The number of Latvian residents in the Estonian border town of Valga has been steadily rising every year. So far in 2023 however, no Latvian citizens have registered on the Estonian side. Municipal leaders in the area say, that it is too early to assess the impact of the increased differences in family benefits available in the two countries, though the picture may become clearer in six months' time.
One year ago, the Latvian government agreed to a significant increase in family benefits. However, the amount of benefits available to Latvian families in Latvia is still lower than in Estonia. With the latest amendments to the Estonian Family Benefits Act increasing the amount of state funds available for large families, the gap between the two countries has grown even larger.
In Latvia, the monthly allowance for a family with a single child is €25. Families with two children are entitled to €100 per month (or €50 per child), while this rises to €225 for three-child families (or €75 per child per month). Families with four or more children receive €100 for each child every month. There are also other benefits available for families supporting children with disabilities for instance.
The higher benefits and better job opportunities available, lead some Latvians living in the border region to choose to register in Estonia, rather than in their home country. However, local government leaders in the border area believe that a potential surge in migration from Latvia to Estonia is unlikely.
"It's too early to expect these changes, but (so far) we haven't seen a significant increase in the number of Latvian citizens registering," said Valga Municipal Mayor Monika Rogenbaum (Isamaa).
"Last year we added 103 Latvian citizens, while 48 left. If we are talking about the total population of Valga Municipality, we have 15,486 people and 1,338 of them are Latvians. There has been a kind of steady increase in the number of Latvian citizens (here) every year. We are not seeing any kind of exceptional increase (in these numbers) at the moment. In January this year so far, we have not yet had a single Latvian register their residence in Valga Municipality," said Rogenbaum.
Vents Armands Krauklis, head of Valka Municipality, on the Latvian side, also believes that it is too soon to assess the impact of the differences in family benefits available in the two bordering countries. Krauklis also explained that the number of large families, who may be eligible for additional benefits, is also reasonably low.
So far however, Valka Municipality appears to be at a disadvantage, as Latvians who register in Estonia also pay taxes there, rather than in their home country. It is also often the case that Latvian children living on the Estonian side of the border, still wants to go to school in Latvia.
However, businesses in the border area predict, that it will become more challenging to low-paid unskilled workers, as higher benefits may make it increasingly possible for some to get by without needing to work at all.
Editor: Michael Cole