People with immigrant background constitute approx. 30% of Estonia’s population; in the capital Tallinn the proportion is higher (40%). Most are ethnic Russians, the other ethnic groups also use extensively Russian as their mother tongue. This immigrant community was formed during the period of Soviet Union when accelerated forced industrialisation took place based on a largely immigrant labour force.
Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Estonian parliament passed a resolution stating that all Soviet-era immigrants and their descendants (around 35 per cent of the population in 1991) would not be accorded automatic citizenship in the restored Republic of Estonia. Yet, unlike the immigrants in some Western European countries, these Soviet-era settlers did not see themselves as immigrants or as minorities but rather as people moving around within a single country (i.e. Soviet Union). Coupled with the Estonian political mainstream of legal restoration and the overall historical context, the nationality policies of the Soviet Union and post-independent Estonian governments have created a situation of segregation of two communities, living not together but rather apart from each other.
Social exclusion, especially among young people with immigrant background can be seen as a perceived risk, nevertheless, up to date there have been almost no comprehensive studies carried out by Estonian researchers. From the viewpoint of ethnic minority groups living in Estonia, there are certain tendencies and developments that need urgent consideration and public attention (some examples):
- unemployment among young people with immigrant background (aged 15-24) is 29,4%, compared to 9,5% of Estonians of the same age
- unemployment in total among non-Estonians is 12,9%, compared to Estonians of 5,3%;
- recently, employment of non-Estonians has been increasing and unemployment decreasing at a much slower rate than among Estonian majority;
- only ~50% from the 350’000 people of the minority workforce have a sufficient knowledge of Estonian;
- more than 90% of the injecting drug-addicts are non-Estonians;
- there is twice as much pressure on young Russian women regarding recruitment to prostitution than among the Estonian women aged 15-29;
- immigrants are concentrated in the area with a high unemployment rate and face greater difficulties and shutdowns;
- over 90% of heroin addicts in Estonia are of immigrant origin;
- 70-80% HIV-positive are people with immigrant background.