TALLINN - Experts at the Social Affairs Ministry have found that few Estonians have left the country's borders in search of better jobs in the so-called "old Europe" countries since EU enlargement last May.
"Judging by the first months we can conclude that there has been no massive emigration from Estonia after joining the European Union. That is why there has been no essential effect of the emigration on the Estonian labor market," said Maarja Saks, expert from the minister's labor market department.
Saks added that previous surveys and forecasts, which slated that up to 40 percent of Estonians would work abroad and up to 4 percent of the population may permanently move abroad, were apparently made for a longer timeline.
"If a person is offered a favorable job abroad, he or she would take it. But in reality one goes through a lot of trouble before getting such a job and that cuts out the less eager," she said. "We'll see more movement on the labor market in the near future."
Only Sweden, Great Britain and Ireland have opened their markets to new member states without transition periods established by other EU countries, and even then Swedish labor groups have shown they are not willing to let in cheap work from the East. (See story on Page 4.) While the transition period does not fully restrict workers from new member states from employment in a country, as in Finland, job seekers must still apply for a work permit.
Saks said that from May 2004, the number of Finnish work permits applied for by Estonians has dropped thanks to the free movement of services in the EU, which makes it easier for companies to outsource or send employees on longer business trips.
Irish authorities recently announced that 49,000 people from new member states have already arrived to work since May. Of these, 1,500 were from Estonia. In addition, from May to September last year about 1,300 Estonians received a job in Great Britain.
Exact statistics on how many Estonian residents work in other EU countries are unavailable since Estonia does not control people's employment in the open-border EU environment.
According to the press department of the Labor Market Board, a state organization dealing with employment matters, many of those residents who want to find a job abroad use the services of the EURES (European Employment Services) office. Last year EURES held a number of seminars presenting the opportunities abroad. A majority of the job seekers named Finland (because of cultural and geographical proximity) and Ireland (because of positive word-of-mouth information and commonly spoken English language) as the most attractive destinations.
"The growing emigration of certain professionals such as doctors, nurses and construction workers has brought pressure to increase salaries in Estonia," noticed Saks.
For example, according to the medical faculty at Tartu University, seven out of 17 surgeons who have passed the residency period with Tartu University in the last five years are already working abroad. At the end of the year Finnish hospitals carried out a recruiting event in Tartu to attract Estonian doctors and nurses.
Vladimir, a 47-year-old truck driver from Tallinn, has been working for four months with an Estonian company that provides road transportation services between England and Germany. Estonian truck companies snatched a larger share of the road transportation the European market thanks to union enlargement. "I lost my previous job in summer 2004 and decided to try getting one abroad. While I still work for an Estonian company I get more money [than in Estonia]," said Vladimir.
In Saks' opinion, Estonia can improve its labor market by making labor regulations more flexible and by doing more to keep Estonian workers.