No. 33




Migration and politics

08 June 2016


RiTo No. 33, 2016

  • Urmas Varblane

    Urmas Varblane

    Member of the Academy of Sciences, Professor in International Entrepreneurship, Academician, University of Tartu

  • Vilve Raik

    Master's student, Faculty of Economics, University of Tartu

The Estonian migration policy must be managed and forward-looking. This is complicated because the preservation of the Estonian culture as well as managing in international competition must be kept in mind. The migration policy is a sensitive issue. Estonia has a numerous non-Estonian population and, through them, there is a continuous influx of “new immigrants” from the former USSR republics. Integrating them is a demanding challenge and therefore our social opinion is not very willing to listen to rational arguments.

The starting point of migration policy is the ultimate goal of preservation of the Estonian people and culture, provided for in the Constitution. The ways to achieve this goal may be different. As the starting point of the discussion, the interests of Estonia as a small state and a national state should be considered. Development of a knowledge-based society needs highly educated workers, economic development needs sufficient labour force with suitable skills. At the same time, the demographic situation of Estonia is such that, already now, the retiring generations are considerably more numerous than the new groups entering the labour market.

Estonia must participate in the international division of labour also as regards the preparation of labour force. At present, our participation in the international division of labour is very one-sided – numerous young people with good education are moving to work outside Estonia. At the same time, little qualified labour force arrives in Estonia. In view of the external environment, our own well-educated labour force is under a very strong pressure to apply their abilities outside Estonia. Therefore competition for talents is increasingly more acutely manifested in today’s world economy. A migration policy survey completed by the National Audit Office in mid-2015 states that the organisation of immigration has not increased the influx of workers with high-level knowledge and skills into the Estonian economy. If the state has set the aim of the immigration of top specialists in particular, then the migration policy also needs to be enhanced concurrently. The legislator’s attitude towards new immigrants has become more positive in recent years. Nevertheless, when reading the Acts, the obligation to control the aliens stands out as dominant. At the same time, the state lacks effective feedback on whether the amendments made to Acts meet their aims and simplify the life of undertakings, for example. Or does every agency act by itself, and there simply is no public information about it. National statistics must be integral, and it must measure things that are important for the economy. It is complicated to make migration policy decisions on the basis of today’s statistics. Generally, the Estonian migration policy seems to be directed more at helping the weaker than at making the living environment of highly specialised, top-notch professionals more comfortable.

A managed migration policy in Estonia should be directed more at attracting into Estonia people from countries that are culturally closer. Immigration is harmful for Estonia if its aim is to keep the labour costs for companies at a permanently low level, and to postpone the development of the place in the value chain for companies operating in Estonia. In the Estonian conditions, this means that the main emphasis should be on welcoming to Estonia well-educated labour force, for whom our social system is not something to crave for but, rather, work should be suitable and sufficiently remunerated. The solution does not lie in replacing our own labour force with undemanding and poorly educated labour force. Rather, every effort must be made to ensure that the jobs available in Estonia are turned into ones that the Estonian people would be willing and able to do. A managed migration policy should not create a situation where we have to postpone the structural changes in the economy. Estonia needs human resources for smart specialisation in several different fields. Unfortunately, labour force forecasts are balanced in favour of IT specialists.

A migration policy also covers the living environment, that is, how aliens adapt here. The implementation of an adaptation programme in Estonian agencies is positive. Integration can be effective if it is based on target groups. Within the framework of the migration policy, we should clearly define the target groups who have different needs and whom we need to different degrees to achieve the objectives of the state. In summary it can be said that success is achieved with skilful management. When developing the migration policy, the aim of the migration needs to be pointed out clearly, indicating its place in the development of the Estonian state and nation.

Full article in Estonian