Head of the Citizenship and Migration Policy Department at the Ministry of Interior Ruth Annus has written about 12 myths related to foreigners' stay, studies and employment in Estonia and why they are not true. ERR News has republished Annus' post from the Ministry of Interior's blog.
For some time now, the proposed amendments to the Aliens Act with regard to the terms of staying, studying and working in Estonia have been a hot topic of discussion. Unfortunately, a number of false allegations have also started spreading, giving a misleading impression that no foreigners are any longer welcome to Estonia as a result of the proposed amendments.
Throughout time, the focal point of our migration policy has been to encourage foreigners whose settlement in Estonia is in accordance with public interests to settle here. Qualified specialists who create significant added value, contributing to the development of the Estonian society and economy have always been and will be welcome to Estonia. Those people have a positive effect on business and the research and education spheres here.
As all the countries in the world compete for qualified employees, the regulation of foreigners is amended considering the need to preserve Estonia's attractiveness for qualified labour and to create possibilities for them to settle and find employment in Estonia. In order to ensure the competitiveness and sustainability of the Estonian economy, it is important to support the employment of foreign talents in Estonia, so that they could apply their knowledge on the Estonian labour market in the full extent.
The aim of the proposed amendments is not to restrict immigration, but to create conditions for fair competition in the labour market and to prevent and combat abuses of employment conditions. The amendments are also aimed at ensuring the purposeful use of residence permits issued for studying and the internationalisation of higher education at a competitive level.
Below, I shall overthrow the main mistaken opinions with regard to the proposed amendments to the employment and education migration regulation.
- Foreigners can no longer come to study and work in Estonia after the adoption of the amendments to law. Estonia will become a closed country and foreigners are no longer welcome here.
The discussions about Estonia becoming a closed country as a result of the amendments to the Aliens Act are not true. Every year, nearly 2,000 students study and thousands of people from various European Union countries work in Estonia. We are not planning to restrict education or employment migration inside the European Union in any way. Neither will the amendments establish additional restrictions or quotas on foreigners from other countries of the world coming to Estonia to study or engage in short-term employment. For instance, more than 3,000 foreign students from outside the European Union studied in Estonia last year. However, the amendments will specify the regulation of working and studying in Estonia with the aim to prevent the abuse of employment conditions and to ensure the purposeful use of residence permits issued for studying.
- Top specialists who create high added value will no longer come to Estonia.
Estonia, as a country known for novel technological solutions, is definitely an attractive destination country on the international scale. As all the countries in the world compete for qualified employees, the need to preserve Estonia's attractiveness is also taken into account in amending the Aliens Act.
The Aliens Act contains various concessions for top specialists, start-ups, and employees taking up specialised ICT jobs, to name a few. This year, amendments that allow digital nomads to come to Estonia entered into force. The aim of the digital nomad visa programme is to attract qualified labour to Estonia. A digital nomad visa or remote work visa may be issued to a foreigner the objective of whose temporary stay in Estonia is to perform work that is independent of location.
Neither the Unemployment Fund permit requirement nor the salary requirement will apply to foreigners who have successfully completed their studies in Estonia and start working here. The proposed amendments to the education and employment migration terms and conditions include exceptions for doctoral students as well as teachers, academic employees, and employment at research and development institutions.
- Foreigners cannot bring their family along when coming to study or work in Estonia.
If a foreigner comes to work in Estonia on the basis of a residence permit, his or her spouse and child can still apply for a residence permit for settling with him or her outside the immigration quota, so that the foreigner can settle in Estonia with his or her family.
The proposed amendments only concern foreigners with a temporary basis of stay (visa) and foresee that the family members of foreigners who work in Estonia with a temporary basis of stay and for a short period will no longer be issued visas on the same terms and conditions as to the persons who come to work here, with the exception of single parents and the family members of academic employees and research and development employees. A visa is a temporary basis of stay and a foreigner who has been issued a visa has to leave Estonia upon the expiry of the temporary period of stay. Family members can, if necessary, independently apply for a visa and in the meantime come and visit the family member who is temporarily working in Estonia. Visas could still be issued on the same terms and conditions to the family members of foreigners who come to work in Estonia for a short period for the purpose of a start-up business.
Similarly to employment migration, the family members of foreigners studying in Estonia would no longer be issued long-term visas on the same terms and conditions as to the persons who come to study here. Family members can, if necessary, independently apply for a visa and in the meantime come and visit the family member who is studying in Estonia. A foreigner who has received a residence permit for studying can in the future invite their spouse along to Estonia two years after the commencement of studies in Estonia. In that time, the foreigner has managed to adapt and found a more permanent place of residence, and there is an assurance that he or she can ensure the subsistence of the family member. Before allowing a foreigner to bring the family along, it is important to ascertain that the level of education and language skills of the foreigner allows him or her to complete the study programme and he or she uses the residence permit purposefully. Foreigners commencing doctoral studies and their family members are an exception.
- Amendments to the Aliens Act affect the possibilities of foreigners living in Estonia under a temporary residence permit to live their family life.
The proposed amendments will not affect the possibility of a foreigner who lives and work in Estonia under a temporary residence permit to live their family life in Estonia. The amendments only concern foreigners who are issued a residence permit for studying in the future. They cannot bring their family members along before two years have passed. Two years is a sufficient period for ascertaining that the foreigner's level of education and language skills allow him or her to complete the study programme, he or she can cope in Estonia and uses the residence permit purposefully. The proposed amendments do not have a retrospective effect, i.e. the proposed amendments do not concern people who are already in Estonia with their family.
- Foreign students can no longer work part-time during their studies.
The proposed amendments do not restrict the possibility of foreign students working during their studies in any way. Neither do the amendments establish the requirement that a student must work full-time. On the contrary, the Aliens Act allows foreign students to work without them having to apply for a separate permit for employment. The only restriction is that their employment must not disturb their studies.
- Foreigners cannot stay in Estonia to find a job after the end of their studies.
The proposed amendments do not restrict the possibility of foreigners who have successfully completed their studies in Estonia to commence employment in Estonia and apply for a residence permit for employment outside the immigration quota. When a foreigner's residence permit for studying expires, he or she can lawfully stay in Estonia for 270 days and find a job or start a business during that time.
- The salary criteria requirement established for foreigners puts Estonian residents in an unequal position compared to foreigners.
The aim of the applicable set of rules for the employment of foreigners in Estonia is to protect our own people and their jobs. Immigration has an effect on the success of permanent residents in the labour market. Employees, whose jobs immigration supplements, win, while local employees, who compete with immigrants on the labour market, lose. With the proposed amendments, we encourage employers to prefer Estonian labour and reduce employers' scheming with employment conditions and salary criteria with the aim to use an unfair competitive advantage. Inviting a foreigner to work in Estonia is not justified if he or she works here part-time.
Increased demand for foreign labour must not leave local Estonian residents without a job, particularly in a situation where the rate of unemployment has considerably grown from the previous year and may, in the analysts' opinion, grow even more.
- When a foreigner loses his or her job, he or she must immediately leave Estonia, if he or she does not immediately find a new job. It is not possible to stay in Estonia to look for a new job.
When a foreigner who is working in Estonia for a short period loses his or her job, he or she does not have to leave Estonian immediately. The foreigner has 30 days to look for a new job or make arrangements for his or her departure from Estonia.
- Foreigners can no longer start work in Estonia without a D visa, although his or her short-term employment has been registered.
A long-term visa or a D visa as a pre-condition to short-term employment does not mean that a foreigner could not come to Estonia on the basis of a C visa or visa-freedom and apply for a D visa for the purpose of short-term employment when already in Estonia.
The proposed amendments also allow foreigners to work in Estonia for up to 30 days on the basis of a C visa or visa-freedom, if the foreigner's employer has registered his or her short-term employment at the Police and Border Guard Board. If a foreigner wishes to work in Estonia for longer than 30 days, he or she must apply for a D visa, which can be done at the Police and Border Guard Board.
- Top specialists from third countries who have been invited to work in Estonia cannot no longer come here because some countries do not have an Estonian embassy where they could apply for a D visa.
The long-term visa or D visa requirement for employment in Estonia applies only when the planned employment lasts more than 30 days. A foreigner can still come to Estonia under a short-term visa or visa-freedom and can start work here if the employer has registered his or her short-term employment. Thus, the absence of an Estonian embassy is not an obstacle in the necessary specialists reaching Estonia.
- The salary criteria established for a seasonal foreign employee is considerably higher than the salary paid to Estonian residents.
The main aim of establishing the salary criterion is to protect the Estonian labour market. The establishment of the salary criterion will encourage employers to use foreign labour particularly in areas where there is a deficiency of qualified employees in the Estonian labour market and will help prevent the replacement of domestic labour with labour hired from abroad in areas where no restrictions have been established to using foreign labour. The cheaper the use of foreign labour, the more it endangers the competitiveness of Estonian employees in areas where the average salary is at or below the level of the Estonian average salary. We must also take into account the fact that foreigners who have come to Estonia for short-term employment do not spend their salary in Estonia, but in their country of origin.
The salary criterion for seasonal employees is established on the basis of the annual average gross salary in seasonal fields of activity published by Statistics Estonia last year, i.e. the average salary paid to people employed in a respective field of activity in Estonia.
The seasonal fields of activity established by the aforementioned legal act are as follows:
- Crop and animal production, hunting and related service activities (EMTAK A 01)
- Forestry and logging (EMTAK A 02)
- Fishing and aquaculture (EMTAK A 03)
- Manufacture of food products (EMTAK C 10)
- Manufacture of soft drinks; production of mineral waters and other bottled waters (EMTAK C 1107)
- Accommodation (EMTAK I 55)
- Food and beverage service activities (EMTAK I 56)
According to the respective main fields of activities and the first-level sub-fields of activity under the EMTAK codes, the lower limits of the salary payable for seasonal works would be as follows:
|EMTAK code||Seasonal field of activity||2019 average salary in euros|
|A 01||Crop and animal production, hunting and related service activities||1,044|
|A 02||Forestry and logging||1,370|
|A 03||Fishing and aquaculture||999|
|C 10||Manufacture of food products||1,123|
|C 11||Manufacture of beverages||1,729|
|I 56||Food and beverage service activities||884|
- The amendments extend the commencement of employment of foreign employees and would therefore directly restrict the economic activities of enterprises.
The proposed amendments do not extend the commencement of employment of foreign employees in Estonia. They can still come to work in Estonia with a visa (C visa or D visa) or under visa-freedom, if the employer has registered the short-term employment of the foreigner at the Police and Border Guard Board. A foreigner must, however, apply for a D visa as the basis for stay, if his or her basis of stay is a C visa and the employment is planned to last for longer than 30 days. That can be done without leaving Estonia, by submitting an application to the Police and Border Guard Board. The proposed amendments do not concern the conditions of employment under a residence permit.
Editor: Helen Wright