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On Immigration Policy
by Abdul Turay
Postimees 13 July 2012

For once I have subject where I can draw on personal experience not just for colouring and commentary but for analysis. Immigration, let's talk about it. You may think you've read everything there is to say, but there are some things that no one is saying, no-one dare say.

Once again a gap has opened up between what the business elites and technocrats who run the country want, and what the people want. The elites want more immigrants. The people do not. It really is that simple.

The elites are going to win.

Here are the arguments if you need reminding. As some of you will remember, last year the Estonian Development Fund (EDF) did an analysis of Estonia's future in the centenary year. Leave aside the oxymoron of a government sponsored venture capital fund, this set out four possible scenarios for Estonia's future.

None of these scenarios are perfect but broadly speaking, two are good and two are bad. The good scenarios are Hanseatic League II and Skype Island.

In Hanseatic League II, Estonia becomes a trading centre and a hub for investment and in the words of the EDF. “An open, lively, cosmopolitan nation full of skilled individuals competing for high value-add jobs.”

Skype Island” is similar to “Hanseatic League II”, except the focus is on Information Communication Technology(ICT).

For both of these scenarios to happen, there has to be increased immigration from beyond Europe. This is necessary.

The bad scenarios are “South Finland”, which where Estonia is now,except worse, and “the state returns” basically melt down.

Immigration doesn't just mean letting people into the country, it means getting investors to put their money in the country. The EDF concludes in its analysis on Estonia-India relations the reason Indian companies don't invest in Estonia is because there is no Indian community to speak of. Indians like to invest where there is an established community already. The same is true for other nationalities.

This same picture is clear when you talk to business leaders. Andrei Korobeinik, IT tycoon and Riigikogu MP, said the shortage of skilled people is so extreme it was one of the main reasons he bought back, He needed staff and it was cheaper to buy a company than to hire staff.

Currently in the Estonian IT sector, you can't really hire people due to several reasons. A couple of large companies are hiring very aggressively, it's too expensive,” he told me.

Korobeinik says that far from being a low cost provider of high end goods and services as many people still think of it, Estonia is not competitive at all and hasn't been for some time.

If you compare the total price of a web programmer in Estonia with all the tax and the price of that guy in Silicon valley exactly, it is cheaper to hire in Silicon Valley,” he said.

It means a lot of companies are moving there or to the UK. Skype has hired way more engineers in London during the last two years.”

They still have places for engineers, (in Estonia) almost for two years. They can't find those people.”

Korobeinik conclusion: “We have to rethink our approach to immigration. We can't compete with the current system.”

Korobeinik compares the situation in Estonia to the situation in Ireland which despite it's current problems he still thinks of as a dynamic economy.

People come from outside Ireland to work for those companies.”

That's what Estonia has to understand, they have to understand that the majority of people will come from outside the country. It's a question of choice. Whether we want it or not.”

The other side of the argument is also familiar
The average Estonian fears immigration will dilute or destroy national identity and at the very least will lead to the kind of problems we have seen elsewhere in Europe. Around 42 % of adult migrants aged 18-64 in the EU were classified as living in poverty or social exclusion in 2010.
According to the Eurostat, 68 percent of Estonians are against increased immigration into Europe. The European average stands at 46 percent.

The Legatum Prosperity Index found in 2009 about half the population wouldn't want to live next to a black person and roughly the same amount think Estonia is not a good place for minorities.

Thus Estonia today is a comic parody of Britain in the 70s. Everybody is complaining about the immigrants, but they haven't arrived yet. The analogy is apt, the Baltic region's attitudes towards non-white people are similar to Britain in the 70s.

Therefore it is no surprise that Estonia has developed tough immigration laws, which have gotten even tougher to prevent abuse. It's a quota system, set at 1008 people this year, mainly designed to get highly skilled people.

Compare this to our neighbours Sweden, they have an open-door policy. If you can find a job as locksmith you can get in.

This much we know, it has been written about.

But here is what is not being said and brings me to my own personal experience. I hope people won't get too angry at what I am about to say. I am just describing the situation not making any value judgements about right and wrong.

It all comes down to interactions which happen more frequently than I care for.

From time to time somebody will come up to me in a public space and and after a few introductory remarks say something along the lines of: “I don't mind black people but I can't stand these damn Russians.”

What no-one will admit is the draconian immigration laws exist and are being tightened, not to keep out Indians or South Koreans, but to keep out Russians.

I will go further, because of Estonia's history, Indians are preferred to Russians.

Officially this is denied. No-one wants to upset Russian-speaking Estonians. Nobody wants to upset Russia.

There is no basis for a claim that Estonia prefers immigration from India over Russia,” a spokesperson from Estonia immigration said when I put it to her.

But consider this, if Estonia didn't have such tough checks and were to let in the 6000 or so highly skilled Russian ICT experts it needs to fill the current vacancies, it is entirely possible that among their ranks would be the very same hackers who waged cyber war on this country five years ago.

And the same thing applies to Russia as applies to India. More Russian people, means more Russian investment, something Estonia historically has also avoided.

To be sure, Russians do emigrate here, to the gaming industry and to restaurants. But the number has been kept to a trickle.

The situation is quite different to what is going on else where in the World. People tend to emigrate to their neighbouring countries and countries with which they have historical ties. Irish emigrate to Britain, Chinese emigrate to Hong Kong, New Zealanders to Australia, British to Australia even Estonians to Finland. The host country is usually comfortable with this and prefers this.

Australia even had a white Australia policy preferring immigrants from Britain and Ireland for generations.

Estonia it seems is practicing a white Australia policy in versus. It is; putting out feelers around the World, building up international ties, opening up new embassies in Asia, whilst passing yet more laws to keep out the Russians -the white people- out.

When people figure out what the government, in my humble opinion, are really up to, the elites will have won the argument.

Some question remain unanswered. How the government are going to engineer it so they don't appear to be discriminating against Russians I can't answer, and isn't letting even a small number of immigrants swapping one set of economic problems for a whole bunch of social ones?

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