Exempting more categories of foreign workers from the immigration quota is the solution put forward by a work group exploring ways to overcome the situation in which the annual quota is exhausted halfway through the year already, daily Postimees said on Friday.
One category that the new arrangement would exempt from the quota is construction workers from Ukraine, most of whom are already working in Estonia without a residence permit, the report said.
The work group on immigration has suggested that while the immigration quota, which was 1,317 for 2017 and will be 1,315 next year, would be preserved, more categories of foreigners would get an exemption from the quota. These include short-term employees, including construction workers, and higher-paid employees.
The work group is proposing a five-tier system of employment related migration.
The first tier in that system would be made up of short-term employees, who under the current arrangement can work in Estonia for nine months at a time. They must be registered as employees, but do not need a residence permit and are not covered by the quota. The number of such employees has skyrocketed in Estonia recently — from 1,782 in 2016 to more than 6,000 as of the end of November.
The work group's proposal would extend the period of time that such workers can work in Estonia from nine to 12 months and, if they move on to a second tier, make them eligible for a residence permit for up to two years without the possibility of extension. The immigration quota would not apply to such workers. Such an arrangement would enable a third country national to work in Estonia for up to three years: one year on a visa and two years on a fixed-term residence permit.
Also to be exempted from the quota are foreigners receiving from 1.5 to two times the average Estonian pay, to whom a residence permit for five years would be issued. Persons receiving at least 1.5 times the average pay would also be required to participate in an adaptation program and learn the Estonian language.
The only category to which the quota would continue to apply is the so-called third tier, or employees receiving the average gross national wage, who will be issued a residence permit for up to five years. The Ministry of the Interior has no information at this point on how many people could eventually fall under this third category.
The Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL), whose representative was included in the work group that presented the proposals, has said that they are against exempting all of the aforementioned categories from the annual quota, and that this concerned those paid 1.5 times the national average wage and short-term employees specifically. EAKL chairman Peep Peterson said that exempting all of the proposed categories would leave the quota marginal compared to the number of people qualifying for an exemption.
Editor: Aili Vahtla