Although applications for residence permits under the annual immigration quota only open in December, those who are only just now starting to think about applying are likely too late already, as appointments for submitting applications are already booked through mid-January.
Liis Valk, expert at the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Identity and Status Bureau, explained that in order to apply for a residence permit, one must first book an appointment with an Estonian Embassy or PPA office, noting that the majority of foreigners applying for residence permits do so in Estonia.
"They are here on a short-term employment registration and visa or under visa freedom," Valk said. "They have already come to work in Estonia. They have the legal right to work here, but they have not yet received a residence permit. Some, for example, are people who tried to apply for a residence permit last year already, but the quota was maxed out, and they couldn't, so this year they are trying again."
A total of 1,314 temporary residence permits will be issued under the 2020 immigration quota. Residence permits will be granted to those who apply beginning Dec. 1. The situation is well illustrated by a peek at the PPA's online appointment booking system, where not a single appointment is available in December anymore; the earliest available appointments are in Kuressaare and Kärdla, the capitals of the Western Estonian islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, on Jan. 13.
"There are approximately 300 appointments available each week," Välk said. "If we look at the appointments booked for December and January combined, over 2,000 appointments have been booked for residence permit applications. Do they all need to apply under the immigration quota? That we can't tell based on their booking; that will be revealed as we process their application."
According to the official, however, those who have yet to book an appointment and even those whose appointments aren't until January aren't very likely to get a residence permit.
"Considering that residence permit applications are submitted not just at the PPA, but also at embassies, and that there are also those who have the right and opportunity to apply via mail or email, then based the current outlook, we deem it likely that we will accept next year's quota's worth of applications within the span of a month," she said.
Plan to ration out applications abandoned
A proposal by the Ministry of the Interior to divide the immigration quota in half, issuing 657 residence permits in the first six months of the year and the rest in the second, did not earn the support of several ministries or employers' unions, causing Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE) to abandon the idea.
According to Ministry of the Interior Citizenship and Migration Policy Department Adviser Eva Lillemäe, however, the proposal would have helped to even out the PPA's workload.
"We will definitely start monitoring the fulfillment of next year's immigration quota on a running basis, and the necessary decisions and analyses will arise over the course of next year," Lillemäe said.
The ministry had also recommended dividing up he annual quota according to five different fields, under which half of the quota would have been dedicated to compelling state interests, i.e. foreigners who could produce a recommendation letter from a minister. This idea did not make it into the final regulation.
Nonetheless, a certain number of residence permits were earmarked for specific groups, including 28 for creative employees of creative arts institutions, 18 for those interested in employment as an athlete, trainer or referee, and ten for those coming to Estonia under a foreign agreement.
Editor: Aili Vahtla