Immigration reform leaves researchers pursuing a doctoral degree in a worse position than students

Prime Minister Marin’s Government aims to develop the immigration of foreign students, researchers and other experts by amending the residence permit regulations. The Government issued a proposal concerning the immigration and residence provisions for third-country nationals on the basis of research, studies, training and volunteer work on 16 December 2021. 

The Government proposes that students studying for a higher education degree could be granted a residence permit for the entire duration of their studies at once. In addition, the so-called jobseekers’ permit, granted upon the completion of a degree or research project for the purpose of finding employment or starting a business, would be extended from the current one year to two years. These are very significant and welcome reforms for graduate students. The situation of researchers, however, is not improved by the proposal beyond the extension to the so-called jobseekers’ permit.

The proposal leaves foreign doctoral researchers who come to Finland to pursue a doctoral degree in a markedly inferior position compared to other people pursuing a higher education degree. According to the proposal, researchers would continue to have to apply for and renew a residence permit for each funding period or employment relationship. Research funding in Finland is scattered, grants are sometimes only a few months in duration and university employment relationships are temporary and short. Constantly having to apply for residence permits is unreasonable for international experts. It is also a major cost issue for researchers and their families. In addition to the financial costs, the constant permit renewal process causes extra stress and uncertainty, which do not promote settling in Finland.

We propose that a researcher pursuing a postgraduate scientific degree be granted a residence permit for the entire duration of the degree in accordance with the hosting agreement signed with a university. The doctoral thesis is financed via paid work, which accrues earnings-related employment benefit, or via research funding acquired by the researcher. Universities require each doctoral researcher to provide a realistic funding plan.

A doctoral degree is the highest degree in our education system, which means that researchers represent the highest educational competence. Finland wants to attract a competent labour force but, currently, half of the foreign doctoral students leave the country immediately after receiving their degree. This does not constitute a sustainable education and employment policy.

We should hold on to early career researchers that come here. We should promote their possibilities to build a future in Finland by all means, one of which is the extension of residence permits. During the opinion round that ended in August, several actors in the higher education and research sector agreed with us and demanded that the Government proposal be formulated so that it would also take doctoral researchers into account. It is extremely disappointing that these opinions have not been heard in drafting the Government proposal.

It is quite peculiar that the Government’s proposal and willingness to extend the residence permits of students pursuing a higher education degree for the entire duration of the degree does not apply to those pursuing a scientific postgraduate degree such as a doctoral degree. We feel that the Government proposal to amend residence permits and attract experts to Finland is severely lacking in this respect. We hope that the aforementioned views are taken into consideration when looking into the possibility of granting doctoral researchers longer residence permits in 2022.


Helsinki, 17 December 2021

Johanna Moisio

PhD, Executive Director