Third country seamen required to have visa or residence permit

A vessel at Sillamäe Port.
A vessel at Sillamäe Port. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise assessed that Estonian state agencies are violating the law if they do not require third country seamen working on Estonian vessels to have an Estonian residence permit or visa to go with registration of temporary work.

The Estonian Seamen's Independent Union (EMSA) turned to the justice chancellor to point out that Estonian agencies do not require foreign seamen working on Estonian vessels to have a residence permit or visa.

EMSA found that this kind of organization is contradictory to legislation. The union also finds that it puts Estonian seamen into a worse situation because workers from third countries are not subject to a minimum wage and Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa) requirements, which are established to protect the Estonian labor market.

Madise wrote in a recommendation to the Ministry of the Interior, the Transport Administration and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) that agencies are violating the law if they do not require third country seamen to present a residence permit or visa and to register their temporary work period.

The chancellor noted that the Riigikogu would have to amend legislation to allow the aforementioned factors to be looked over. "The factors are valid as of legislation currently in force and Estonian seamen are correct if they consider non-compliance with the law detrimental to their interests," Madise wrote.

False information on PPA and Transport Administration webpages

Confusion has been stirred up by there being false information on the webpages of the PPA and the Transport Administration, saying seafarers from third countries do not have to have a residence permit or visa when working on vessels sailing under the Estonian flag.

According to PPA information, law in force in Estonia does not require a residence permit or visa from a foreign seafarer as an exemption. "Therefore, foreigners can stay and work on Estonian vessels without an Estonian visa or residence permit," the PPA's homepage in Estonian reads.

Similar information is also present on the Transport Administration's homepage and they base their position on that of the interior ministry, which claims seamen to be subject to an exemption. The interior ministry justifies the exemption by saying that issuing residence permits is not necessary nor justified.

"If these seamen were required to have a visa or residence permit, then they should have a registered place of residence regardless of them even coming to Estonia or other Schengen countries," the interior ministry's justification reads.

According to the ministry, such bureaucracy would increase the number of obstacles for companies trying to hire personnel quickly.

Madise said there is no section in legislation that would rule out imposing the law on seamen working on vessels flying the Estonian flag. "Such an exemption cannot stem from international contracts. Since the Riigikogu has not approved such an exemption, the requirements of the Aliens Act must be imposed on foreigners working on Estonian vessels. This means that according to the law, workers on vessels flying the Estonian flag must have an Estonian residence permit or visa and their employment must be registered as temporary work, if necessary," the justice chancellor noted.

Madise said administrative practice must be in accordance with the law. The law must also be put to accordance with information published on the PPA's and Transport Administration's webpages.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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