Interest in repatriation spikes among Russian citizens with Estonian roots

Children in Estonian folk costumes during the dress rehearsal of the XX Dance Festival on Thursday morning. July 4, 2019.
Children in Estonian folk costumes during the dress rehearsal of the XX Dance Festival on Thursday morning. July 4, 2019. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, the number of Russian citizens with Estonian roots interested in relocating to Estonia has gone up severalfold. Nonetheless, of 46 such applications received last year, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) approved just four.

Latvian Public Broadcasting (LSM) reported Wednesday that the Latvian state wants to repeal its Repatriation Law due to significant interest in it among Russian citizens.

Namely, the law provided Latvians and Livonians, or people with Latvian or Livonian forebears, with the opportunity to relocate, or in some cases figuratively return, to Latvia.

Estonia has no such repatriation law. Section 36 of the Constitution, however, states explicitly that "Every Estonian is entitled to settle in Estonia."

Typically, around a dozen people a year apply for Estonian residence permits on the basis of this stipulation of the Constitution, according to Janek Mägi, director of the Border Guard and Migration Policy Department of the Ministry of the Interior. Now, however, the number of such applications has increased severalfold.

Last year, the PPA received 46 such residence permit applications from Russian citizens alone.

"I see a connection here with the restrictions imposed by Estonia," Mägi said. "Those who were previously able to enter Estonia on a visa or obtain a residence permit or job are in fact simply no longer being issued a visa. Now if they actually do have Estonian roots, many see this as their only opportunity to come to Estonia."

According to the ministry official, last year, the PPA approved just four such applications to come to Estonia submitted by Russian citizens. They likewise issued residence permits to one citizen of Kazakhstan, one Belarusian citizen and one Ukrainian citizen.

He admitted that granting people a legal status on the basis of the Constitution is tricky, and has in practice been implemented via procedures and case law.

"One precondition is certainly that the individual is descendant from Estonians," Mägi explained, adding that this is possible to trace. "On the other hand, courts have ruled that this alone is not enough. Courts have said that someone who wants to move to Estonia as an Estonian should also have some sort of bigger and stronger ties to Estonia ⁠— whether that's related to Estonian culture or perhaps they're learning the Estonian language."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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