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Governance of migrant integration in Estonia

[Last update published: June 2024]

The number of foreigners migrating to Estonia is higher than the number of Estonians leaving the country, although approximately 50% of newcomers are in fact returning Estonian citizens. The integration of foreigners in the country is seen as a social process which covers various areas of life: culture, language, education and, as of recently, media and labour market inclusion are all established pillars of the country’s integration policy.

While Estonia's migrant population has a sizable 14% share, this figure should be read within the context of the presence of the historic minorities from the former Soviet states, and mainly from Russia, who either have third-country or undetermined citizenship status.


The statistics in the chart above are based on Eurostat's Non-national population by group of citizenship, 1 January 2023. The next Eurostat update is expected in March 2025.

According to Eurostat's Migration and migrant population statistics, as of 1 January 2023, there were about 213 700 third-country nationals (TCNs), representing 6% of the population, and another 23 000 EU citizens (1.7%) living in Estonia at the time.

Among the TCNs, people with undetermined citizenship (i.e. stateless people) account for nearly 6% of the Estonian population (or about 65 000 individuals in 2022). More than 350 000 Estonian nationals have third-country background, mainly belonging to the Russian-speaking community in Estonia. For further context, see this article. In total, national minority groups in Estonia represent around 30% of the total population.

According to the European Migration Network (EMN)’s 2022 country factsheet for Estonia, in 2021 42% of permits issued were for family reunification, 35% for work, and 17.1% for study purposes. In terms of naturalisation, 375 TCNs received Estonian citizenship in 2021: a decrease from 757 in 2020 and 775 in 2019. Other detailed statistical data are available in the EMN 2022 country factsheet for Estonia, with insights on the age and gender of TCNs, most common types of residence permits issued, and international protection statistics.

By the end of March 2024, Estonia had received 33 950 non-EU citizens who had fled the war against Ukraine and were under the temporary protection. Find monthly updates on the numbers of temporary protection beneficiaries on Eurostat.

The OECD/EC Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2023: Settling In report provides further breakdowns of the composition of migrant populations and households in Estonia, including in terms of immigration flows by legal category, concentration in densely populated areas, duration of stay, and household composition.

Integration strategy

To foster the inclusion of migrants, Estonia has so far set up 4 consecutive integration strategies.

The first such strategy, Integration in the Estonian Society 2000 – 2007, focused on linguistic and communicative integration, legal and political integration, and social and economic integration.

The Russian-speaking population in Estonia – which includes Estonian citizens and people with undetermined citizenship, as well as citizens of the Russian Federation living in Estonia - was the traditional target group of integration strategy documents and related activities.

The second integration strategy, produced for the 2008-2013 period, placed additional emphasis on newcomer migrants. The Internal Security Development Plan 2015-2020 later introduced the first civic orientation measures and adaptation policies for newcomer immigrants in Estonia.

Third, the Integrating Estonia 2020 programme introduced in 2014 covered social cohesion, the international competitiveness of Estonia, and security.

A new development plan called Cohesive Estonia 2021-2030 – a joint venture between the ministries of culture, interior and foreign affairs - has been recently completed, and is to provide the basis for development of the integration field in upcoming years. This strategy focuses even more on the adaptation and integration of newly arrived migrants.

Integration programme for newcomers

Estonia launched a free and voluntary integration programme for newcomers in 2015. Settle in Estonia was developed by the interior ministry in cooperation with employers, service providers, representatives of local governments and ministries, and various umbrella organisations and universities. The Integration Foundation is the state agency responsible for implementing this programme.

The programme comprises several educational modules, the main one giving an overview of the functioning principles of the Estonian state, society, culture, peoples and public services. Additional thematic modules focus on employment and entrepreneurship, family life, studies and research. There are also special modules for families and for the beneficiaries of international protection, for whom the dedicated module is compulsory.

The programme also provides beginner language training at the A1 and A2 levels, with the possibility of continuing language studies through other state-supported services. Vocational training is not available.


Three of Estonia's integration strategies have been officially evaluated. An evaluation of the implementation plan for 2008-2009 of the Estonian Integration Strategy was carried out in 2010, and a mid-term report for the first 2000-2007 strategy was published two years prior to that. The latest one is the evaluation of the strategy’s adaptation and integration measures for 2014-2020.

In addition to the assessment of strategies and action plans, integration dynamics and processes in Estonia are sociologically monitored every 2 or 3 years. The Integration Monitoring Reports, carried out since 2000, include analyses of the attitudes and opinions of the Estonian population on integration and migration-related issues. Eight monitoring reports have been published so far, most recently in 2017 and 2020.

In addition, the international Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) points out that Estonia's integration policies are more advanced than those in other Baltic states and in most of Central and Eastern Europe. Scoring 50 out of 100 points on the MIPEX 2020 scale, the country is deemed to have a ‘comprehensive approach’ to integration which overall guarantees equal rights, opportunities and security to migrants.


Law on foreigners

The country’s law on foreigners, Välismaalaste seadus, entered into force on 1 October 2010. It regulates the entry of foreigners to Estonia and their temporary stay, residence and employment in the country, outlines related administrative procedures, and defines the responsibilities of educational institutions and employers. There have been several amendments in recent years to the law, for example in order to provide easier access to temporary residence permits and the Estonian labour market, especially for entrepreneurs, as well as changes related to foreign students graduating from Estonian universities.

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 on Refugees and requirements from the related EU directives. The last major amendment of this act came into force on 1 May 2016 and established strict criteria for the beneficiaries of international protection, obliging them to participate in the integration programme, learn Estonian and respect local culture.

Integration law

Estonia does not have a self-standing integration law.

Citizenship law

The 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.

A major amendment made on1 January 2016 making it easier for people over the age of 65 and for children whose parents have undetermined citizenship to acquire Estonian nationality by waiving the written part of the Estonian language exam (in the case of senior persons) and parental citizenship application (in the case of minors).

Anti-discrimination law

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 or ethnic origin, race, skin colour, religion or other beliefs, age, disability or sexual orientation.

Public authorities

The Cultural Diversity Department of the Estonian Ministry of Culture has led the governance of integration issues since 2009, having succeeded the Minister of Ethnic Affairs of the Bureau of the Minister of Population. The department’s key objective is to create conditions for the development of the cultural life of ethnic minorities and migrants living in Estonia, and to support their integration. The culture ministry is also in charge of designing and implementing the integration strategies and development plans, and nominates 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 (such as the Integration Foundation) and non-governmental organisations are closely cooperating with the culture ministry on different matters. The implementation of the 2015 newly-arrived immigrants’ welcoming programme (titled Settle in Estonia programme, see above), for example, is managed in cooperation with the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB), while the programme's training courses have been carried by Expat Relocation Estonia, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Estonia and the Estonian Refugee Council. As of 2023, the agency responsible for the management of the integration programme is the Integration Foundation.

Although integration is mainly understood as 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 of migrant background in the 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

Estonian civil society has regularly been involved in the integration policy-making process. A steering group consisting of representatives of the public sector, civil society organisations and field experts monitors the implementation of Estonia’s integration strategies. Civil society organisations include the Network of Estonian Non-profit Organisations, the Ida-Virumaa Integration Centre, the Association of Municipalities of Estonia, the Association of Estonian Cities, Estonian Folk Culture Centre and many others.

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 interior ministry analyses, plans and coordinates state policies related to citizenship, migration and civil society. Based on the Estonian Civil Society Development Concept enacted by parliament in 2002, the development plan for 2015–2020 dedicated to civil society focuses on two priorities: ensuring socially active residents and helping citizen associations to achieve their goals. As of latest, the interministerial development plan Cohesive Estonia 2021-2030 also covers those areas related to civil society.


EU funds

Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for funding through several EU funds. In addition, national and private funds are made available for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects promoting migrant integration.

The information below has been updatedwith the national programmes under EU funding for the 2021-2027 period.

The Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in Estonia

  • Details: The national allocation for Estonia under AMIF for the 2021-2027 period is €15.5 million. The Estonian AMIF programme has identified four overall goals: the initial adaptation of TCNs in Estonian society, strengthening adaptation policies, encouraging TCNs’ increased involvement in society, and increasing tolerance towards TCNs.
  • National managing authority: The national managing authority for AMIF in Estonia is the interior ministry.

European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) in Estonia

  • Details: The EU will invest EUR 534 million via ESF+ funds in Estonia to help address social, health, lifelong learning and labour market challenges.

    ESF+ funds in Estonia are implemented through the national Programme for Cohesion Policy Funds 2021-2027 which also includes all funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Cohesion Fund (CF) and the Just Transition Fund (JTF). 

    See the Programme for Cohesion Policy Funds 2021-2027 in Estonia.

  • National managing authority: The managing authority for ESF in Estonia is the State Shared Service Centre (Riigi Tugiteenuste Keskus).

Other EU funds for integration available in Estonia

ERASMUS+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe

ERASMUS+ is managed by the The Education and Youth Board (Harno) and the State Shared Service Centre (Riigi Tugiteenuste Keskus).

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting regional imbalances

National managing authority: State Shared Service Centre (Riigi Tugiteenuste Keskus)

Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), offering material assistance to the most vulnerable or in need

National managing authority: State Shared Service Centre (Riigi Tugiteenuste Keskus)

Other funds

Other public funding in Estonia

 Private funding in Estonia

The Open Estonia Foundation supports initiatives promoting openness and tolerance.

Other stakeholders and useful resources

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