Labour migration to Estonia continues to grow


The main migration-related developments of 2018 in Estonia were related to labour migration and the increased involvement of foreign nationals in the labour market. Compared to many other countries in the European Union, Estonia has a rather restrictive immigration policy. However, in the last year, increasing labour demand forced both the public as well as private sector to step up their efforts in making Estonia more attractive.

  • The focus was on attracting, recruiting and supporting the adaptation of highly-qualified workers. For instance, foreign nationals and local employers can now use the support services of the recently-opened International House of Estonia, such as migration counselling, registration of residence, career counselling by the Unemployment Insurance Fund and adaptation advice. In addition, a grant supporting the recruitment of foreign ICT specialists was launched, and the period of short-term employment was extended to 365 days (previously 270 days).
  • Researchers and graduates of Estonian higher education institutions were encouraged to remain in the country by extending the period of their allowed stay to 270 days (previously 183 days). In addition, students who have been issued a visa or residence permit for educational purposes by another Member State may now study in an Estonian higher education institution for up to 360 days.
  • Furthermore, career counselling service for spouses and partners of international specialists was launched in 2018 to bring this migrant group to the labour market.
  • Efforts to integrate beneficiaries of international protection to the Estonian labour market were also increased. Employers can apply for services in the framework of the “My First Job in Estonia” programme, if they recruit a beneficiary of international protection. In addition, language courses for beneficiaries of protection were extended to 300 hours (previously 100 hours). Finally, the international protection module of the Welcoming Programme was extended to three days (previously one day).

Current developments have led to a growing labour migration to Estonia; 2018 further confirmed this trend (see illustration above). The number of first-time temporary residence permits issued for labour migration (including for entrepreneurship) increased by 25% from 2017 and the number of registrations of short-term employment tripled. Indeed, short-term employees constituted 80% of the total immigration of third-country nationals in 2018.

On the negative side, there has been a corresponding increase in employment-related violation misdemeanors and labour exploitation. Thus, 2018 saw the adoption of an action plan for preventing illegal employment and more active efforts by the state to explain its labour regulations. In order to improve the protection of workers’ rights, employers who have used illegal labour can now be penalised with a higher rate (32 000 euros instead of the previous rate of 3200 euros). In addition, economic activities of such employers can now be curtailed.

Find out more about recent labour (as well as more general) migration-related developments in Estonia from the new Estonian annual report and website of EMN Estonia.


Eike Luik