Diplomacy in the time of COVID-19: No more visas for Scandinavia

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This edition of Diplomacy in the time of COVID-19 looks at the Finnish Consulate, which has indefinitely postponed all visa applications.

Diplomacy in the time of COVID-19 is a Harbour Times exclusive series exploring the different measures of the Consulates in Hong Kong as the city continues to endure the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finland is one of the few Scandinavian countries to have diplomatic representation in Hong Kong. As a result the Finnish Consulate-General handles visa application not only for Finland but multiple Scandanavian countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. 

In this time of crisis, the Consul General of Finland, Ms Johanna Karanko, said that the consulate has stopped processing visas for any purpose, including for residency for all the countries they represent. 

Ms Karanko has served as the Finnish Consul General since 2018. She has worked for the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1996, the World Bank Team, and has dealt with EU Affairs. Before coming to Hong Kong, Ms Karanko worked as the Minister Counsellor for the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN in New York, Geneva. She has also worked in the Finnish Embassies in Paris and Caracas. 

What functions have stopped or slowed in your office on the consular, trade, immigration or other fronts?

Work related to COVID-19 is now our priority. We are closely following the development of the COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong and Macao and the actions taken by the authorities. We are also assisting citizens, mindful of our ability to function now and in the future. Due to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic, our Visa Application Centre in Hong Kong will not accept any visa applications until further notice. We handle visas for applicants to Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland in Hong Kong*. We have also stopped accepting applications for residence permits. Advancing trade relations at this moment means following the economic effects of the epidemic as well as preparing for activities in the second half of the year.

Note: Even though Sweden has an office in Hong Kong, these countries have a cooperative system of visa processing so only one per city would do the visa for all. So in some places, Sweden may process visas for Finland. 

What kind of outreach measures has the office carried out to make services accessible to your nationals? Were any additional resources created to accommodate for the virus situation?

Finnish citizens and those permanently residing in Finland can register their travels and maintain contact while abroad. Through this system, we can send automated messages (SMS and email) to them. In Hong Kong, we also communicate through our website, Facebook and Instagram pages as well as via The Finnish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

What activities have increased?

COVID-19 related reporting and citizen services have naturally increased.

How do you reconcile work from home measures and security?

In order to keep the Consulate functional, we have divided ourselves into two teams that work at the Consulate and remotely on different days. Work is divided accordingly to reconcile security requirements.

Do you find that more of your nationals are registering with your office than previously? Were numbers up because of the protests? Did they spike again as the coronavirus pandemic started to spread?

We saw a hike in registrations last year during the protests. Since then, the number of Finns in Hong Kong has decreased as students and some professionals have left.

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