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Estonia does not support simplification of single work & residence permit for non-EU nationals

Empty job offers board outside of the Estonian Health Insurance Fund (EHIF) office in Räpina. July 27, 2022.
Empty job offers board outside of the Estonian Health Insurance Fund (EHIF) office in Räpina. July 27, 2022. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

Non-EU nationals would be able to remain unemployed and receive benefits after six months of employment in a Member State under the new EU single permit system, but Estonia does not support the latest updates to the directive, fearing the costs it could entail.

On December 18, 2023, the European Commission, Parliament and Council reached an agreement to update Europe's Single Permit Directive.

Essentially, the EU knows that in order to remain globally competitive, it must be able to attract people and effectively meet market demands. For this aim, a single permit application that combines EU work and residence permits would grant non-EU workers more rights in terms of working conditions, social security, qualification recognition, and so on.

"These [permits] are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The minimum we are talking about is six months. /.../ It is up to the member states to decide based on their own situations, and it also depends on what the employers want. However, there will be no permanent permits at first; the first ones will always be temporary," Vivian Loonela, the head of the European Commission Representation in Estonia, explained.

If foreign workers would lose their income at the end of a contract of six months or more, they would be able to register as unemployed in Estonia.

"If they become unemployed, they are entitled to receive up to three months of unemployment benefits, depending on how much they were paid. /.../ They really get the support from the state that they have invested in," she said.

Among the European Member States, four abstained during the vote to streamline the EU's "single permit" directive, including Estonia. This is because Estonian law stipulates that a person can receive unemployment benefits if he or she has worked in Estonia for six months within the scope of the last year. Moreover, non-EU workers currently cannot stay in Estonia after their work permit expires.

"A non-EU worker can now change employers too fast, i.e., after the first six months of working in Estonia, and therefore would often not be eligible for unemployment benefits. /.../ This is perhaps not a bad thing in itself to give foreigners the opportunity to change employers and move between jobs, but we would have liked to see a bit more time with the first employer," Harry Kattai, an adviser in the department of citizenship and migration policy at the Ministry of the Interior, said.

Kaia Vask, the chair of the Estonian Trade Union Confederation (Ametiühingute keskliit), said that people can only be brought to EES in areas where we have a labor shortage.

"How high can our unemployment rate get? It is undesirable for foreigners to come here, remain unemployed, and stay in Estonia for a long time. Rather, we think that once a person has come to our labor market, he or she would preferably work and contribute," Vask said.

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Editor: Merili Nael, Kristina Kersa

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