With no sign of spring in the trees yet, the Metsäpelto strawberry farm in Suonenjoki already has a long to-do list to get through. The polytunnels must be covered with plastic, and the cultivation tables prepared for planting. Seedlings, still in cold storage, will soon be planted.
The farm is operated by Jussi Huttunen and his wife Pauliina Kovanen. This year, they will probably hire two year-round workers and an additional 50 to 60 seasonal workers. About 10 of the seasonal workers will remain on the farm from spring until autumn, while the rest will join them for a few months around the harvest season.
Non-EU seasonal workers are entitled to see a public healthcare provider for necessary medical care, while paying the same price as someone who is living in Finland.
The workers typically come from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. Most return to the farm year after year. Kovanen says that the workers find it easier to come to Finland because they do not have to worry about the cost of the medical care they may need.
“Having insurance coverage is required to qualify for a visa, but the policies are often quite poor and pay little”, Kovanen says, Therefore, it can be a huge concern for the workers that something unexpected could happen that would saddle them with a bill for several thousands of euros.
In fact, however, non-EU seasonal workers are entitled to see a public healthcare provider for necessary medical care, while paying the same price as someone who is living in Finland. Kela pays the healthcare providers a compensation out of government funds.
Seasonal workers have the right to use public health services
Anyone working in Finland has the right to use public health services for as long as they remain insured under the Finnish earnings-related pension, workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance laws. Workers from outside the EU or EEA or Switzerland also need a residence permit or certificate issued by the Finnish Immigration Service, or a work visa issued by a Finnish diplomatic mission.
Kela can issue a certificate of entitlement to medical care in Finland to seasonal workers who have both an employment contract and a residence permit or visa that allows employment in Finland. Seasonal workers include the workers who work in the farming, market gardening or tourism sectors but not for example those hired to pick wild berries.
According to Reetta Kyyrö of Kela’s Centre for International Affairs, Kela receives a few hundred applications per year seeking entitlement to medical care for non-EU seasonal workers. This is far less than the actual number of seasonal workers, which varies between 14,000 and 20,000 a year.
One of the contributing factors is probably that many seasonal workers only spend a few months in Finland. Also, seasonal workers and their employers may not be aware that the workers are entitled to use public health services in Finland, Kyyrö says.
The application process for medical coverage for seasonal workers has been streamlined
This year brought changes to the process Kela employs to review applications for entitlement to medical care.
Previously, the entitlement to medical care was not decided until the worker had a Finnish personal identity code and their coverage under the Finnish social security system had been determined, Kyyrö says.
Access to public health services can be requested as soon as the worker has an employment contract and a a certificate or visa for seasonal work.
Seasonal workers do not need a personal identity code or social security coverage in Finland in order to access public health services at the same price as the local residents. A personal identity code, which is issued on application by the Digital and Population Data Services Agency, is needed to qualify for reimbursements on private medical services and prescription medicines, but access to public health services can be requested as soon as the worker has an employment contract and a a certificate or visa for seasonal work.
After checking that the certificate or visa is valid, Kela issues a certificate of entitlement to medical care in Finland. By presenting it, certificate holders can get the medical care they need from a public healthcare provider by paying the client fee.
The right time to apply is as soon as the seasonal work contract begins
For Pauliina Kovanen, applying for the right to medical care for her seasonal workers is an obvious decision.
“Our workers are happy to see that if they need medical attention, the costs are reasonable,” she says.
In previous years, Kovanen has filed an application on behalf of her short-term workers only in the event that they needed medical attention. Reetta Kyyrö does not recommend doing so, because if a worker seeking medical attention does not have a valid certificate of entitlement to medical care, they can be charged the true cost of the treatment they get. While it may be possible to remedy the situation after the certificate has been issued, having the certificate of entitlement ready when the employment begins is the best choice for everyone involved, Kyyrö says.
Pauliina Kovanen has put it on her to-do list for June, when the short-term workers are scheduled to arrive.