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The rules of foreigners staying, studying and working in Estonia are being rearranged

17. September 2020 - 9:54

At today’s Government session, Minister of the Interior Mart Helme presented the draft act amending the Aliens Act and other entailed acts, the aim of which is to rearrange the rules of foreigners staying, studying and working in Estonia. The Government of the Republic will send the draft act to the Riigikogu for processing.

According to the Minister of the Interior, the current education migration regulation has to be changed, as it does not sufficiently take into account the need to ensure public order and national security. The objective of rearranging the employment migration regulation is to encourage enterprises to prefer Estonian labour and reduce the abuse of the rules of employment in Estonia.

“Our aim is to prevent the constant increase of communities from high-risk countries, which is mainly due to education migration. The talks of Estonia becoming a closed country upon restricting education migration are not true. Every year, nearly 2,000 students from various European Union Member States study in Estonia. We are not going to restrict education migration inside the European Union in any way. The problem concerns communities of nationalities previously not represented in Estonia, which are growing as a result of education migration. Such communities have a considerably different historical, cultural and religious background than us,” the Minister explained. “In the worst case, they could become into conflict with the society, thus creating integration difficulties and closed communities. With this draft act, we are sending a clear message that foreigners have to return to their home country after completing their studies and education migration cannot be a tool for permanently settling in Estonia.”

Pursuant to the amendment proposals that concern education migration, the family members of foreigners studying in Estonia would in the future not be issued long-term visas on the same terms as to the students who have come to study here. A foreigner who has obtained a residence permit for studying would in the future be able to invite his or her spouse to Estonia two years after commencing studies in Estonia. Foreigners who have settled in Estonia for the purpose of studying and have completed their studies, cannot apply for a residence permit for permanent settlement in Estonia. Pursuant to the amendment, the residence permit required for applying for a residence permit would not include the time spent in Estonia studying under a temporary residence permit. Permanent settlement in Estonia must be preceded by residence in Estonia on other grounds – either with a residence permit for employment or business. Foreigners who have completed doctoral studies are an exception.

If a foreigner holds a temporary residence permit for studying and he or she has failed to fulfil the study programme in the extent required for holding a residence permit for studying or has discontinued studies, the validity of his or her temporary residence permit would pursuant to the amendments end 30 days after the discontinuation of studies. The residence permit of a family member of a foreigner would also expire within 30 days after the spouse of parent has discontinued studies. Thirty days grants a foreigner a reasonable period of time to arrange his or her departure from Estonia or to obtain new legal grounds for staying.

As a result of the amendments to the employment migration regulation approved at today’s Government session, only foreigners who have been issued a long-term visa (D visa) would in the future be allowed to engage in short-term employment in Estonia. “The number of instances of registered short-term employment has grown considerably in just a few years. While in 2017 the Police and Border Guard Board received 8,376 applications for short-term employment, the number had by 2019 grown to the record level of 34,853. The aim of the applicable set of rules of foreigners working in Estonia is to protect the Estonian labour market. The current set of rules does not fulfil its purpose and must therefore be updated. The increased demand for foreign labour must not leave Estonia’s local residents out of work, particularly in a situation where the rate of unemployment has significantly risen compared to the previous year and may, in the assessment of analysts, rise even more,” the Minister of the Interior said.

In addition, the procedure for performing seasonal work in Estonia will also change. Previously, foreigners could seasonally work in Estonia for 270 days in 365 days. Considering the impact of the crisis on the economy and the situation in the labour market, the amendment proposal will until 30 April 2022 allow the registration of short-term employment as seasonal employment for 183 days in 365 days, i.e. 6 months in a year. The amendment would remain in force until 6 April 2022. Foreigners who work as seasonal workers must in the future be paid a salary in accordance with the salary criterion, which is the annual average gross monthly salary in the respective seasonal field of activity last published by Statistics Estonia (in the case of unskilled work, 80% of the average gross monthly salary).

Approval was today also given to amendments pursuant to which a foreigner who has come to Estonia for the purpose of employment can only be employed full-time both under a short-term employment and residence permit. “With this amendment, we encourage employers to prefer labour made up of Estonian residents and reduce scheming with the employment terms and conditions and salary criteria with the aim to use unfair competitive advantages. Bringing a foreigner to work in Estonia is not justified if his or her employment here is only part-time, particularly considering that the foreigner must be able to sustain himself or herself and his or her family in Estonia,” the Minister of the Interior said. “Fair competition and Estonia’s open economic environment will in turn contribute to the Estonian economy’s recovery from the crisis,” Helme added.

Similarly to education migration, the family members of foreigners engaged in short-term employment in Estonia will in the future not be issued long-term visas on the same terms as those who have come to work here, with the exception of the family members of single parents and academic employees as well as development and research employees. Family members can, if necessary, independently apply for a visa and in the meantime visit the family member temporarily working or studying in Estonia. A visa is a temporary basis of stay and the foreigner and his or her family members have to leave Estonia upon the expiry of the temporary period of stay.

The Government of the Republic will send the draft act to the Riigikogu for processing.

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