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Dealing with Immigration Authorities 1: You’ll never be more than a number (getting an ID)

They have created a bureaucratic hell that the modern Finn doesn't want to deal with.

-L.S., who had the audacity to move from Latvia to Finland while not being a construction worker

That bureaucracy is a faceless monster that creates evil not by intent, but by indifference, is a part of the human condition that inspired the arts, from a huge chunk of Kafka’s works (Kafka's day job being a civil servant) to the modern-day office sitcom.

Dealing with Finnish immigration, two things come to mind. Firstly, the tagline from Britain’s 1970s psychedelic spy sci-fi “The Prisoner”:

I am not a number, I am a free man!

This is because in Finland, you are not a man, or any kind of human being, unless you have a number. This is the social security or ID number, to which any kind of meaningful interaction with anything in Finland is tied.

Without a social security number, you won’t get a bank account. Or a parking permit. Or anything, really, because in a fully digital society like Finland, everything is done online. And to do anything online, you have to log in with your bank account. Which, of course, you won’t get without an ID number.

Getting this ID number takes us directly to the second cultural cornerstone our last weeks have been resembling: The Place that sends you Mad from the 12 tasks of Asterix. A pretty straight send-up of 1970s French administration, it is relatable to anyone anywhere in the world who ever tried to get anything from a government official:

In theory, arriving in Finland as an EU citizen is easy:

  1. Arrive in Finland

  2. Within 90 days, register your permanent residence with Migri, the Finnish immigration office

  3. This get you a Finnish ID number, which in turn opens up stuff like healthcare access

In practice, if you work for a Finnish company, they have to make payroll for you. This means you need a tax card (not unlike the Lohnsteuerkarte in Germany, or a tax authority issued variant of the US W4) in time for the first round of payroll - so at least a week before the 15th of your first month of employment.

Our Finnish friends told us that that’s easy since you only need to log into MyTax on Vero’s (the tax authorities’) homepage and get one. But to log into MyTax, as with all things online, you need a Finnish online banking ID. And as mentioned without a social security number, you can’t get one.

Here’s where the problems start. In the glossy world of foreign labor recruitment campaigns, you just go to the International House Helsinki which as a one-stop shop sets you up with a Migri appointment, a tax card, and a Kela (social security/healthcare) card. And yet again, reality sets in hard: As a general rule, getting an appointment with any immigration authority anywhere in the world is hard, and even three months in advance we were only able to secure a Migri appointment at a branch office in the suburbs, and only a few weeks after our planned arrival.

So the standard procedure now would be to spend hours in the queue in front of IHH waiting for a walk-in appointment. But due to covid, there are no walk-ins allowed at IHH, for health reasons.

What now? While many people over the phone told us we are dead in the water, with no chance to get anything done before the Migri appointment (too late for payroll), a co-worker’s father who in the third generation leads a law firm in Helsinki pointed out that we could turn the tables on the government by making them want something from us: Money! He directed us to Vero, the Finnish tax authority. Eager to collect our income tax, they would issue us a Finnish ID on the spot.

Not so quick!

There’s still a global pandemic going on so for health reasons Vero in Helsinki only hands out IDs to construction workers. We invite our readers to read the sentence again. And again. It will not start making sense. But it still is true.

Once again, several people told us we were down on our luck, until one Vero employee actually thought outside the box: She told us that while it is correct that Vero in Helsinki only serves construction workers, we could of course go to their Tampere branch where we’d be served immediately. Excited by the opportunity to drive 400 kilometers with fuel prices at record levels in order to be able to pay taxes, we jumped into Ole, our trusty Volvo wagon, the next morning and set off.

The Vero experience at Tampere was pretty good. With the necessary forms prepared, we waited for less than half an hour until an super friendly clerk took all our info, put it into the computer while we waited, asked for some minor clarifications, and less than an hour after we arrived in Tampere, we left Vero with Finnish ID numbers and tax cards for both of us. Excited, we went to Tampere’s Kela office as well, which felt very makeshift and slum-like, but we managed to fill out our Kela card applications there.

After a world-famous Tampere hot dog, we got home to Helsinki in time for afternoon coffee, proud of finally being able to fully function in Finnish society. But then... (check out Part 2)


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