With an ongoing discussion about allowing foreign workers into Estonia and allowing them to extend existing work permits, 1,647 short-term work permits will expire in Estonia in July, mostly in the construction, manufacturing and agriculture sectors.
According to data from the Ministry of the Interior, 560 permits will expire in construction, 427 in manufacturing, and 202 in agriculture, forestry and fishing, daily Postimees writes (link in Estonian).
Ukrainians have been issued the most short-term work permits by nationality at more than 11,500 with 1,831 in seasonal work, the next closest nationality is Belarus with less than a 1,000.
Last Monday, the government decided to permit third country nationals to enter and remain in the country, but did not pass the opposition Reform's and Social Democrats' proposal to extend existing work permits until the end of the year.
The proposal to reject the bill on the first reading was made by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) party group. In total, 52 members voted to reject the bill and 42 voted against.
Answering the paper's questions on if extensions of work permits would be a reasonable solution for migrant labor, Ruth Annus, Head of the Citizenship and Migration Policy Department at the Ministry of the Interior referred to EU policy: "The European Council decided that borders will be opened together and that also what we are following in Estonia."
With the government's decision on July 6, a seasonal worker can work in Estonia for up to 180 consecutive days within a 365-day period, through to April 30, 2022.
During the emergency situation, the government closed Estonia's borders and refused to allow third country nationals to enter the country - even if they had a valid work permit. Workers who were in Estonia were not allowed to leave if they wanted to return. Permits were not extended unless workers were employed in the agricultural sector and only until July 31.
For several months farmers have complained they have no been able to find workers and that produce will rot, unpicked in the fields if the situation does not change. Strawberry farmers have been particularly affected as the harvest season started in June. Many seasonal workers come from Ukraine which currently has a higher rate of coronavirus infection than Estonia.
EKRE was particularly against allowing foreign workers back into the country and said farmers were underpaying workers, evading taxes and lying about not being able to find workers. As unemployment rose during the emergency situation farmers were told to employ Estonians instead. However, many Estonians do not want to do agricultural work and farmers have been unable to find enough workers.
In April, the Ministry of the Interior told ERR News the majority of short term work permits had been issued construction. No work permits had been issued since then before the announcement last week. The figures are below.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste