Visa-free travel to double border traffic


Removing the visa requirement for travel between the European Union and Russia would bring millions of new visitors from Russia to Finland, according to a report compiled the Finnish Customs, the Finnish Border Guard, and the Finnish Police. The report estimates that traffic on Finland’s eastern border would increase from the current 8 million to around 15 million border crossings per year, Helsingin Sanomat reports.

Allowing visa-free travel would also lower the threshold for travelling, enabling visits by people who have not been able to afford a trip to Finland earlier. At present, most Russians visiting Finland belong to the country’s most prosperous third, according to Commander Pasi Kostamovaara of the Southeast Finland Border Guard. Obtaining a Finnish visa costs around 50 euros, including travel insurance and processing fees.

Some fear that lifting the visa requirement would create a risk that people whose visa applications had previously been denied — because of security concerns — could cross the border. Commissioner Kai Markkula of the North Karelia Police Department allayed such fears, saying that professional criminals did not recognise borders, and that lifting the visa requirement would not have any substantial effect on cross-border crime.

The doubling of cross-border traffic volumes between Finland and Russia would probably greatly increase queues on Finland’s eastern border, Helsingin Sanomat wrote. Border crossing stations on both sides of the border would have to upgrade their infrastructure and technology. Finland’s Vaalimaa border station has been testing an automated passport inspection system, which is hoped to ease traffic jams in the future.

No definite timetable has been agreed for lifting the visa requirement, Helsingin Sanomat reported. The EU demands that Russia ease regulations on the registration of foreign visitors and introduce biometric passports. In 2003, the EU and Russia agreed on working toward visa-free travel. In February 2011, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said visa-free travel between the EU and Russia could become a reality in 2018.

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