Education Minister Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) supports Russian students studying in Estonia continuing their studies or relocating to Estonia to work, whereas the majority of the coalition supports only those students who can speak Estonian remaining in Estonia.
The Council of Rectors petitioned the three ministries to permit Russian nationals enrolled in Estonian higher education institutions to conclude their studies and continue their education in Estonia or remain here to work.
Kallas said that the Ministry of Education and Research sees Russian students studying in Estonia in the same manner as Russian citizens residing currently in Estonia with a work or business permit, whose residence permits would be extended upon request.
"However, it will not be extended for academic purposes, even despite the student's continued enrollment in higher education. Our position is that residence permits should be renewed on an equivalent basis," the minister said.
The coalition has already discussed the issue, but it has not yet reached the government. According to Kallas, opinions remain divided as to whether the residence permit should be extended to all students from Russia or only to those who are pursuing an Estonian-language curriculum or have a B2 level of Estonian proficiency.
"I believe that the requirement to speak Estonian is reasonable and am not opposed to it," Kallas said.
The Ministry of Education has conveyed its stance to the Ministry of the Interior, which is presently considering a variety of potential responses.
Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said that the government will debate the issue, while the Ministry of the Interior produces "some versions" for students to continue their education in Estonia.
"There are different factors to consider, because the point of sanctions is still not to impose them on the Russian state in the abstract, but to cause pain to the Russian people and to influence the actions of their government. However unfortunate, students and other Russian citizens alike are subject to this sanction. But the problem is understandable and we will see what can be done," Läänemets said.
According to the minister of the interior, the procedure would be handled on a case-by-case basis, if the government decided that Russian students could continue their studies or relocate to work in Estonia.
"This includes the requirement that every student resubmit their application, which will be evaluated by the PPA and ISS to weed out cases that are not in the best interests of the Estonian state," Läänemets said.
However, time is rapidly running out for such a decision, as the end of the academic year means that Russian graduates will be forced to leave Estonia if the government does not grant an exemption.
"We recognize that this is the final instant," Läänemets said, adding that if this is to be completed, it will be in the coming weeks. According to Kristina Kallas, the government should have discussed the issue by Thursday.
The government issued a decree in April of last year stating that Russian citizens who have concluded their higher education in Estonia and have a residence permit to study here are not permitted to continue their education or begin working in Estonia.
The rectors want the regulation to be amended so that it does not apply to Russian and Belarusian citizens who have completed the curriculum of an Estonian higher education institution in 2022 or later and apply for a temporary residence permit to study at an Estonian higher education institution or a temporary residence permit to work, or who have started studying at an Estonian higher education institution in the current academic year and apply for a residence permit to study.
In addition, it is expected that students currently residing in Estonia with a 270-day right of residence will be allowed to apply for a long-stay visa after their residence permit expires. During the previous academic year, 19 students began their studies with a 270-day right of residence or a long-stay visa. In May, the first of them will reach the conclusion of this period and may not be able to finish their studies.
Editor: Marko Tooming, Kristina Kersa