Government approves stricter third country national residence bill ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE).
Interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE). Source: Vladislava Snurnikova/ERR

The cabinet has given the go ahead to a Ministry of Interior-sponsored bill aimed at tightening regulations on third country (non-EU) nationals coming to Estonia for study or work.

The regulations would include a bar on spouses of third country nationals studying in Estonia on a temporary residence permit from coming to live in the country earlier than two years after the study period started, and reduces the length of time defined as seasonal work, but also make exceptions for those engaged in doctoral studies or working in research and development areas.

Interior Minister Mart Helme (EKRE) said via a press release that the current immigration regime relating to study fails to ensure public order and the state security adequately, and must be changed. 

As reported on ERR News, after drafting the bill, the ministry said the regulations 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. 

The cabinet green-lighted the bill, which would amend several existing laws, Thursday morning at its regular meeting. 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, and only stated higher education institutions would be permitted to take on foreign students, if the bill becomes law. 

Third country nationals would not be able to engage in part-time work, even on a temporary contract, if the bill passed a Riigikogu vote. 

Details (please note this adds more information to an earlier piece on the bill's contents). 

Study

  •  A third country national, broadly defined as a non-EU/EEA citizen, who has obtained a residence permit for study in Estonia would not be able to invite a spouse to reside in Estonia until two years after the study had commenced.
  • Those holding temporary residence permits who dropped out of their studies or did not complete them for some other reason would see their temporary permit expire 30 days after discontinuing studies.
  • Any family member of a foreign national whose temporary permit expired due to non-completion of studies would also see their residence permit expire within 30 days.
  • Family members will be able to apply for a visa on their own terms if necessary, and can visit the family member working or studying in Estonia in the meantime.
  • A temporary residence permit granted for study would not count as part of the residency period required for applying for a permanent residence permit; instead, only temporary residence permits issued for work or business would count.
  • An exception to the above is those who have completed doctoral studies in Estonia; their temporary residence permit time-frame would count towards the permanent residence application, for the period they were engaged in the doctorate.

Work 

  •  The seasonal work period for the purposes of temporary residence permit has been reduced to 183 days (i.e. six months) within a 365-day period, from the earlier figure of 270 days in a year.
  • Long-term visas would not be issued to family members of foreign nationals in short-term employment in Estonia on the same terms they had been to the individuals who came to Estonia for the purpose of employment.
  • An exception to the above concerns single parents and family members of those working in research and development areas.
  • Foreign nationals engaged in seasonal work must receive a wage corresponding to at least the average gross monthly wage over a 12 month period in that sector, as based on state agency Statistics Estonia's data, or, in the case of unskilled seasonal work, 80 percent of the average gross monthly wage for that sector.
  • As noted, regardless of employment contract length, third country nationals can only work full-time and not part-time.

"With this legislative amendment we direct employers towards giving preference to Estonian residents as a workforce, and reducing scheming by employers in employment and wage criteria to gain an unfair competitive advantage," Mart Helme said.  

The foreign ministry says the 30-day period noted above is sufficient time for either arrangements to leave the country or obtain a new legal basis for stay. 

The ministry also said that short-term foreign national employee numbers had increased over four-fold in a two-year period, from 8,376 applications for registration with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) in 2017, to 34,853 in 2019. 

"The purpose of the valid set of rules concerning the employment of foreigners in Estonia is to protect the Estonian labor market. The current set of rues is unable to fulfill its purpose and hence has to be updated," Mart Helme went on, adding that it is unjustifiable to bring a foreign national to Estonia to work on a part-time basis, particularly given they must support both themselves and a family. 

A visa is a temporary basis of stay; upon its expiry the individual issued the visa, and their family members, must leave Estonia, the ministry added. 

The bill would amend the existing Aliens Act, Higher Education Act and Study Allowances and Study Loans Act.

It will next be presented to the Riigikogu for voting. If it passes three readings it can enter into law, but still requires the assent of the president. 

The three coalition parties, Center, Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) have together 56 seats in the 101-seat chamber; opposition parties Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) have 44 seats. One other MP, Raimond Kaljulaid, is listed as independent, though he is currently SDE's Tallinn branch leader. 

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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