Commerce chamber asks government to prolong foreign worker stay periods

Construction work in progress.
Construction work in progress. Source: ERR

An organization representing businesses wants to relax restrictions on non-European Union nationals stay in Estonia on short-term contracts, saying many sectors could grind to a halt otherwise.

The Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eesti Kaubandus-tööstuskoda) has approached the government with a proposal to allow foreigners working in Estonia for a short period of time to continue working in Estonia even after the working time of their permitted employment in Estonia has expired.

The chamber says the change would help alleviate labor shortages in those sectors and companies where there is currently active business activity, and reduce the likelihood that the companies or their employees would need state state support going forward.

Chamber: Foreign labor would boost tax receipts

Mait Palts, the chamber's director, said the move would not cost the state, and would in fact add to its coffers via increased tax receipts.

"Without exception, entrepreneurs in some sectors can be hit by a labor crisis, as foreign nationals on short term work contracts have to leave the country, while it remains almost impossible to find replacements, rising unemployment rates or the rhetoric of politicians," he said.

The interior ministry recently drew up a bill aimed at tightening regulations on third country (non-EU) nationals coming to Estonia for work, and also for study.

Summer saw labor shortages in the agricultural sector, as coronavirus travel restrictions hindered the entry of third country, and particularly Ukrainian, seasonal workers – with some of the latter who made it into the country even being deported later.

Construction is another area which heavily relies on third country nationals in its workforce.

Palts noted that Estonian businesses have in general preferred to hire locally, but without the relevant skills this can be an issue.

The alternative could be companies taking their operations outside Estonia, or closing altogether.

Chamber: Increase work stay period for temporary workers

The chamber proposed the government amend the relevant law, the Aliens Act, to allow short-term work for more than 365 days over a 455-day period. Under current law 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

Another preferred option is to extend the maximum period of short-term employment to 548 days during a 730-day period - also the maximum period for staying in Estonia on the basis of a long-term visa.

The requirement that a foreigner must be paid the average or higher salary in Estonia would remain in force under the chamber's proposal.

Other exceptions could be made to mirror those already in place for certain high-level specialists, for instance in the IT field.

The foreign national's short-term employment would continue to be registered with the Police and Border Guard Board, and the required qualifications, education level, health requirements and work experience would also remain, under the chamber's proposals.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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