No. 20




Estonia’s Options and Choices in Making Immigration Policy

17 December 2009


RiTo No. 20, 2009

  • Ruth Annus

    Doctoral Candidate of State and Political Science, Tallinn University

Every country has a sovereign right to shape its own immigration policy. Each country has to decide which aliens it allows on its territory and for what reason. By joining international organizations and entering into foreign treaties, under which the state assumes obligations toward individuals, a country places restrictions on its sovereign right to decide its immigration policy.

Since independence was restored, Estonian immigration policy has clearly limited immigration. This fact is apparent from the Aliens Act that entered into force in 1993 (Riigi Teataja I 1993, 44, 637), which establishes quantitative and qualitative restrictions on the settlement of aliens in Estonia.

Even though Estonian immigration law has been impacted significantly by European Union law, these influences have not represented fundamental changes in the nature of immigration policy. The regulatory environment has become much more precise and is very different from one group of aliens to the next, depending on the state’s obligations toward specific categories of aliens.

Immigration policy must take into account the fact that the receiving country cannot do much to influence immigration as the reasons do not depend to a noteworthy extent on the receiving country. If a receiving country has a large immigrant community, this will inevitably result in additional numbers of immigrants of the same ethnic origin. Thus it is not likely that migration would decrease in today’s increasingly global world, regardless of the measures implemented for such a purpose. At the same time, the number of immigrants does not depend very much on the desire of the receiving country as countries are for the most part obliged to admit major categories of immigrants, for instance, persons who require international protection and family members of those who have already settled in a country. Whether a country desires to admit aliens other than the abovementioned categories of persons – such as an immigrant workforce – is the sovereign decision of each individual country. The receiving country must take the foregoing into account in planning immigration policy.

Estonia’s immigration policy depends to a great extent on obligations assumed under international treaties and on the European Union legal space, which is why Estonia must shape its immigration policy in a manner similar to other European countries, in the framework of international law and the European Union’s single immigration policy.

Full article in Estonian