In the context of the increasing labour shortage, it is good to know that Estonia provides comprehensive support in integrating to Estonian labour market to foreigners who are studying here or have obtained a higher education here. This mainly because the foreigners who have studied here have already adapted to life in Estonia, they have good potential and they could realise their talent in Estonia. Which legislative steps have we taken to show that we would like them to stay in the Estonian labour market?
Firstly, the foreigners who have lived in Estonia for the purpose of studying are not included in the immigration quota, which means that they can work in Estonia also when the quota is full. We have also made exemptions from the salary criterion and the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund permit requirement and given them an opportunity to stay in Estonia for a certain period after studies in order to seek employment here and apply for a residence permit on new grounds. Just like the for other foreigners who have settled in Estonia, foreign students are supported under the Welcoming Programme launched in 2015, which offers information about the Estonian society and work culture as well as basic language studies. Further information and advice about the requirements for working in Estonia can be obtained from the migration advisers working at the Police and Border Guard Board. The aforementioned keywords are explained in greater detail below.
Exemption from the quota
Estonia has established an immigration quota which limits the number of foreign workers coming to Estonia. However, there are several exempt groups of people who are not included in the quota – among others, foreigners who have come to study in Estonia and wish to stay here to work. For instance, if a foreigner who arrived in Estonia for studying purposes and holds a residence permit for studying applies for a residence permit for employment after his or her studies, he or she is not subject to the immigration quota. The exemption from the quota also applies if the foreigner leaves Estonia and then returns to Estonia to apply for a new residence permit. For instance, a foreigner may study in Estonia for a year or two on the basis of a residence permit for studying, return to his or her homeland to complete the studies and then come to Estonia to work here.
Exemption from the salary criterion and the Unemployment Insurance Fund permit
In order to protect Estonian labour and prevent the inflow of so-called cheap labour, the law prescribes a requirement pursuant to which employers have to pay foreigners at least the Estonian average monthly gross salary. Employers also have to obtain a permit from the Unemployment Insurance Fund to employ a foreigner. Before granting such a permit, the Unemployment Insurance Fund checks whether employing a foreigner is justified considering the situation of the labour market – i.e. they check whether the vacancy could be filled with an Estonian citizen, a European Union citizen or a foreigner already living Estonia, who meet the qualification and specialisation requirements established for the job.
For foreigners whose immigration is favoured (e.g. researchers, foreigners working in start-ups, etc.), an exemption has been made to the salary criterion and the requirement to obtain a permit from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. In order to facilitate the staying of foreigners who have graduated a school here, an exemption has been made to the salary criterion and the Unemployment Insurance Fund permit requirement for foreigners who:
- have obtained a level four or five vocational education in Estonia in vocational studies or
- have obtained a higher education in professional higher education studies or studies based on integrated study programmes of bachelor’s and master’s studies or in master’s studies or doctoral studies.
Opportunity to stay in Estonia after the expiry of the validity of a residence permit
In general, foreigners are allowed to stay in Estonia for another 90 days after the expiry of the validity of their residence permit, in order to apply for a new residence permit, if necessary. According to the specification, foreigners who have obtained a residence permit for studying may stay in Estonia for up to 270 days after the expiry of the validity of their residence permit. Thus, a foreigner may stay in Estonia for nearly another nine months after the end of his or her studies, in order to seek employment here and apply for a residence permit on new grounds. If the foreigner finds work during the additional period of stay and submits an application for a residence permit, he or she does not have to leave the country and can stay in Estonia until a decision is made on the residence permit application.
When a foreign student has obtained a right of residence or a residence permit, he or she can participate in the Welcoming Programme. It is a free of charge training programme which helps newly arrived foreigners to adapt to life here and find answers to practical questions. The Welcoming Programme consists of various short and interactive training modules: a basic module that gives an overview of the functioning principles of Estonian state, society, culture and people, rights and obligations of residents, public services etc., and additional thematic modules that give an overview of working and entrepreneurship, family life, studying and research. In addition to practical information, the ability to speak the local language is also of key importance in coping in a new environment. That is why Welcoming Programme also contains beginner level Estonian language training (level A1). Training is provided in English and Russian and courses are mainly held in Tallinn, Tartu and Narva. Registration for courses and further information about the Programme is available at www.settleinestonia.ee
Companies recruiting foreign labour and foreigners planning to settle in Estonia or already living here need personal and reliable legal advice. Therefore, the Police and Border Guard Board, with support from the European Social Fund, offer migration-related advice in Estonian, Russian and English. The main purpose of the advisors is to support foreigners (including foreign students) settling in Estonia and to be as a partner to employers, entrepreneurs, educational institutions and other parties who invite foreigners to Estonia. If a student wishes to work during his or her studies or to find employment in Estonia after the end of his or her studies, migration advisors can help with various legal issues. The service is free of charge. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.