New Estonia bill seeks to curtail foreign students rights

New Estonia bill seeks to curtail foreign students rights

The Interior Ministry of Estonia is looking to curtail employment and temporary resident permit rights for foreign students coming from third countries.

The Estonian government has suggested ‘labour migration’ concerns have pushed the state to make amendments in the Aliens Act for foreign students, resulting in harsh steps against non-EU students.

The proposed restrictions include capping the weekly working rights at 16 hours, eliminating state subsidies, and limiting foreign students from bringing their families to Estonia.

In the draft bill (link in Estonian), the Estonian government has cited ‘fears’ that international students will face difficulty in adapting to the Estonian lifestyle and, combined with them being in less qualified work, may make them radical and a national security threat.

The explanatory memorandum states: “It is difficult for foreigners who have completed their studies to integrate into Estonian society and to cope here. This is due to both poor knowledge of the Estonian language and the fact that Estonian higher education institutions do not train foreign specialists in international curricula.”

Restrictions proposed on foreign students bringing families to Estonia

‘Exploitation’ by the third country students with respect to moving their families to Estonia is cited by government officials as another reason behind these extreme measures from the government.

In an ERR report on the development, Mart Helme, Estonia’s Minister of the Interior, said: “I think in the case of university students, we’re not talking about some kind of huge families. What we do see, however, is that quite a few university students from third world countries want to bring all of their relatives here.

“Look at what communities are growing the fastest in Estonia — Nigerians, Bangladeshi. And they certainly aren’t all highly educated IT specialists or university students, but rather it is precisely the case that they come here, taking advantage of the fact that they are so-called legalized university students.

“Relatives are brought here, but after that they don’t attend school anymore.”

Education sector critical of government proposals

With the introduction of this new legislation, not only will the non-EU students face difficulties, but according to some, it will be a blow to Estonia economy and universities as well.

Speaking to Global Education Times, Ülle Tensing, Head of the University of Tartu Study Abroad Center, said: “Our university does not support [the government-proposed] restrictions on working during studies.

“The justification that working would hinder foreign students’ full-time studies cannot be considered sufficient and, for example, there are several cases in the University of Tartu where foreign students are employed in research projects in addition to their studies.

“This collaboration has been beneficial to both the university and students, and has not been an obstacle to students full-time studies.” 

Estonia attractive to foreign students

With the best PISA results in Europe, it is no shocker that Estonia is a popular educational hub for foreign students. It is also a centre for e-learning as digital literacy is very high in Estonia. 

Previously, work flexibility for foreign students added to the value of receiving a higher education from Estonia.

With over 5,000 foreign students in the country, a study by Statistics Estonia and Archimedes Foundation revealed that foreign students contribute around €10m to Estonia economy.

Eveli Soo, Head of International Marketing at the University of Tartu, told GET News: “Despite only 1.3 million citizens, Estonia offers great quality education. Our 15-year-old students are the best ones in Europe (PISA 2018) and there are multiple universities featured in worldwide university rankings.

“The University of Tartu, the oldest and biggest university in Estonia, is currently ranked as the 301st university in the world (QS World University Rankings).

“Modest tuition fees and numerous scholarship opportunities make a high-quality education easily accessible in Estonia. There are over 100 unique and innovative degree programmes taught fully in English available in Estonia.

“English is widely spoken in the society – students do not need to learn Estonian (except for Medicine), but the universities offer Estonian language courses as optional subjects.

“9 out of 10 foreign students are very happy with Estonia’s study and living environments (International Student Barometer 2017).”

Pic: Nadine Shaabana

Zahra Hamdani - Reporter, Global Education Times (GET News)

Zahra Hamdani is an Ireland-based reporter for Global Education Times who focuses on European and South Asian education news. When she is not writing for GET News, Zahra is a school-teacher and educationist with experience in both Primary and Secondary schools in the Republic of Ireland as well as in Pakistan.

You can reach Zahra at

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