In 2021, Estonia received 37 000 new immigrants on a long-term or permanent basis (including changes of status and free mobility), 41% more than in 2020. This figure comprises 11% immigrants benefitting from free mobility, 81% labour migrants, 7.8% family members (including accompanying family) and 0.1% humanitarian migrants. Around 1 200 permits were issued to tertiary-level international students and 5 100 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 2 600 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2021, a -6% decrease compared to 2020. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts.

Ukraine, Russia and Latvia were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2021. Among main countries of origin, Ukraine registered the strongest increase (+700) and Finland the largest decrease (-51) in flows to Estonia compared to the previous year.

In 2022, the number of first asylum applicants increased by 3 820%, to reach around 2 900. The majority of applicants came from Ukraine (2 600, excluding temporary protection recipients, excluding temporary protection recipients), Russia (200) and Belarus (30). The largest increase since 2021 concerned nationals of Ukraine (+2 600). Of the 2 200 decisions taken in 2022, 96% were positive.

Emigration of Estonian citizens to OECD countries increased by 28% in 2021, to 4 000. Approximately 48% of this group migrated to Finland, 8% to the Netherlands and 7% to Germany.

In May 2022, several amendments to the Aliens Act were made regarding labour and student migration. These amendments introduced incentives for hiring foreign labour to growth companies or scale-ups (from 1 January 2023). Building upon the existing start-up visa scheme, a growth company was defined in the law as a company registered in Estonia that is growing its activities and further developing a business model with high global growth potential, technology-based, innovative and repeatable, which significantly contributes to the development of Estonia’s business environment and meets certain requirements related to company size, years in operation and tax obligations. At the same time, new measures to mitigate the risks of misusing different migration channels were also introduced, including establishing stricter requirements for the spouses of student visa holders, introducing accreditation requirements for educational institutions wishing to host international students, and permitting short-term employment for full-time work only.

The changes to the Aliens Act in May 2022 also created a new temporary residence permit for short-term employment. From 1 January 2023, third country nationals who have worked in Estonia in short-term employment for at least nine months immediately before applying for the residence permit, and whose employment continues with the employer who registered the employees’ short-term employment, may apply for a residence permit that will be valid for up to two years. The new residence permit is exempt from the immigration quota but cannot be extended.

In response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the government issued a decree implementing the Temporary Protection Directive, which entered into force on 9 March 2022. The Aliens Act was amended accordingly, providing Ukrainian citizens a legal basis for entry and stay in Estonia, including those who resided in Estonia prior to the start of the aggression and whose legal basis to stay would have otherwise expired. The amendments also eased conditions and requirements for short-term employment.

Estonia suspended certain visa services for Russian nationals. In April 2022, restrictions were introduced on the short-term employment of Russian and Belarusian citizens in Estonia and on the issuance of temporary residence permits or visas for employment or engagement in business. Since August 2022, the visa ban for Russian nationals is universal and not restricted to employment or business purposes. From 19 September 2022, entry to Estonia is forbidden to all short-term Schengen visa holding Russian citizens for non-essential purposes regardless of their country of destination or visa issuing country. There are exceptions, including entry for humanitarian reasons, diplomatic missions, and for visiting close relatives. These restrictions were adopted in a concerted manner by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

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