Opposition parties aiming to hold-up Aliens Act amendments

EKRE leader Martin Helme at the Riigikogu.
EKRE leader Martin Helme at the Riigikogu. Source: Patrik Tamm / ERR

Two opposition parties, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, are attempting to halt legislation amendments issued in response to the Ukraine refugee crisis, at least in their current form.

The far-right EKRE says that the amendment, to the Aliens Act, the main piece of legislation governing immigration in Estonia, is ostensibly aimed at making the situation better for those fleeing the war in Ukraine, in fact encourages "low-cost" immigration from third countries, referring primarily to non-EU/EEA states.

EKRE chair Martin Helme said: "The bill today reaching its second reading, which extends the right to work in Estonia for short-term workers who have an annual work permit for another two years, reduces the current wage requirement to 0.8 of the Estonian mean wage, and introduces a number of other facilitations for recruiting foreign workers and settling permanently in Estonia impairs the job prospects of the native populace and threatens our nation-state," Helme went on.

"It is extremely cynical that in a situation where the number of war refugees in Ukraine already exceeds the capacity of our country to provide them with assistance, the country intends to further boost immigration, and sharply increase the influx of cheap labor," Helme added.

Isamaa's approach takes a different tack and aims to strip those who express public support for Russia's war of their right to stay in Estonia.

The party on Tuesday initiated an amendment to the Aliens Act aimed at creating a legal basis for the revocation of residence permits and visas for those who publicly support Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Leader of the national-conservative Isamaa party Helir-Valdor Seeder said that: "The Estonian state has no obligation to retain citizens who justify attacking Ukraine and who pose a threat to Estonia's internal security."

Helir-Valdor Seeder at the Riigikogu. Source: Patrik Tamm / ERR

"The non-issuance and revocation of residence permits and visas to those who justify aggression is as a result the only reasonable choice," Seeder continued.

EKRE says that it will use all the diplomatic means at its disposal to block the government's amendment.

The party says that low-paid foreign labor can inhibit wage growth in Estonia, discourage Estonians living in Finland or elsewhere from returning, or even induce more Estonians to leave the country.

The state and the government must not raise immigration in that situation and in a situation where there are already issues with knowledge of the state language (i.e. Estonian) in society, and societal cohesion as a whole, Helme added.

The second reading of the amendment bill to the Aliens Act and the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens as initiated by the government was on the Riigikogu agenda Tuesday.

The rationale behind the bill is to ensure those foreigners who in the authorities' view contribute to the development of Estonia and whose stay is in the public interest and in-line with the labor market's needs would be able to stay, to work and to study.

The Isamaa-initiated amendment would, if it passed, allow, in the cae of an alien who publicly supports the Russian Federation's war of aggression against Ukraine to variously terminate that alien's stay in Estonia prematurely, to refuse to issue a long-stay visa to refuse to issue a long-term residence permit or to revoke a temporary residence permit.

The new rules were put together at cabinet level before Russia's invasion of Ukraine and affect the Aliens Act and the hiring of highly-skilled workers from outside the EU.

More recently, Ukrainian citizens who were granted the right to work in Estonia on a short-term permit before the war started can extend their stay until May 31.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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