Lobbying, information services and counseling in the midst of the pandemic

Text: Jenny Orphanou

The coronavirus pandemic has affected the Finland Society’s interest promotion and information services for two and a half years

At the Finland Society’s counseling services, contacts concerning the coronavirus pandemic began to increase in March 2020. The society took on sharing information and providing advice on issues related to the pandemic as one of its primary missions.

During the pandemic, expatriate Finns and Finnish citizens living overseas temporarily were puzzled, for instance, by coronavirus vaccinations, travel restrictions, access to healthcare in Finland as well as how to acquire and use a Covid-19 certificate. The updated bulletins for expatriate Finns about the pandemic situation’s effects on travel to Finland have been the most-read articles on our website.

Determined advocacy

In Finland officials did not take into account expatriate Finns and their international family members when making Covid-related decisions. The Finland Society was in active contact with Finnish decision makers and officials, such as the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) and the coronavirus information services of the Regional State Administrative Agencies (AVI).

Particularly in the early stage of the pandemic, those expatriate seniors visiting Finland who belonged to risk groups and could not return to their country of residence because of health or travel restrictions, ended up in dire straits. Since they did not have a home municipality in Finland, they were not eligible for coronavirus vaccinations in Finland. It did not help the situation if they were covered by social security in a country with which Finland has signed a social security agreement. They were not able to receive vaccination from the private sector either.

The unbearable situation mobilized the Finland Society’s service team.

”I decided that I wouldn’t give in before expatriate Finns stuck in Finland received vaccinations,” says Counseling Expert Jenny Orphanou.

“The situation was very scary and serious for many of them. Therefore it was really important to hurry decision makers, to take people who were residing in Finland temporarily and didn’t have a home municipality, into account in their official directions – and to give them access to vaccination. Although the decision makers had their hands full with the pandemic, we managed to make expatriates’ need heard.”

When the EU regulation on the Covid-19 vaccination certificate entered into force, the member states did not introduce it fully at the same time. In the beginning, there were even citizens travelling between the Nordic countries who fell between the cracks. The Finland Society worked hard on this problem as well.

Multichannel information on the pandemic

The Finland Society is regularly in contact with Finnish officials. By foreseeing future decisions, we are able to provide up-to-date and comprehensible information about current issues for expatriate Finns and returnees.

In March 2021, expatriate Finns’ access to Covid vaccinations in Finland began to make progress. We reported that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health had recommended municipalities to provide coronavirus vaccinations to people who did not have a home municipality in Finland as well. Gradually it became easier for expatriate Finns to receive Covid vaccinations.

In the summer of 2021, we were able to report on the right for people without home municipalities to receive coronavirus testing and certificates as well as treatment of Covid illness free of charge, based on a legislative change that took effect in July 2021.

Expatriate Finns and returnees were also concerned about the use of the Covid certi­ficate. Our factsheet headlined “EU Digital Covid Certificate and traveling during the pandemic” was launched in August 2021, and updated until Christmas 2021.

Planner Liisa Oinonen was busy with travel advisories from March 2020 through June 30, 2022, when we were happy to announce that Covid-related travel restrictions had been lifted at Finland’s borders. As of July 1, 2022, people no longer need to present coronavirus vaccination certificates or take Covid tests when entering the country.

However, since the pandemic is not over yet, we continue to monitor the situation and share information on it as necessary.