Bill restricting foreign national study options before government Thursday ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Ministry of the Interior coat of arms.
Ministry of the Interior coat of arms. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

An interior ministry bill is to be put before the cabinet Thursday which would tighten up regulations on study and temporary work in Estonia for so-called third country (non-EU) nationals and their family members, by amending several existing statutes. If the bill passes into law, only those with a long-term visa would be able to take on short-term employment or obtain a visa as a family member of an individual in short-term employment.

A list would be made of higher education institutions permitted to take on foreign students would be drawn up, and third country nationals would only be able to work full-time, if the bill became law.

The interior ministry says the bill would crack down on the abuse of visas and residence permits and the incidence of illegal immigration, while expanding the scope of immigration for foreign nationals who bring added value to Estonian society.

Interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) is to put the bill to government members from the ruling coalition of the Center, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa parties at the regular cabinet meeting Thursday morning.

What the bill would mean if it passed into law:

  • The bill would amend three key acts, the Aliens Act, the Higher Education Act and the Study Allowances and Study Loans Act.
  • Third country (loosely defined as non-EU/EEA country citizens) could engage in short-term employment in Estonia only if they have a long-term visa, or "D" visa.
  • Family members of those in short-term employment would be restricted on the same terms, BNS reports; in effect family members would need a long-term visa in the same way the individual engaged in short-term employment does.
  • Those in short-term employment contracts would have a minimum wage requirement set.
  • Foreign nationals working in Estonia would need to work full-time (i.e. full hours regardless of if contract was short-term).
  • Higher education institutions permitted to invite foreign nationals to study in Estonia would be specified.
  • Requirements-based study allowances for foreign students in Estonia on a fixed-term (i.e. temporary) residence permit would be discontinued.
  • Additional terms and conditions for family members of third country nationals studying in Estonia on a residence permit would be put in place.
  • Regulations concerning those foreign students whose residence permit was based on study but who are no longer studying would be tightened.

The bill is set for discussion at cabinet level starting from Thursday and any final draft would need to pass Riigikogu voting and receive presidential assent before entering into law.

The bill's stated aims are to put in order the regulation concerning third country nationals who work or study in Estonia and the terms for the stay, study and residence of same, in the light of a changing environment and goals set out in several national development plans.

Explanatory remarks accompanying the draft legislation say that the aim of Estonia's immigration policy is on the one hand to facilitate immigration by foreigners who give greater added value to the society, and on the other hand to prevent the misuse of residence permits and visas, as well as illegal immigration, BNS reports.

Two sectors in Estonia in particular are dominated by seasonal employment; the agricultural sector, whose busy season is over the summer, and the construction sector. Both sectors' workforces contain significant numbers of individuals from Ukraine.

Some individual higher education institutions had taken the decision themselves not to admit third country nationals ahead of the academic year which started at the beginning of September, with coronavirus risks sometimes cited as the motivation. At least one petition on behalf of foreign students has reached the Riigikogu via the standard procedure.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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