Estonians are currently Finland’s largest group of foreign-born residents. According to the Finnish Population Register Centre, there were 28,965 Estonian citizens living in Finland at the end of last year.
The Estonians narrowly overtook the Russians, who numbered 28,459 at the end of 2010.
“People come here from Estonia mainly as labour”, says Antti Saastamoinen of the police immigration unit. Saastamoinen is responsible for registering EU citizens living in Finland.
“Judging from the labour contracts, construction and cleaning are the biggest sources of employment. It is much rarer for professionals involving high levels of education to come to Finland to work from across the Gulf of Finland.”
Estonians are driven to seek work in Finland by their own country’s poor employment situation.
Urmas Soots, from Otespää, came to Finland to study already in 1990, when Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union.
“Then I just stayed, as the system became more familiar, and I felt good here. In Estonia the construction industry is so quiet that there would probably not be much work available. All contractors are either here or in Sweden”, says Soots, a 38-year-old construction engineer.
Estonia’s economy has picked up, but employment is still in the doldrums. At the end of last year, 18.6 per cent of the population was without work.
Estonia’s unemployment rate for young people and the number of long-term unemployed was the third-highest in the whole EU.
After the economic crisis, wages were lowered in Estonia, and this year real wages are expected to decline further. The average montly pay is now EUR 822.
Soots says that he enjoys life in Finland.
“If we compare things to Tallinn, a nervousness prevails over there. Everyone is going somewhere, and people are always in a big hurry to earn money. Things are somehow more peaceful here.”
In Finland he appreciates that society works, and takes care of the less advantaged. However, he feels that the tax rate “could be lower”.
“Those who are worse off need to be helped, but free travellers should be dropped”, Soots says.
He does not plan to become completely Finlandised.
“I am proud of my nationality, and Finnish citizenship would not bring any advantages.”
Antti Saastamoinen says that immigrants from Estonia usually come here first without their families.
“Most of those who are registered with us are individual men and women. Usually one of the parents in a family will come first, and the rest of the family will come later."
More than 1,000 Estonians have a Finnish spouse. It is more typical for a Finnish man to marry an Estonian than for a Finnish woman to do so.
Estonians who have not registered fall outside the population information.
The Finnish Embassy in Estonia estimates that up to 40,000 Estonians live in Finland. These do not include seasonal workers, who sail regularly between Helsinki and Tallinn.