Migration contributing to a growing population for several consecutive years suggest Estonia has gone through a migration turn as experienced by older and wealthier member states," professor of human geography Tiit Tammaru says.
"We can confidently say that Estonia has experienced a migration turn. We have had a positive net migration rate for years, even though there have been some fluctuations," Tammaru told ERR's "Uudis+" program on Friday when commenting on Statistics Estonia's population figures. "We are also headed for similar problems," he added.
Preliminary data from the statistics agency puts the Estonian population at 1,328,360 people as of January 1, which is 3,540 more than a year ago. Immigration has been contributing to population increase for five consecutive years as it is greater than emigration. The net migration rate has been positive since 2015.
Tammaru said that migration changes have been quite similar in all countries that joined the EU in the recent round. "Emigration was great after these countries joined the EU and after the 2009 economic crisis, but it is slowing down. The trend is universal. Estonia has reached positive net migration, while several neighboring countries are still in the red," the professor said.
Asked where Estonia differs from Latvia by host Arp Müller, Tammaru pointed to two factors. "Estonia has seen slightly more dynamic economic development, starting with the great reforms of the early 1990s and has been a step ahead of its neighbors since. Another thing is the fact Estonia is close to Finland where people can go and work without moving there that also keeps emigration down," Tammaru said, adding that people rather emigrate to the United Kingdom and the Nordics from Latvia.
Talking about the origin of people coming to Estonia, Tammaru admitted that recent statistics makes it impossible to say which countries have contributed the most to immigration. "But roughly speaking, half of immigrants have been Estonians returning home and the other half foreigners in the past."
"What is interesting looking at the past year's migration data is that while 2019 saw fewer immigrants than 2018, we can see an increase in the number of temporary residents and labor. Another clear trend is slowing emigration over the past four to five years, following the 2009 economic crisis. Our image as a country people are leaving is clearly changing," Tammaru said.
Commenting on the effect of political decisions on population, Tammaru said it is definitely there. "While we cannot say it is all down to politicians, it would be equally unjust to claim they haven't played an important role."
The professor said that policies to support births are important and even though natural population growth is still in the red, the number of births per woman is growing in Estonia, which is quite unusual in the European context.
When shaping policy, more attention should be paid to life expectance, especially among men, that tends to be rather low in Eastern Europe and Estonia, Tammaru added. Public health plays a major role here and considerably affects the development of countries. The professor added that countries sporting the lowest average life expectancy of men receive the most in EU subsidies.
Migration continues to have the biggest effect on the Estonian population, with the effect of births and deaths having remained quite modest for the past 150 years.
Editor: Marcus Turovski