TALLINN - Canada announced that it had dropped visa requirements for Estonian citizens on Sept. 27, welcoming Estonia as the first Baltic state to travel visa-free through its borders. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said he was happy Canada had taken the long-awaited step. "We hope the visa-free regime will soon be extended to other new member states of the European Union as well," he said. Latvia and Lithuania have yet to pass the requirements for visa-free travel to Canada.
After the news was announced, Paet thanked the European Union's executive commission, whose "efforts helped bring about the visa facilitation."
Canadian Immigration Minister Monte Solberg said the decision would help develop relations between the two countries.
"Canada has the largest community of Estonians outside of Estonia and we enjoy strong trade and tourism ties," the minister was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency. "This decision will help build on that relationship."
According to the governmental organization Multicultural Canada, four-fifths of all Estonian immigrants arrived shortly after World War II. Between 1947 and 1960, 14,310 Estonians immigrated to Canada, the majority between 1948 and 1951. Eighty thousand political refugees left Estonia in 1944 for Sweden and Germany and then re-emigrated to other countries, including Canada. More than 9,000 Estonians moved to Canada from West Germany, approximately 4,000 from Sweden, and 1,000 from other countries.
Canada accepted most immigrants as contractual laborers, the majority of which settled in Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, and Vancouver.
Toronto is home to the largest Estonian population, or more than 50 percent of all Estonians in Canada. Three thousand Estonians live in Montreal and Vancouver is home to 1,500.