3 February 2016
The Republic of Estonia, established in 1918, lost its independence when it was occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940. After the independence of the Republic of Estonia was restored in 1991 on the basis of legal continuity of statehood, Estonia was able to reinstate the right of its legitimate citizens. In February 1992 the Citizenship Law of 1938, based on the principle of ius sanguinis (blood relationship), was reapplied.
In the course of the Soviet occupation, the demographic situation in Estonia had been dramatically altered as a result of the Soviet Union's sovietisation policies. During the tumultuous years of 1940–1949, about 60 000 Estonians, out of the population of about 1.1 million, were either killed, deported to Siberia and other hinterlands of the Soviet Union, or imprisoned in Stalin's concentration camps, while at least an equal number fled to the West. At the same time a large number of Soviet citizens, including military staff from various parts of the Soviet Union, were sent to Estonia as a result of Soviet forced migration policies. In 1934, there were 992 500 ethnic Estonians living in Estonia, making up 88.1% of the country's population. By 1989, this number had dwindled to 963 281 or 61.5%, less than the pre-war level. At the same time, the number of non-ethnic Estonians living in Estonia, of which the majority were ethnic Russians, grew almost fivefold from 134 000 in 1934 to 602 000 by 1989. From 1990 to 1998, 113 000 people left Estonia, the majority of whom were born abroad.
According to population censuses, Estonian citizens constituted 97.7% of the population in 1922 and 98.8% in 1934. After the restoration of Estonia's independence, persons who held Estonian citizenship before 16 June 1940 and their descendants were automatically considered to be Estonian citizens. Thus, roughly two-thirds of the 1.5 million Estonian inhabitants restored Estonian citizenship in 1992. All other Estonian residents could obtain Estonian citizenship through the naturalisation process. At the same time, all Estonian residents who had been Soviet citizens had the right to register themselves as citizens of Russia, the USSR's successor state, or to choose any other citizenship. As of 1 January 2016, 84.2% of Estonia’s population held Estonian citizenship, 9.7% were citizens of other countries, and 6.1% were of undetermined citizenship.
The Estonian Government actively promotes the acquiring of Estonian citizenship through naturalisation, thus reducing the number of persons with undetermined citizenship. The Government is constantly dealing with this matter and has made the acquisition of Estonian citizenship easier in many ways, especially for children. Consequently, since autumn 2005 the number of naturalised citizens exceeds the number of residents of undetermined citizenship.
As of 1 February 2016 (Source: Ministry of the Interior, Population Register)
The citizenship of the Republic of Estonia never ceased to exist. During the years of occupation, the Estonian diplomatic service in exile issued Estonian passports, which were recognised as travel documents by many countries of the world, eventually even by the Russian Federation. In Estonia, the issuing of identity documents to the Estonian population began again immediately after Estonia regained its independence in 1991. The first Estonian passports, after the regaining of independence, were issued in July 1992 and within a three-year period almost all Estonian citizens were provided with passports. In 1996, the Estonian Government began to issue identity documents (the so-called "alien's passport") to persons of undetermined citizenship who had previously held Soviet passports, thus granting those persons time for choosing their citizenship. This document serves as official identification within Estonia and allows its holder to travel abroad. In 2002, Estonia started issuing ID cards to Estonian citizens over 15 years of age and to Estonian permanent residents with other citizenship or of undetermined citizenship as a primary domestic identification document that can also be used to sign documents digitally. As of 28 February 2015, approximately 1 226 376 Estonian residents have ID cards.
Estonian citizenship is acquired by birth if at least one of the parents of the child holds Estonian citizenship at the time of the birth of the child.
It is also possible to acquire Estonian citizenship through naturalisation. The requirements for acquiring citizenship are specified in the Citizenship Act. A person who wishes to acquire Estonian citizenship by naturalisation must have resided in Estonia for at least eight years, of which at least five years have been as a permanent resident of Estonia, have a basic knowledge of the Estonian language, and have knowledge of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia and the Citizenship Act. Citizenship applicants born prior to 1 January 1930 do not have to complete the written part of the language exam.
In 1992, almost one third of the Estonian population had not determined their citizenship. Estonia's position is that citizenship cannot be forced on anyone and that everyone has the right to choose his or her citizenship. The Estonian Government encouraged persons of undetermined citizenship to either apply for Estonian citizenship or choose another citizenship (Russian, Ukrainian, etc.). During the course of this campaign, carried out from 1993 to 1998, a number of these residents received Estonian citizenship, while others acquired the citizenship of some other country. As a result, the share of persons of undetermined citizenship in Estonia has decreased from 32% in 1992 to 6.1% in January 2016.
From 1992 to June 2015, a total of 158 532 persons have acquired Estonian citizenship through the various facets of the naturalisation process. The majority of these people did so in the course of the 1990s (more than 110 000 people between the years 1992 and 2000).
With the accession of Estonia to the European Union in May 2004, Estonian citizens automatically became citizens of the EU. This greatly increased the appeal of Estonian citizenship, especially for younger people. This seems to be the main reason why in 2004, the number of people who acquired Estonian citizenship through naturalisation was almost double that of previous year.
On June 3rd 2014, the Estonian Parliament passed an amendment proposed by the Chancellor of Justice making applying for citizenship easier for young people who despite not having a residence permit, have resided in Estonia permanently.
The amendment makes applying for citizenship easier for those young people, whose legal guardian has not applied for a residence permit for them before they reached the age of 15, but who have been factually living in Estonia for at least eight years. These people are granted citizenship, if they have not become the permanent residents of another country and they have a valid residence permit or right of residence at the time they are granted citizenship.
On January 21st 2015, the Estonian Parliament approved several amendments to the Citizenship Act. The aim of the amendment is to halt the perpetuation of persons with undetermined citizenship by guaranteeing a right to acquire Estonian citizenship by naturalization to all children born in Estonia that have parents with undetermined citizenship.
The amendments entered into force as of the 1st of January 2016.
In addition, since February 13th 2015, the Estonian language requirements for applicants of the Estonian citizenship for elderly were simplified. Applicants older than 65 years of age, who apply for Estonian citizenship, will only have to take an oral Estonian test and are released from the obligation to take the written exam.
The number of persons who have acquired Estonian citizenship through naturalisation
|1992 – 5 421||2004 – 6 523|
|1993 – 20 370||2005 – 7 072|
|1994 – 22 474||2006 – 4 753|
|1995 – 16 674||2007 – 4 228|
|1996 – 22 773||2008 – 2 124|
|1997 – 8 124||2009 – 1 670|
|1998 – 9 969||2010 – 1 184|
|1999 – 4 534||2011 – 1 505|
|2000 – 3 425||2012 – 1 331
|2001 – 3 090||2013 – 1 316
|2002 – 4 091||2014 – 1 589|
|2003 – 3 706||2015 – 884*|
* as of 1 January 2016
One of Estonia’s priorities is to promote the acquisition of Estonian citizenship. Accordingly, the Estonian Government has facilitated the naturalisation process for all legal residents who wish to acquire Estonian citizenship. The most recent amendment was passed by the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) on January 21, 2015. It guarantees the right to Estonian citizenship by naturalization automatically at birth to all children born in Estonia to parents with undetermined citizenship. Also, the Estonian language requirements for applicants of the Estonian citizenship for elderly were simplified.
The Riigikogu has also passed several other amendments to the Citizenship Act. For example:
The Estonian Government's action plan of the integration programme for the years 2004–2007 contained the aim of naturalising at least 5 000 people a year. The State Integration Programme for 2008–2013 also states as an important aim decreasing the ratio of people among Estonia's population with undetermined citizenship.
According to the “Monitoring of Integration in the Estonian Society in 2015” requested by the Ministry of Culture and carried out by the Institute of Baltic Studies, Tallinn University and PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies, 57% of residents with undetermined citizenship in Estonia wish to become Estonian citizens.
The Strategy of Integration and Social Cohesion in Estonia 2020 aims at enlarging the number of naturalized citizens and reducing the number of undetermined citizenship via certain measures financed via the action plan for 2014-2017.
Estonia is one of the few countries in the world where all legal residents, regardless of their citizenship, have the right to vote in local government elections.
According to the Local Government Council Election Act of May 1996, citizens of other states and residents who have not yet chosen their citizenship have the right to vote in local administration elections. They must be over 18 years of age and have been permanent residents for at least five years in the territory of the respective local government as of 1 January of the local government election year.
* Ethnic Estonians – mostly those individuals whose ancestors migrated from Estonia prior to 1918 before the Republic of Estonia was founded and Estonian citizenry was formed. Those people should apply for Estonian citizenship through naturalisation.
** During the period that followed the restoration of independence, those aliens who had supported the efforts of Estonia in regaining independence and who had registered themselves as applicants for Estonian citizenship before 1 March 1990 were granted Estonian citizenship without the precondition of passing the citizenship examinations. Registration of Estonian citizens was initiated and organised both in Estonia and in Estonian communities in exile by the grassroots movement of Estonian Citizens Committees. As a result the Congress of Estonia, a representative body of citizens of the Republic of Estonia, was elected in February 1990 by nearly 600 000 Estonian citizens. The first session of the Congress of Estonia took place in Tallinn from 11 to 12 March 1990. The activities of the Congress of Estonia from 1990-1992, created conditions for the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991 on the basis of the legal continuity of Estonian statehood. The Congress was dissolved when the legal Estonian Parliament, the Riigikogu, convened in 1992.
*** On the basis of Chapter 3 of the Citizenship Act. This section also includes those minors who have acquired Estonian citizenship through simplified naturalization according to the amendment made by the Riigikogu in December 1998.
§ 13. Acquisition of Estonian citizenship by naturalisation by minor
All minors under 15 years of age, who were born in Estonia, can get Estonian citizenship by naturalization automatically after their birth if their parents have been residing in Estonia for at least 5 years and they are not citizens of any other country;
All minors born in Estonia before 1st of January 2016 who are under 15 years old and with undetermined citizenship, also get the Estonian citizenship by naturalization automatically starting from the 1st of January 2016. The parents or a single parent of the minor must have been residing in Estonia for at least 5 years and they are not citizens of any other state.
By the law there is also provided the possibility for parents to refuse the Estonian citizenship of their children within one year.
**** Services that are deemed to be achievements, which contribute to the international reputation of Estonia in the areas of culture or sports or in other areas.
This fact sheet was composed with the assistance of the Police- and Border Guard Board.