Samost and Sildam: Immigration figures indicative of Estonia's success

Toomas Sildam (left) and Anvar Samost.
Toomas Sildam (left) and Anvar Samost. Source: ERR

Recent figures which show Estonia has experienced a positive net immigration for the fifth year in a row demonstrates Estonia's success, though also requires action by the state to deal with the incomers, according to senior ERR journalists Anvar Samost and Toomas Sildam.

Data for government agency Statistics Estonia says that as of January 1 2020, there were 1,328,360 people registered as living in Estonia – citizens, "gray passport" holders, permanent and temporary residents, and an increase of 3,540 persons on year (including births and deaths etc.).

Furthermore, figures from the same agency show a net immigration level of over 5,000 for the same period.

The rise represents the fifth year in a row Estonia's population has risen due to all causes.

Speaking on regular Sunday politics discussion show "Samost ja Sildam", Anvar Samost, head of ERR's news and sport, said that "the increase in immigration and in interest in moving here is an indication of how we have managed life here."

Toomas Sildam noted that Estonia's general migration situation is alleviated by the country's proximity to Finland – where many Estonians temporarily relocate to work and from where it is much easier to return as needed than for Latvians and Lithuanians, who have often gone to work in more distant lands (both countries have seen a net population decline over recent years-ed.).

Samost agreed, but stressed that there are probably other factors inherent in Estonia itself that have kept people here more than people in the other two Baltic States, adding the example of Poland, where over two million Ukrainians have reportedly already gone to live.

"While Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had a very high level of emigration at the height of the economic crisis (of 2008 onwards-ed), people left Latvia and Lithuania longer term, but Estonians left more temporarily. It seems that our people had greater faith in their country and political leadership. This is a good indication that our country is moving in the right direction," said Samost.

Incomers will also help to boost Estonia's GDP, Samost thought. 

"Estonia's GDP would not be able to grow if our population were to decline," he said. 

Immigration also affects the Estonian labor market, curbing wage growth an effect that some may like and others not, he noted.

At the same time, the question of integration still primarily concerns predominantly Russian-speaking people in Estonian society.

"The arrivals numbers show that we have done well, and that is why we should also think about how we can order our schools and childcare facilities so that children of Ukrainian or Russian origin can attend. We should think about how to design migration so that it would create both economic and cultural value to a much greater degree. After all, quite a few countries are engaged in, "said Samost. 

"Do we have an action plan?" he enquired.

"[Minister of Population Riina] Solman has said something, but it seems more of a deterrent," Sildam said, referring to remarks made by the minister that net immigration was a worry when it was made up mostly of non-Estonian citizens, as opposed to returning Estonian citizens (the minister included the latter as a type of immigration-ed.), given that it meant that the proportion of ethnic Estonians and Estonian citizens would fall.

The population minister's portfolio falls under the interior ministry's remit.

Sildam also pointed to an interior ministry plan to prohibit foreign students from third countries (largely non-EU countries-ed.) from working more than 16 hours per week while they study, as disqualify students on temporary residence permits from qualifying for need-based financial student aid, as well as limiting scope for both foreign students and those working in Estonia on a temporary residence permit to bring their family members to the country.

The original "Samost ja Sildam" broadcast (in Estonian) is here.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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