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The path to becoming an entrepreneur anywhere is wrought with obstacles. Most of the concerns come down to money and time but if you happen to live outside of your home country you also need to think of visas. One often hears horror stories about getting an entrepreneurship visa to the US. Here is my experience with Finland.

The story starts similar to many foreigners: I moved to Finland from the safety and comfort of my home country because of my girlfriend. I was lucky enough to find work despite my non-existent Finnish in a big international company. All was good until I started being more and more interested in entrepreneurship. Besides, things at work were not going so well, there was a lot of hushed-up talk about job cuts.

The day came when I was downsized. Luckily, I saw that coming and was already building a small business idea on the side. A friend joined my team and after a few weeks of coding, development and user testing our prototype was ready. We took it to a few potential customers and they said they could use something like this in their business! Who could have believed our luck?

All would have been great if it wasn’t for visa. You see, I am not an EU citizen, which means I need a self-employement visa to engage in business activities in Finland. What is more, as Finnish Immigration Service declares: ‘In order to be granted a permit, the applicant’s business activity must be profitable.The profitability of the business activity is estimated on the basis of various reports that are obtained in advance, such as the business plan or binding preliminary contracts and funding agreements. The deliberation is conducted by the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY centers)’.

The passage goes on to say that visa applicant should have guaranteed means of support for the duration of the visa, which should come from ‘profits of the operations, salary received, personal funding withdrawals, or such items as sales profits, in an amount above the threshold for basic income support throughout the residence permit’s period of validity.’ Whether or not the means of support are sufficient is also determined by ELY.

This is worrying for two big reasons. First, how many technology companies do you know that are profitable from day one? Or from year one, for that matter? What this means for all the American, Mexican, Indian or Russian software entrepreneurs is that if you cannot prove profitability of your company from day one, you can’t even dream of getting a working permit to Finland.

Secondly, this criteria puts the entire career of a foreign entrepreneur in Finland into the hands of ELY center, who apparently are the main and only authority to determine the viability of such a business. What if, despite you signing up clients, having a great product and a potential angel investment on the horizon ELY still deems your business activity not profitable? Then you cannot get a self-employment visa to Finland either.

Those two points make the pursuit of entrepreneurship for foreign nationals in Finland really hard. Not impossible (because nothing is, in the mindset of entrepreneurs) but really bloody painful. It puts you in a position where you have to find loopholes like getting your friends or loved ones to found the company for you and then employ you (because the criteria for company’s profitability only applies to non-EU citizens).

Understandably, some of the visa precautions are there to make sure people don’t take advantage of the system and free-ride on Finnish welfare support. Though if a person took the effort to move to Finland and instead of taking a job is trying to create more jobs – why not give a helping hand in that process or at less stop putting spokes in the entrepreneur’s wheels?

Image by kalleboo

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