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Estonian workers increasingly head home as salaries catch up with Finland

More Estonians are leaving Finland - and Finns are increasingly moving to Estonia. The trend started about two years ago.

Viron 100-vuotis itsenäisyysjuhlintaa Tallinnassa.
File photo of child with Estonian flags. Image: Sasha Silvala / Yle

Finland is not drawing Estonian workers as it has in the past, and those who immigrated to the country in the 15 years after the turn of the millennium to work are increasingly returning to Estonia.

The Estonian ambassador to Finland, Harri Tiido, told Yle that Estonia's economy is growing very quickly.

"On average, Estonia's economy is growing faster than the EU and faster than Finland's. Salaries have gone up because competition for jobs is fierce," Tiido said.

Many Estonians who intermittently commute to the country's northern neighbour, Finland, to work have also started to consider the problems that travelling between the countries causes, according to the ambassador.

Estonian salaries rising

"When the difference in salaries in some sectors is a question of a few hundred euros, people have started to consider the cost of living in Finland. They also are facing problems that affect their families and alcohol use," Tiido said.

Last year the average salary in Estonia was 1,310 euros per month, while in 2008 the average salary was just 825 euros per month.

Pekka Vuori, who works at Helsinki's population demographics and statistics department, said that Estonia's population structure is just one reason that their nationals are now increasingly leaving Finland.

"Estonia's economy and job market have developed very well. The employment rate there is better than in Finland. Also, fewer young adults are in the job market; their numbers have decreased by a third since the year 2000."

Not just Finland

Expat Estonians all around Europe have begun returning to their home country to work, because there aren't as many working-age people vying for those jobs, according to Vuori.

Estonians began moving to Finland in large numbers after the turn of the millennium. The first migration peak was reached in 2006, when nearly 4,500 Estonians moved to Finland.

After that point, with a few exceptions, the migration to Finland steadily increased until 2014.

Since then, the number of new Estonians moving across the Gulf of Finland has declined, while at the same time increasing numbers of Estonians who moved to Finland have returned.

The year 2017 was a landmark in terms of Finnish-Estonian migration statistics, as it marked the first time that more Finns moved to Estonia than vice-versa.

Construction sector behind decline

Ambassador Tiido said that declines in demand within the Finnish construction industry are the major factor in the reduction of Estonian workers moving to Finland. He said the number of Estonian construction workers has dropped by one third from the peak migration years.

The numbers of Estonian commuters who travel on the passenger cruise firm Tallink's ships went down by around 1,000 last January alone, according to the company. Its ships make the 90km voyage between the two capitals in about two hours.

Vuori said that some sectors in the Helsinki area are suffering from a lack of workers and foreign workers are needed in order to fill those jobs.

"So far we have had it rather good, as as a significant portion of the workforce has come from Estonia. They have adapted well to the labour market, both in terms of their native languages, but also otherwise. We have to invest more in integration and education," Vuori said.

Estonia joined the EU in 2004, following Finland's accession in 1995.

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