo.

An older man wearing a uniform with VARTIJA word, but actually a Russian, was sitting at the entrance to the consulate, and asked me what I was there for. For a residence permit application he directed me to a small room with a few booths, entered right from the street. A guy with a mustache, whose name was Otto, sat behind the glass in the only open booth. He spoke very good Russian, although still with a thick Finnish accent.

Otto took my papers and a photo, and carefully compared each of the documents with the scans I had uploaded before, and after that he handed all of them back. Then he asked me to sign a paper and took my fingerprints; I had already had them taken for a tourist visa before, but apparently that was unrelated. And then he asked where was my diploma.

“Oops,” I thought, but didn’t say that aloud, and said instead in a confident voice “I don’t have one, but I attached documents proving my work experience in similar positions.” Otto muttered that I still should have had a degree, but okay, he’ll send my application to Migri, it’s up to them to decide anyway. Which was fine by me.

Then I was free to go. They say on the Internet, including on the Migri website itself, that processing a specialist residence permit application normally takes a month. I also asked Otto, and he said it was going to be two months. I was ready to wait for two months, and resigned from my previous job at around the same time as well, because I honestly was a bit sick of it at that point, and had already saved some money for the move anyway.

And you can imagine my surprise when in mere 3 working days I got an email, saying “a decision has been made on your application”. I thought, that was it, they must have immediately turned me down because of the degree. I logged onto the website (because they don’t tell the actual decision in the email) and looked around. There were a few scanned documents there, the most important being the actual decision, in Finnish, but with a really short summary in English at the very end: “You have been granted a residence permit on the basis of working for the period of 13.11.2017-12.11.2018. Your residence card will arrive at the embassy where you proved your identity within 2-3 weeks.”

Oh my god. They’re letting me into Finland!

The Finnish part confirmed among other things that the residence permit granted was of the A type, that is, the expected one. And said that the decision was made by a Migri employee named Laura, well, I won’t say her surname, and I of course have no idea who is she, but I’d be willing to buy her a box of vodka or something.

One of the attachments was an excerpt from the Finnish population register with my Finnish identity number, which I had been successfully assigned. But of course at that point I was still homeless; no address, and no municipality of residence. These things are registered only when you actually arrive to Finland.

2-3 weeks to manufacture and mail a card sounds long, but I thought that maybe it will actually end up faster too, and indeed it was; the consulate called me in a week, saying I could come pick my card. I was spending some time at my parents in Yekaterinburg at the moment, so I actually could do that only one more week later.

The same Otto guy gave me the residence permit card, when I showed him my passport. Although I think he remembered me, as he found the card in some box even before he opened my passport to check my name. Apart from the card they don’t give you anything, you don’t even need to sign any papers, and they don’t say anything else or give you any more directions. Here’s your card, dude, go start conquering Finland now!

(Incidentally I had a question at the time, whether it’s allowed to enter Finland on an old tourist visa while waiting for a residence permit card, which had been already approved.  I wrote an email to Migri, and the same Laura who approved my residence permit answered that I could do that, yes.  We were considering a final trip to Finland with friends but in the end decided against it.)

I already showed what the actual card looks like. The interesting part is where they say what kind of work, if any, you are allowed to do (työnteko-oikeus, right to work). In my case it said just “expert” (asiantuntija), with references to paragraphs of the Finnish Aliens Law. In theory I should be able to change job only within my field, which in theory is IT. But this wasn’t actually stated on the card, nor in that law text. Maybe there is actually no such limitation as well. Damn, am I really an “expert”? I don’t feel like one, I feel I’m a pretty regular programmer… Well, what do you know.

Thus I became a proud owner of a Finnish residence permit, ready to move and to start working. As you can see, the process is remarkably easy (if you have an employer, which in my case wasn’t super difficult either) and streamlined. Possibly apart from my work experience factors that helped me could be: 1) that I wanted to work in Vaasa (not the most popular destination for specialists); 2) that I had visited Finland about 35 times before on tourist visas over the previous 2.5 years, and always behaved there perfectly. But maybe none of this actually matters. In general I got the impression that they’re just very eager to let programmers into the country 🙂

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