“Go to work”… Unless you are an international student

According to the Finnish government, international students from outside the EU and EEA are undermining the economy of higher education institutions by circumventing their tuition fee obligation by going to work and thereby obtaining a work-based residence permit. At the same time, the working group working on this proposal is also preparing to increase tuition fees, and to introduce an application fee.   

However, the claim that tuition fees are being circumvented is questionable in the light of current legislation and statistics. Students subject to tuition fees are also subject to an income requirement, their work is limited to 30 hours per week and the majority of students subject to tuition fees who are in employment are working in low-paid jobs. It is therefore difficult to see how a student subject to tuition fees could, with the limited working hours and the high income requirement, earn enough to obtain a work permit. The working group of the Ministry of Education and Culture preparing the proposal has also not provided any evidence to support the allegation of circumvention.   

The working group is preparing to extend the obligation to pay tuition fees to the children or spouse of a person with a study permit (family-based residence permit). This would also apply in cases where a relative is in Finland, for example on a work-based residence permit, but their first residence permit was of study-based. At the same time, the government is making it more difficult to obtain a permanent residence permit, which is the only way for a person who originally came with a study-based permit or for their relatives to be exempted from the obligation to pay tuition fees.  

To ensure that higher education institutions keep track of the residence permit history of their applicants and students, the working group proposes that higher education institutions should have access to the student’s residence permit record. Migri has promised to clarify the right of access. Currently, residence permit information is only available to authorities and others working closely with migrants.   

“It seems that the Finnish government is trying to fill the funding gap left by the reduction in state funding for universities by reaching deep into the pockets of international students. The changes made to residence permits and the increase in tuition fees will collapse the attractiveness of Finnish higher education institutions and Finland will lose skilled labour,” warns Tiina Toivanen, JYY’s board member for international affairs.    

JYY is concerned about the impact of the government’s proposed changes not only on the University of Jyväskylä, but also on Finland as a whole and on the well-being of current international students. “Finland must not undermine the well-being of international students by creating uncertainty about the future by making residence permit processes more difficult,” Toivanen sums up, adding, “but since the current government seems to only be talking about the economy, I want to emphasise that Finland needs international talent to fill the growing sustainability gap in the state’s economy.” With the changes proposed by the government, Finland is closing itself into a trap of economic unsustainability.