The latest amendments to the Aliens Act 1993, which are aimed at facilitating the arrival of high-level foreign specialists to work in Estonia and extending the maximum period of temporary employment, as well as introducing tougher measures to combat illegal employment, came in force on Sunday, 15 July.
"Estonia is clearly in competition for top-level specialists with other countries, and by exempting them [ie. the specialists] from the quota we will provide Estonian employers with an additional lever to make a contribution to the Estonian economy via their skilled workforce,'' said Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt, according to Ministry spokespersons.
''Thus far, an average of about 80 top-level specialists per year have been attracted to Estonia from abroad under the immigration quota. Devising smart and well thought-out solutions for attracting foreign labour will of course be ongoing," Mr. Anvelt reportedly added.
The minister has also made a proposal to the work group on immigration, which falls under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior, to apply different minimum wage criteria for foreign labour depending on which sector of the economy they are working in.
Old system not flexible enough to reflect present day realities
"The present requirement to pay at least the Estonian average wage is not flexible if we think about the significant wage differences in different areas of activity,'' Mr. Anvelt explained.
''At the same time, it is important for a sector's average wage level to be agreed between representatives of the employers and the trade unions," he continued.
The amendment which came into effect on Sunday exempts specialists being paid at least two times the national gross average wage from the immigration quota.
Furthermore, the amendment extends the maximum term of short-term employment from the current nine months to one year. This latter change is aimed at enabling the labour market to react to changing conditions in a flexible manner, as well as to alleviate labour shortages in project-based fields of activity.
CEF A2 Estonian Language requirement
The same set of amendments introduces a requirement for third country nationals to have Estonian language skills at A2 level in the Common European Framework (which ranges from A1 the lowest to C2 at the highest) when extending their residence permit for the purpose of employment or seeking a new permit of this type.
This requirement is applied only to those whose residence permit is issued after the amendments have taken effect, ie. From Sunday, 15 July 2018; the language proficiency isn't to be tested immediately, but once the employees has been living in Estonia for five years (ie. In 2023 for those who are moving to Estonia under the scheme at the present time).
These amendments as a whole are both aimed at motivating employers in Estonia, as well as employees coming from third (ie. Non-EU) countries, to respect the Estonian employment law.
The maximum fine for a corporate employer employing any personnel illegally was raised tenfold, from €3,200 to €32,000, in an attempt to avert a situation where it pays employers to ignore the law if an ensuing fine is less than the tax bill of employing the personnel in question legally.
In addition, the amendments enable the removal of a tenderer from a public procurement procedure if the tenderer has been punished for the enabling of the violation of the conditions of the employment of a foreigner in Estonia, as well as the elimination from business of enterprises which consistently violate the law by illegally hiring foreigners.
The Estonian immigration quota on third country nationals was set at 1,315 for 2018, and was already met in early April this year.
The average gross monthly wage in Estonia in 2017 was €1,221 according to Statistics Estonia.
Editor: Andrew Whyte