Interior ministry: Aliens Act amend aimed at protecting Estonian residents

As @JeffHemlin noted, Estonia’s population has been shrinking for the past 20 years making it harder to understand the economic rationale for the move:

Wednesday saw the so-called cluster law passed recently by the Riigikogu come into effect. One of the key bills in the package was amendments to the Aliens Act which requires third-country citizens without work to leave the country, Ruth Annus, head of the interior ministry’s citizenship and migration policy department, says that the main purpose of the amendment is to protect Estonian citizens and residents in the labor market, particularly the agricultural sector.

The changes just come into force only affect migrant workers, meaning those who are neither citizens nor residents, and are third-country nationals, i.e. non-EU, EEA or Swiss Confederation citizens, and who work in Estonia on a temporary basis.

Such individuals who have a long-term visa or visa-free stay for the purpose of employment who lose their jobs must find new employment “within a reasonable time,” or leave the country, Annus said in a press release issued Thursday morning.

A list of changes can be found at the bottom of this article.

Not directly related to emergency situation

The amend, while it formed part of the raft of laws issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, is permanent and will not change when the emergency situation ends, Annus said. Nonetheless, unemployment rose from 14,000 to 50,000 since the emergency situation was declared, Annus said.

Restrictions on cross-border movement in the wake of the pandemic have also hampered employers from taking on additional foreign labor as springtime approached.

The amend will mitigate the risk of foreigners who lose their jobs in Estonia remaining in the country, or the Schengen Zone as a whole, “without purpose”, she said. Her reasoning for this was that foreigners staying in Estonia or elsewhere in the EU may also commit other offenses.

The move will also protect Estonians and residents of Estonia in the labor market, she said.

In practice the change mostly affects the agricultural sector, and comes with a transitional period intended to help employers to adapt to the new situation and find suitable employees among the Estonian population, Annus said.

Anecdotal evidence from agricultural sector

According to Annus, farmers have said several times in the media that they have had large numbers of candidates for vacancies over quite some time, many of them without direct experience.

A beauty worker reportedly started working milking cows at the start of the emergency situation (declared on March 12-ed.), fulfilling a long-held desire in so doing, and two music students came back to Estonia during the pandemic, and applied for a job on a local farm.

While further details of these cases were not provided, Annus said they were certainly not the only examples.

At the same time, such posts were best suited to Estonians, she said.

“The Estonian person is smart and adaptable. I am sure that in the current situation, employers and job seekers will find each other better, and the Estonian people will appreciate working in agriculture more.”

As reported on ERR News, rural affairs minister Arvo Aller (EKRE) was of the same mind as Annus on the issue, seeing as many Estonians entering the agricultural sector as possible, including students and school children.

Farmers who have recently spoken to the media about the situation have said agricultural work cannot be done by just anybody but needs to be done by people with experience. They have also said many Estonians do not want to relocate away from cities and their families to work in the countryside.

President criticized changes

On Monday, President Kersti Kaljulaid criticized amendments to the Aliens Act saying it is not reasonable to change visa terms mid-way through.

“The amended terms and conditions affect already issued visas too. The legislature must develop rules for workers entering Estonia from non-member states, but lawmaking should rely on the principle of legal clarity. So, if the country has issued visas pursuant to particular terms and conditions, it is not reasonable to retroactively amend them. A confident country does not operate like this,” she said.

The president emphasized these conditions would remain in force even after the crisis period which would later hinder businesses and economic recovery.

“This will make the difficult situation that so many companies already find themselves in even more complicated. The issue has been raised both by separate businesses and business umbrella organisations. Several industry sectors now have the crucial need to engage foreign staff, especially qualified workers and seasonal labourers from abroad, and this need must be addressed if we want to keep the economy and family income growing. Thus, applying additional foreign labour force restrictions will only increase the economic decline in Estonia and prevent the recovery of our economy and expansion of employment options,” Kaljualid said.

Statistics: Who will be most affected?

Last month ERR News asked the Ministry of the Interior which sectors and how many people would be most affected by the changes.

A spokesperson for the ministry said: “It is not possible to say how many people in Estonia will lose their jobs in the nearest future because of the crisis in economy caused by COVID-19 disease.

“There are 18,540 valid short-term employment registered as the state of 6th of April. This is not the number of foreigners actually temporarily staying in Estonia right now, but the number of foreigners who have right to work here on short-term basis.”

The spokesperson also gave ERR News a breakdown of the top 5 sectors which visas have been issued to, which is displayed below. Of the top five, most short-term registrations have been issued in the construction sector and the least in agriculture.

Aliens Act amendment facts

  • Short-term migrant workers in Estonia can work under general conditions for a maximum of 12 months out of 15 months, or in seasonal work for 9 months out of 12 months.
  • Employers must register short-term employment of a migrant worker with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA).
  • Agricultural employers can retain workers hired and in Estonia by March 17, until July 31.
  • After July 31, temporary migrant workers have one month to arrange their departure from Estonia, though the PPA will assess each case on its individual merits.
  • Migrant workers whose maximum permitted period of short-term employment has already been reached and who are not continuing to work in agriculture must leave Estonia as soon as possible.
  • Visas will not be revoked overnight, though an alien currently jobless will be given a “reasonable” amount of time (generally taken to be one month-see above) to either find a new employer or arrange to leave the country.
  • If departure is not possible at present while the emergency situation continues and borders are closed, the alien has 10 days to leave the country once the situation is declared closed. The current expiry date for the emergency situation is May 17.
  • Those affected should approach their home country’s foreign mission in Estonia for assistance, Annus said.
  • Current employers can also provide assistance to help third country nationals return home once their contract is up.

Source: Interior ministry: Aliens Act amend aimed at protecting Estonian residents

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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