Fees will be introduced for Ukrainians and Belarusians who apply for long-stay visas to live and work in Estonia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday.
The state expects approximately €2 million to be raised from the introduction of long-stay visa fees, known as D visas, and additional consular fees. In addition, fees will be introduced for accepting applications, issuing documents at foreign missions or through the Estonian Honorary Consular. The ministry said it was one of the only countries which still offered some of these services for free.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained the decision was made when discussing next year's budget strategy.
Since June 2017 Ukrainian citizens who hold biometric passports do not require a visa to enter European Union countries in the Schengen zone for short-term stays. A free long-term visa can also be issued if a person finds a job and wants to stay in a European Union country.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Liisa Toots said that in the case of Ukrainians it is no longer justified to offer them free long-stay visas as most people are applying for work visas. However, she added that in individual cases it will still be possible to create an exemption for some Ukrainians from paying a fee.
A similar exception that has been in force since 2011 will be abolished for citizens of Belarus. "Like Ukraine, citizens of Belarus will still have the opportunity to make exceptions, if necessary, and Estonia will continue to comprehensively support the EU's Eastern Partnership program," said Toots. She said 90% of Belarusians apply for visas because they work in the country.
The Eastern Partnership program supports the development of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.
According to the explanatory note to the bill, free visas contributed to the development of relations with Ukraine and Belarus, but created some discrimination for citizens of other third countries. "Enterprises that wanted to hire workers from other countries outside the EU were in a worse situation. As a result, the pressure of entrepreneurs on the state increased, which asked to cancel the fee for a long-term visa and for citizens of other countries, which from the point of view of the state is unreasonable in the long-term perspective," said an explanatory note to the bill.
Finance Minister Martin Helme told ERR that, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after issuing these fees, revenues to the state budget will increase by approximately €2 million.
He said the government did not discuss raising fees for issuing Estonian documentation such as driver's licenses, weapons permits, or fines.
"Let's try to take money from foreigners, not from Estonians," said Helme.
Budget negotiations are currently underway and the budget is due to be announced next week. On Sept. 9 Martin Helme said at a press conference that the need for cutbacks this year is about €50 million.
Editor: Helen Wright