Mayyada Abdel Salam: Expatriates' challenges in Estonia

Mayyada Abdel Salam.
Mayyada Abdel Salam. Source: Private collection

Mayyada Abdel Salam writes about expats' challenges in Estonian society, urging Estonian authorities to prioritize making sure international workers and students are given a favorable environment for what they bring to the table.

In Estonia, expatriates face unique challenges, especially when it comes to vulnerable employment and securing accommodation. Unfortunately, policymaking often ignores this problem, leaving expats like me in the lurch. According to recent analysis from Statistics Estonia, international students and graduates  paid a record €22 million in taxes during the 2021-22 academic year. This was accompanied by a rise in the number of international graduates, indicating a positive trend of international talent retention in the country. Information and communication, as well as education, were the favored sectors for international students and graduates, with a higher percentage of them employed in start-up businesses compared to their local counterparts. However, despite this significant contribution to the economy, the Estonian government has made little effort to improve their living conditions and access to amenities.

When it comes to seeking employment opportunities in a foreign country, international students often face numerous obstacles that can significantly affect their job prospects and work conditions. In Estonia, the situation is no different, and international students may find it challenging to navigate the country's labor market successfully. Unfortunately, compared to Estonian local students, international students in Estonia are more vulnerable in the labor market, facing a range of obstacles and barriers that can affect their employment status and job security.

International students in Estonia face challenges such as less secure employment contracts compared to local students, and they may have to work temporary or part-time jobs with little job security or benefits, leaving them financially vulnerable. They also tend to work a higher number of jobs to cover expenses, which can negatively impact their academic performance and mental health. These factors contribute to the overall vulnerability of international students in the Estonian labor market. 

Overall, the vulnerability of international students in the Estonian labor market can have far-reaching effects, potentially affecting their academic success, financial stability, and overall well-being. As such, it is essential for policymakers and employers to take steps to address these challenges and create a more inclusive and supportive labor market for international students in Estonia. 

Securing accommodation can also be a challenge for international students in Estonia, and there are concerns about the inadequacy of the "Deposit" clause under chapter 15 in the Law and Obligations Act. This clause doesn't provide sufficient disciplinary measures against lessors who unjustly withhold security deposits after the lease has been terminated, which can lead to disputes and disagreements.

Furthermore, the process of securing a residence permit can also be a daunting task for expatriates living in Tallinn city. One of the biggest challenges they face is securing initial appointments to submit their applications. Unfortunately, this process can take up to four months, which can be frustrating and stressful for applicants. The initial appointment alone can take up to three months to secure, and an additional two to three months are needed to receive the ID card. The long delay in the application process is largely due to limited resources at the relevant service offices. These offices have not undergone significant upgrades to handle the recent population increase, which has led to a backlog of applications. As a result, many applicants are forced to apply in other provinces where the process may be expedited, rather than waiting for vacancies in Tallinn's offices.

The delays and uncertainties associated with obtaining a residence permit can be particularly challenging for expatriates who may already be dealing with the stress of adjusting to a new culture, language, and environment. Long wait times can also cause practical issues for those who need to secure housing, employment, or education for themselves or their families.

In recent years, Estonia has been attracting foreign nationals who are drawn to the favorable business environment and potential for rapid career growth, especially in the ICT industry. To aid the integration of these individuals and their families into Estonian society, the government needs to provide supportive living conditions and modify local regulations to ensure the protection of their rights. Authorities also need to address limited resources and expedite the settling-in process to offer more efficient and less stressful experiences for expatriates.

Promoting diversity and inclusivity is crucial in building and growing a thriving society, especially for nations projecting an international image. The government plays a vital role in ensuring that minority groups are included and given a voice by acknowledging their unique perspectives and experiences in legislation and public discourse. This fosters a sense of belonging and strengthens community bonds, leading to a more cohesive and harmonious society. Therefore, it is imperative for governments to take necessary steps to embrace diversity and promote inclusion, leading to a more equitable and tolerant society.

Mayyada Abdel Salam is a columnist with Young Voices Europe, based in Estonia. She is a legal practitioner currently studying for an MBA and she specializes in the fintech industry. She is, herself, an expat in Estonia.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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