Conservative People's Party of Estonia-appointed Minister of Foreign Trade and IT Kaimar Karu and Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center) did not approve of the Ministry of the Interior's planned changes to the Aliens Act involving education-related benefits for foreigners.
The Ministry of the Interior wants to limit the opportunities of foreigners studying in Estonia and short-term employees to bring their children with them to Estonia. The change would mean that a university student's children could visit them under a regular visa, but could not live with them for the duration of their studies.
The ministry would also ban foreign students from working more than 16 hours per week, justifying the limit with concerns that a residence permit issued for the purposes of education may be used as a cover for labor migration.
Moreover, the interior ministry wants only those foreign students with sufficient funds for their studies to come study in Estonia, due to which it wants to do away with need-based financial aid for students in Estonia on a fixed-term residence permit.
In their signed response to Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE), Karu and Aas noted that the bill would restrict the granting of visas to the family members of foreigners studying or working short-term in Estonia. "These changes would automatically rule out single parents, for example, who cannot come work or study in Estonia simply on the basis of the opportunity that their family members have the right to visit them in Estonia," the response read. "These individuals may also have sufficient funds to get by in Estonia together with their children or spouse."
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications thus does not consider it reasonable to uniformly restrict the granting of visas to foreigners' family members, and proposes continuing to issue visas on the basis of the presumption of sufficient funds, including the covering of expenses related to tuition.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications noted that according to proposed changes, a prerequisite of two years of residence in Estonia would be applied on foreign students before their spouse would be granted residence in Estonia. According to the ministry, however, this change would negatively impact foreign students' motivation to remain in Estonia following the conclusion of their studies. "The bill lacks reasons, however, why a shorter period isn't sufficient for a foreigner to be able to adjust to life in Estonia and find a permanent job here," the letter read.
The ministry cited as an example a European Parliament directive according to which it is expected that a foreigner who has concluded their studies is capable of finding a job or starting a business in the country within nine months of completing their studies, adding that the period in question should thus be shorter.
Foreign students contribute to economy
The ministry likewise opposes the proposal to limit foreign students issued a residence permit for studies to working a maximum of 16 hours per week. The Aliens Act in its current form already ensures that foreign students not fulfilling the requirements of full-time studies can be expelled from the country, and students working on the side of their studies contribute significantly to the economy via the taxes they pay — as cited in numbers included in the letter of explanation accompanying the bill itself — as well as the relieving of labor shortages in various sectors.
Based on the aforementioned factors and the bill in question itself, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications agrees that it is important that foreigners act in accordance with the legal basis on which they are in Estonia, but in this case, the Ministry of the Interior's proposal would have a negative impact on the economy as well as Estonia's attractiveness as a place to study, and that under conditions in which the state can already expel a foreigner not studying full time from the country.
According to the economic affairs ministry, further impact analyses are needed regarding the implementation of these changes, while also weighing alternative solutions which would allow for the ensuring that a foreigner is in Estonia primarily for study purposes — for example by ensuring a more frequent exchange of information between host institutes of higher education and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA).
The bill would also require students from third countries to earn at least average Estonian wages immediately upon graduating. According to Karu and Aas, the change in question doesn't take into account the fact that foreigners who have earned a vocational or higher education degree are a potential target group for filling positions outside of Harju and Tartu Counties as well, in addition to startups operating in Estonia.
"It isn't reasonable in either case to require basing things on Estonia's average wage," the reply read. "Besides, the wages of Estonian citizens who have graduated from vocational or higher education institutions within the first year of completing their studies likewise often fall below Estonia's average wage level."
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications believes that the implementation of this requirement thus requires further analysis in the framework of which alternative solutions should be considered.
Karu and Aas also requested that the bill's letter of explanation be supplemented with relevant studies or references that would help contribute to a better understanding of why and to what extent foreigners from third countries specifically who have earned a higher education in the same country are a potential threat to the state's security when taking up employment in a lower-qualified position.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications did support the goal cited in the bill to sort out the current regulation regarding immigration to ensure that individuals reside in Estonia for the purposes based upon which their visa was issued and adhere to the conditions provided by law, thus also ensuring safety and security in Estonia.
Editor: Aili Vahtla