Jews in Estonia to benefit from eased residency criteria

MOSCOW, March 16 (JTA) — Hundreds of Estonian Jews stand to benefit from the government’s decision last week to grant permanent- resident status to the nation’s Russian-speaking minority. Most members of the 3,000-member Russian-speaking Jewish community of Estonia do not have Estonian citizenship because they cannot pass the language test, according to Jewish officials in the capital of Tallinn. And without Estonian citizenship, finding a job there is not easy. One Jewish official pointed out that it was difficult for non-Estonian speakers to get lower-level jobs, such as cleaning positions. But now, Estonian officials say, some 130,000 “loyal foreigners” will have permanent-resident status instead of a five-year residence permit. Having settled in Estonia after World War II, the majority of Estonian Jews had neither the need nor obligation to master the country’s language during the period of Russian dominance. But after Estonia asserted its full independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, many Jews received a non-citizen status and have found themselves with fewer employment opportunities than those available to ethnic Estonians. Jews are not the only group who found themselves given this non- citizen status, which affects about 28 percent of Estonia’s 1.6 million population and primarily includes ethnic Russians. The language provisions of Estonia’s citizenship law have been sharply criticized by Moscow as discriminatory and have strained Russian- Estonian relations. A couple of months ago, the Roundtable on Ethnic Minorities’ Rights met to discuss the citizenship restrictions. The roundtable was set up by the president of Estonia four years ago to monitor human rights violations of the nation’s minorities. A week after the human rights group met, the European Union agreed to subsidize Estonian-language lessons for minorities in order to smooth ethnic differences in the Baltic nation.

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