Police authorities oppose residency exemption for third country clergy

Metropolitan Yevgeny of the Estonian Orthodox Church, which is under the Moscow patriarchy, was turned down for residency in 2018.
Metropolitan Yevgeny of the Estonian Orthodox Church, which is under the Moscow patriarchy, was turned down for residency in 2018. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) opposes a bill due for reading at the Riigikogu, which would exempt from residency rules members of the clergy who are third country citizens.

The bill would grant permanent, as opposed to temporary, residency to such persons, members of the clergy, monks and nuns, who were invited by a religious associations to serve in Estonia and whose invitation had been approved by the Ministry of the Interior, it is reported.

The PPA has written to the Minstry of the Interior stating that such an exemption, as outlined in the bill, is without justification.

Margit Ratnik, head of the PPA's identity and status bureau, noted that those third country citizens working in an ordained religious function are covered under the Aliens Act 2009, and that its precepts should thus cover them.

''The specifications of the Aliens Act are already in force and, when applying for a residence permit as a clergy member, compliance with two areas, namely the Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa) and earnings levels, is not required for temporary residence,'' said Ms Ratnik.

Clergy shouldn't get special treatment

''As with other work-based migration, members of the clergy often come to Estonia for a set period of time and then leave the country, so it is not justified that they be treated in the same way as foreigners with permanent residency,'' she continued.

The principal basis in applying for permanent residence is that those in question have settled in Estonia and have adapted to living here, she argued.

''The proposed bill does not demonstrate any compelling arguments as to why working as a clergy member should be equate immediately to permanent residence in Estonia," she added.

The bill was drafted by seven MPs: Jaanus Karilad (Centre), Mart Nutt (Isamaa), Kersti Sarapuu (Centre), Artur Talvik (Richness of Life), Olga Ivanova (independent), Dmitri Dmitrijev (Centre) and Oudekki Loone (Centre).

In practice the bill would principally concern members of the Russian Orthodox Church, who would be currently covered under the Aliens Act, and whose clergy includes monks and nuns as well as priests.

In summer 2018, residency of any kind for Metropolitan Yeveny of the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow (ie. the Russian Orthodox Church in Estonia) was rejected, since the immigration quota for the year had already been met. Metropolitan Yevgeny, a citizen of the Russian Federation, first came to Estonia on the basis of a visa and work permit, it is reported.

The Roman Catholic Church in Estonia also has several clergy from third countries, parish priests, members of the Opus Dei order, and nuns at the Bridgettine Convent in Pirita.

EU citizens, for instance, are exempt from the act and can obtain permanent residency rights automatically, after five years of continuous temporary residence in Estonia.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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