A statement published by the Estonian Ministry of Interior on 3 April 2020 announced that the government of Estonia amended the Aliens Act and the Obligation to Leave and Prohibition on Entry Act to ensure that third-country nationals who have lost their jobs will return home. The efforts are part of an attempt to reserve employment opportunities for Estonians who have recently become unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“The draft concerns foreign nationals from third countries holding a visa for employment in Estonia or those working here visa-free. Should their short-term work permit expire or they lose their job for any other reason, they must return to their home country as soon as possible,” said Mart Helme, Estonia’s Minister of Interior.
Helme is also urging recently unemployed foreigners to immediately start looking for a way home instead of waiting for their visas to expire or be annulled.
“I recommend those foreign nationals who lose their job here immediately start looking for opportunities to return home instead of waiting for their visa or visa-free period to expire or be annulled. In case they stay here without an income, they will spend the money that they could use to return to their home country and they might remain illegally in the European Union,” Helme said.
However, in situations in which the third-country national cannot return home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Minister of Interior or the Director General of the Police and Border Control can grant them permission to stay in Estonia until the end of the pandemic crisis.
“We have also considered various options for foreign labor in case of possible long-term crisis situations extending over months that may occur in the future. In case of crisis situations spanning over months, the draft provides that the government can grant foreigners working in Estonia on a short-term basis the right to work here longer than initially permitted,” Helme said.
With a sharp decrease in the global economy within recent months, Estonia has also taken been affected negatively. Estonia has seen a decrease in employment rates since beginning emergency procedures, and the government is making efforts to combat unemployment for Estonians.
Helme added that “they must have the opportunity to take up the vacancies. We have seen that the number of registered unemployed among Estonian residents has jumped in the past month. At the same time, employers have submitted applications for the use of foreign labor in comparable volumes to the rise of unemployment. I suggest that employers look at the numbers and consider using more domestic labor. Our people are definitely worth being offered jobs during the difficult times marked by increasing unemployment.”
The new amendments do not affect foreign agricultural workers, however. In a statement published by the Ministry of Interior on 9 April 2020, it has been announced that migrant workers in the agriculture industry can remain and work in Estonia until 31 July 2020.