Finnish visa application centre in St. Petersburg is the largest of its kind in the world
Outsourcing of services makes applying for visas to Finland quicker - and more expensive
”Oh, cool!” shouts Jevgeniya Nesterkova, 23, when she notices a “Finnish Visa Application Centre” sign on the wall of a St. Petersburg shopping centre.
“I live right next door. Now I finally have to file my visa application for Finland! I have heard horror stories of hours of queuing at the consulate”, she says.
The shiny new visa application centre, which is being branded as the largest in the world, was opened on Tuesday.
“It is not often that Finland gets to strut its stuff as a superpower, but at least when it comes to issuing visas that’s what we are”, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb declared in his opening speech.
He has a point. Last year Finland granted nearly a million visas in Russia, 750,000 of which had been applied for in St. Petersburg.
Because of the exponential growth in the number of filed visa applications Finland’s main consulate in St. Petersburg has constantly been struggling with longer and longer queues.
“We could not expand the reception point any further, or the yard of the main consulate, or even the surrounding streets, for that matter”, said Olli Perheentupa, the Finnish Consul-General in St. Petersburg.
Finland’s Embassy in Moscow was the first one to experiment with outsourcing the visa services, and based on the positive feedback the St. Petersburg consulate is now following suit.
The receiving of the visa applications and the handing out of the issued visas will from now on be carried out by the Indian company VFS, which runs dozens of similar visa service facilities in various countries around the globe.
VFS promises that applying for a visa will take no more than 15 minutes.
The outsourcing of the service will not cost Finland anything, for the visa applicants will have to pay EUR 21 extra for the quicker service.
From the main consulate, one can still get the visa for the old price of EUR 35, but one has to reserve an appointment in advance.
The roomy application centre’s premises take two floors in the Olympic Plaza shopping centre, which is located in downtown St. Petersburg, very close to the Nevski Prospekt main thoroughfare.
A long row of service counters waits for clients, who will get a chance to try out the centre on Friday.
The total number of the service points is a dizzying 83.
The centre will employ more than 200 workers.
The checking of the applicants’ details and the decisions regarding the issuing of visas will still be made at the main consulate. The consulate will not reduce the size of its staff.
Stubb and Valentina Matviyenko, the Governor of St. Petersburg, discussed on Tuesday the visa waiver programme that has been planned for the passengers of the high-speed Allegro train connection.
Matviyenko did not yet agree on a definite time schedule for the realisation of the visa facilitation.
Passengers who arrive in St. Petersburg by ship are allowed to stay in the city for three days without a visa.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finland outsourcing visa application handling in Moscow (27.4.2010)
Foreign ministers Stubb and Lavrov discuss visa-free travel between EU and Russia (10.3.2010)
Outsourcing raising price of Russian visas (7.10.2010)
Finnish Government press release, 8.2.2011