Estonians less interested in working abroad

Thursday, 13 March 2014
Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/ Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/

Working-age people of Estonia have become less interested in working abroad in the last three years, said Minister of Social Affairs Taavi Rõivas at the high-level conference 'Labour Mobility and Transnationalism in the Nordic-Baltic Region' held on Friday, 7 March. 8.5% of the working-age population had expressed interest or made plans to start working abroad in 2010, but last year this indicator dropped to 5.9%.

"The survey shows that unemployment in Estonia is no longer one of the main reasons for going to work abroad, as it was in 2010. Estonians also complain less about the shortage of suitable jobs than they did in 2010," said Minister of Social Affairs Rõivas and referred to the Policy Analysis of the Ministry of Social Affairs of the Republic of Estonia 'Migration Potential of Working-age Population of Estonia in 2013', which was introduced at the conference for the first time.

Self-development abroad

However, Minister of Social Affairs Rõivas said he was pleased that young people want to go abroad to gain new experience, not because they're disappointed in life in Estonia. "This is the kind of free movement we want to see and support in Europe," added Rõivas.

Director of the Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Estonia Berth Sundström said that crossing the border in order to live, work or study in another country has become an everyday thing for many Nordic people.

New Nordic Freedom of Movement Council

"Around 70,000 people commute from one country to another every day in the Nordic region. The Nordic countries have gained from this development. What if we managed to make people and companies value the Nordic-Baltic region? What if we were open and removed the border obstacles and allowed the people in our region to develop, work and live?" asked Sundström and added that Baltic cooperation and Nordic-Baltic cooperation for the removal of border obstacles and free movement would give a competitive advantage to everyone.

The Nordic countries renewed their cross-border cooperation and founded the Freedom of Movement Council earlier this year in order to support free movement and remove border obstacles.

Extensive commuting or frequent border-crossing because of work or the organisation of life is associated with a phenomenon which Professor Tiit Tammaru of Tartu University named transnationalism. According to Tammaru, this way of life is characterised by two workplaces, two places of residence, several families, etc. Transnationalism is a growing phenomenon which together with migration and population aging will affect all policy areas and decision-making in the future. One of the problems in Estonia pointed out by Tammaru is the current housing policy, which is making it increasingly more difficult for young people to buy homes and thereby settle down.

Facts and myths

Three Nordic countries – Finland, Sweden, Denmark – and the Baltic States are also members of the European Union, which means that the fundamental freedoms of the EU, i.e. free movement of people, goods and services, apply to them. EU Commissioner László Andor introduced the principles and trends, both the good and the bad, of the free movement of labour in the EU.

European Commissioner for Employment Andor noted that contrary to the myths, no proof has been found that the free movement of labour in the EU is associated with social dumping or loss of brainy people. "I sincerely believe that discussions of labour mobility should be based on fact, not fiction," emphasised Andor.

However, the Commissioner finds that serious attention should be given to the situation when labour in certain sectors moves in one direction between some countries, causing a shortage of workforce in the country of origin.

Baltic labour in Nordic countries

After the expansion of the EU in 2004, immigration from the so-called new member states to Nordic countries increased as expected. The presentation made at the conference on the basis of scientific research indicated that the workforce who moved from the Baltic States to the Nordic countries in the last ten years have not become 'social system tourists'. There has also been no extensive social dumping, as Baltic workers generally earn the same wages as locals. However, it has been noted that their qualifications are often higher than required for the job.

Nordic countries generally honour the principle that everyone who has a job is welcome and that returning home after the employment relationship ends is natural. This trend is also supported by surveys, e.g. the relatively extensive return migration to Estonia.

The recent survey commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers, which focussed mostly on Polish workers and working conditions in Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen and Reykjavik, took a closer look at migrant workers from the so-called new European Union Member States. The survey and its conclusions were introduced in Tallinn by PhD Frida Thorarins from the Centre for Immigration Research Reykjavik Academy. The conditions and problems are not the same in different countries and the number of problems is the biggest in Oslo, where the labour market is the least regulated, labour agencies play a major role and demand for migrant workers has been high.

Adapting in a new country

Absence of rights or unawareness of their existence, lack of a social network, the language barrier and discrimination are the problems qualified migrant workers may have to face on the Danish labour market according to Professor Trine Lund Thomsen from Aalborg University in Denmark.

The foreign specialists, qualified workers who come to Estonia also have to cope with inadequate information and the language barrier, summarised Kristjan Kaldur from the Institute of Baltic Studies. Kaldur finds that there should be a portal where people who come to Estonia and those who give them advice could access all the necessary information, incl. in English.

What next?

The conference ended with a discussion between Riigikogu members Sven Mikser (Estonian Social Democrats), Kadri Simson (Central Party) and Mart Nutt (IRL) with Professor Trine Lund Thomsen and Professor Mihails Hazans from the University of Latvia. The discussion was chaired by Raul Eamets from the University of Tartu.

The conference 'Labour Mobility and Transnationalism in the Nordic-Baltic Region' was a part of the labour mobility project launched by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2013. In addition to the Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Estonia, the conference was also organised by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs and the University of Tartu with many good partners. More than 230 people attended the conference.

Many good ideas about migration and transnationalism came up at the conference which are worthy of further discussion to contribute to decision-making.

Media coverage

The topics of the conference were widely covered by the Estonian media:

  1. Postimees E24 newsfeed: Nordic-Baltic labour mobility conference studies transnationalism (press release)
  2. Radio 2: Eeva Esse
  3. Eesti Päevaleht: Tiit Tammaru: Transnationalising Estonia
  4. Terevisioon: EU Commissioner for Employment: It's a threat when large numbers of working people leave
  5. EU Commissioner for Employment: Migrant workers could return home with their experience
  6. EU Commissioner for Employment: Migrant workers could return home with their experience
  7. Estonians increasingly more interested in working in their home country
  8. (Postimees): Estonians less eager to work abroad
  9. Võrumaa Teataja: Survey: The number of Estonian residents working abroad decreased in a year
  10. Vikerraadio news: Many people who have left Estonia are ready to return
  11. Radio Kuku: Under the magnifying glass: Today the Minister of Social Affairs will introduce the survey 'Migration Potential of Working-age Population of Estonia in 2013'
  12. (Postimees): Estonian residents expect to make 1900 euros net when working abroad
  13. Vikerraadio news: Number of people leaving work abroad is decreasing
  14. Radio 4 news: spokespersons Professor Raul Eamets from the University of Tartu and Professor Mihails Hazans from the University of Latvia
  15. ETV: AK news at 17.30 (from 12:27)
  16. TV3 news: Number of people interested in working abroad has decreased
  17. Kanal2 Reporter: Estonians increasingly more interested in working in their home country
  18. Tallinna TV: Number of people who want to work in Finland has increased
  19. LP (weekend publication of Eesti Päevaleht): Foreign jobs becoming less attractive
  20. Postimees: People who go to work abroad expect huge salaries
  21. Men expect to earn 2300 euros net when working abroad
  22. Äripäev: Ken-Marti Vaher: Immigration must bring more brains to Estonia
  23. Postimees: Berth Sundström: Disappearance of obstacles with neighbours keeps people in their home countries
  24. (Postimees): Only good specialists welcome to work in Estonia
  25. Äripäev: Commissioner for Employment: Rubbish, forget it!
  26. ETV: Välisilm /World Abroad/ (from 29:25)
  27. Vikerraadio news: Access to information the biggest problem for migrant workers arriving in Estonia
  28. Fragmentation of information the biggest problem for migrant workers arriving in Estonia