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Migrant Integration Governance in Estonia

The number of foreigners who immigrate to Estonia is higher than that of Estonians who emigrate. Half of these immigrants are returning Estonians. The integration of foreigners in Estonia is understood as a broad social process which covers different areas of life. Culture, language and, more recently, labour market and education are however the pillars of the country’s integration policy.


Foreign population in Estonia

On 1 January 2017, 107 398 Third Country Nationals (TCNs) were living in Estonia. They represented 8% of the total population, according to Statistics Estonia and the Police and Border Guard Board. 16 593 had valid temporary resident permits and 90 805 were permanent residents.

Most came from neighbouring ex-soviet states Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. In 2017, out of the 7 508 of permits issued, 31,4% were for permanent settlement, 30% for work, 19% for studies and 18,3% for family reasons.

Besides the foreign population, people with undetermined citizenship account for nearly 6% of the population (77 268 individuals) and more than 350 000 Estonian nationals have a third country origin. 1 780 of the latter were naturalised in 2016 and 864 in 2017.

Integration Strategy

To integrate or foster the social inclusion of these populations, Estonia has so far set up 3 integration strategies. The first one - Integration in the Estonian Society 2000 – 2007 - focused on linguistic and communicative integration; legal and political integration; and social and economic integration. The latest one - Integrating Estonia 2020 - covers social cohesion, competitiveness of Estonia and security. It has been in effect since 2014.

Russian-speaking population, both nationals and people with undetermined citizenship, have been the traditional target group of these strategy documents. More emphasis has however been put on newcomer immigrants in the second integration strategy (2008-2013). The Internal Security Development Plan 2015-2020 later introduced the first civic orientation measures and adaptation policies for newcomer immigrants in Estonia.

Integration Programme

Estonia launched a free and voluntary welcoming programme for newcomers in 2015. The newly arrived immigrants welcoming programme was developed by the Ministry of the Interior, in cooperation with employers, service providers, representatives of local governments and ministries, various umbrella organisations and universities. It is made of several educational modules. The main module gives an overview of the functioning principles of the Estonian state, society, culture, people and public services. Additional thematic modules focus on employment and entrepreneurship, family life, studying and research. There are also special modules for children under the age of 15 and for beneficiaries of international protection for whom the module is compulsory. Additionally, the Programme provides beginners language training (A1 level) for newcomers with the possibility to continue language studies by other state provided means.

  language course

  civic education

  vocational training


2 Integration Strategies have been officially evaluated. An evaluation of the implementation plan 2008-2009 of the Estonian Integration Strategy was carried out in 2010 and a mid-term report for the first strategy was published 2 years before.

Besides the assessment of strategies and action plans, integration as a whole is monitored every 2-3 years. The Integration Monitoring Reports also include analyses of the attitudes and opinions of the Estonian population towards migrant related topics. Seven monitoring reports have been published so far; the 2 latest ones in 2017 and 2015.


☑   Foreigners Law

The Estonian Aliens Act - Välismaalaste seadus - entered into force on 1 October 2010. It regulates the entry of foreigners into Estonia, their temporary stay, residence and employment in the country, as well as defines procedures and responsibilities of educational institutions and employers. The last amendment which entered into force on 17 January 2017 provided for easier access to temporary residence and labour market, especially for entrepreneurs.

☑   Asylum Law

The Estonian Act on Granting International Protection - Välismaalaste rahvusvahelise kaitse andmise seadus - entered into force on 1 July 2006. It includes both –principles from the 1951 Geneva Convention and requirements from European Union Directives. The last significant amendment of the Act came into force on the 1 May 2016 and established strict criteria for beneficiaries of international protection, obliging them to participate in Welcoming programme, learn Estonian and respect the local culture.

☒   Integration Law

Estonia does not have a self-standing integration law.

☑   Nationality Law

The Estonian Citizenship Act - Kodakondsuse seadus - came into force on 1 April 1995. The Act establishes the general provisions of Estonian citizenship, as well as the conditions and procedures for its acquisition, resumption, restoration and loss.

The latest amendment which entered into force on the 1 January 2016 makes it easier for people over 65 and children whose parents have undetermined citizenship to acquire the Estonian citizenship, by releasing them from respectively the written part of the Estonian language exam and parental citizenship application.

☑   Anti-discrimination

The Estonian Equal Treatment Act - Võrdse Kohtlemise seadus - entered into force on 11 December 2008. The purpose and scope of the Act is to ensure the protection against discrimination on grounds of nationality (ethnic origin), race, colour, religion or other beliefs, age, disability or sexual orientation. The latest amendment of the Act came into force on 6 May 2017 and clarifies the duties of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner.

Public authorities

The Cultural Diversity Department of Estonian Ministry of Cultural Affairs leads the governance of integration issues since 2009. It succeeds to the Minister of Ethnic Affairs of the Bureau of Minister of Population. The Department’s key objective is to create conditions for the development of the cultural life of ethnic minorities and immigrants living in Estonia, and to support their integration into the Estonian society. The Ministry of Culture is also in charge of designing and implementing integration strategies, as well as the Estonian representative at the European Network on Integration.

However, migrant integration is understood as a broad social process which covers many areas of life. Therefore, other ministries, government bodies and non-governmental organisations are closely cooperating with the Ministry of Culture in different matters relating to integration. The implementation of the 2015 newly arrived immigrants’ welcoming programme for example is managed in cooperation with the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB) while the programme´s training courses are carried out by Expat Relocation Estonia and International Organization for Migration Estonia.

Although Integration is mainly a national level issue, some local governments’ development plans include language immersion programmes. In addition, the 2014 Integration Strategy tasked local authorities to cooperate with local non-profit organisations in order to increase the involvement of people with migrant background in local decision-making processes. Local government officials have also been trained in relation to the rights and services aimed at ethnic minorities in their regions.

Civil society

The Estonian civil society is involving in integration policy-making process. A steering group consisting of representatives of the public sector and civil society organisations, as well as field experts monitor the implementation of Estonia’s integration strategy Integrating Estonia 2020 and its action plan. Civil society organisations include the Network of Estonian Non-profit Organizations, Ida-Virumaa Integration Centre, the Association of Municipalities of Estonia, the Association of Estonian Cities and Estonian Folk Culture Centre.

In addition, several employers, service providers, representatives of local government associations, umbrella organisations and universities participated in the development of the 2015 newly arrived immigrants’ welcoming programme.

The Estonian Ministry of the Interior analyses, plans and coordinates state policies related to civil society in order to ensure a more effective cooperation between state structures, local governments and citizens’ associations. Based on the Estonian Civil Society Development Concept enacted by the Parliament in 2002, the civil society development plan for 2015–2020 focuses on 2 priorities: ensuring socially active residents and helping citizens’ associations achieve of their goals.


Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several funds. EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) is the most important one in terms of budget. Coordinated by the Ministry of Interior, the national allocation for Estonia under AMIF is € 12 330 577 €. More than 20% (2 744 248.27) is allocated to integration and another 20% to asylum. The Estonian AMIF programme set 4 overall AMIF integration goals:

  1. ensure the adaptation and active participation of newcomer third-country nationals in the Estonian society
  2. strengthen the knowledge-based approach of adaptation policies
  3. increase the involvement of third-country nationals in the society
  4. increase tolerance towards third-country nationals

Other European, national and private funds are also made available for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects aiming for a better integration of the migrant and ethnic minority population. The Integration Foundation initiates public calls for proposals for activities to be financed through both the state budget or EU programmes. The Foundation also coordinates the efficient use of different resources, in partnership with of the ministries responsible for the measures addressed.

Public funding Private funding

National Foundation of Civil Society

Open Estonian Foundation