THE ARRIVAL of Thai berry pickers to Finland is in doubt this summer.
YLE on Thursday revealed that on 1 June not a single Thai worker had been confirmed to come to the country for the upcoming picking season. Finnish berry companies recruited nearly 4,000 pickers from Thailand in 2022.
The change seems to be attributable to a change in visa procedures applied to the industry. Katja Luopajärvi, the deputy head of the visa unit at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, stated to the public broadcasting company that the visa procedures have been amended in the wake of serious criminal prosecutions and human trafficking suspicions surrounding the industry.
“We felt that we have to re-examine our procedures. The police investigations came to light last summer, and this is the first picking season since that,” she said.
Finnish berry companies have this year taken care of the recruitment and permit procedures without the assistance of authorities. They must ensure the pickers obtain both a Schengen visa and a so-called exit visa that enables them to leave Thailand.
Birgitta Partanen, the executive director of Arctic Flavours, told YLE that official processes have been virtually at a standstill this spring. The vague nature of new instructions have caused delays, and companies in the sector have yet to receive confirmation of a single picker.
“The latest information indicates that not a single visa has been granted yet. This is absolutely incomprehensible. At one point, it was looking like things would start rolling, but in practice there’s been hardly any movement,” she lamented.
Luopajärvi contrastively stated that authorities have not granted a single visa because not a single visa application has yet been received.
“VSF, the partner company that receives the applications, has been in contact with berry companies, but according to information we’ve received from it documents attached to the applications have been incomplete or the applications haven’t been ready in other regards,” she commented to YLE.
Negotiations with Thai authorities on the necessary number of visas were previously held by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.
The recruits are also required to meet the same means of subsistence requirements as others seeking to enter Finland with a Schengen visa. The requirement is 30 euros a day, which adds up to 1,800–2,400 euros – close to the mean annual pay in Thailand – for the two-to-three-month period berry pickers typically work in Finland.
Berry companies themselves cannot provide the subsistence due to rules prohibiting arrangements that make visa applicants dependent on the companies.
Partanen on Thursday told YLE that a failure to recruit Thai berry pickers for the upcoming season would be catastrophic for the whole berry industry.
“It’d mean that quite a few companies will go bankrupt. I’m hoping until the last minute that won’t happen,” she said, expressing her hope that the pre-trial investigations that have rocked the industry are conducted without any undue delay. “If some mistakes have been made, we could get to rectifying them.”
Some 90 per cent of Finnish wild berries, such as blueberries and lingonberries, are picked by foreign workers.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT