Residence permit, as the name suggests, refers to the right to reside in Finland. Depending on what grounds it has been granted, it can also bestow the right to work here. A visa is a document allowing entry to Finland, intended primarily for short term stays – in most cases with no right to work. A work visa is used in numerous countries and is often used colloquially in Finland as well. None of the above apply for EU citizens, who have their own regulations that apply to them. For the uninitiated, this latticework of terms and regulations is confusing to say the least.
When hiring an employee from outside the EU for over 90 days, the only option is a residence permit with the right to work. When the residence permit is applied for based on employment, there are multiple options: employee’s residence permit, specialist’s residence permit, researcher’s residence permit, Blue Card, residence permit based on a traineeship or transfer within a company, etc. Applying for and getting the right kind of a residence permit for their employees is of vital importance to companies. It is important to reserve enough time for the application process, as the process will take weeks, even with the help of a professional. Especially if family members are moving with the employee, as gathering the necessary official documents, translations, and legalizations will take time. The processing of some permits will go smoother and faster if the decision is made by the Immigration Service without needing the partial decision made by the work permit unit.
In some cases the right to work may be restricted to only certain tasks or a certain employer. When hiring a foreign citizen locally, he or she may already have a residence permit. However, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the residence permit is valid and includes the right to work in the exact position that he is being hired to. The employer must also keep copies of residence permits for potential inspections. Note: The fact that a person has a Finnish ID-number and a tax card does not mean that he has a legitimate reason to work in Finland. Managing the permit affairs can also be outsourced to a service provider.
So what is the purpose of a visa? It is an entry document for citizens of countries that do not have a visa waiver agreement with Finland. A visa is typically far easier to acquire than a residence permit and is issued by a Finnish embassy abroad. A person arriving in Finland with a visa, or arriving from a visa free country, has the right to stay in Finland for a total of 90 days over a period of 180 days. Any days spent in other Schengen-area countries are also included in this 90 day limit, including airport stays. It is absolutely vital that this limit is not crossed. A visa also usually doesn’t allow a person to work in Finland. Taking part in negotiations and events is permitted, as is attending conventions, but working even for a short time is not (excluding a few rare exceptions). A company that employs people on a visa in Finland takes a huge risk to incur severe repercussions. An employee working with a visa on the other hand may have his visa and/or residence permit applications denied in the future.
Then what is a work visa? In many countries, such as the United States for example, a work visa is an integral part of the local permit system. The Finnish legal code does not have this concept however, which causes uncertainty among employers. Applying for a work visa for employees being sent abroad from Finland is a key part of a company’s international mobility strategy. For employees arriving in Finland however, this term is best left forgotten.
Just as each tool has its use, so do the residence permit and visa lend themselves to different situations. One is needed when a person moves to Finland to work and the other for shorter stays. The differences are important to understand, for one does not hammer nails with a saw either.