So you want to change your residence permit…

Last weekend I went to the Welcoming Programme’s Basic Module.

If you haven’t heard of it, the Welcoming Programme is a series of courses run by a company called Settle in Estonia and funded by the government, designed to help expats settle into Estonian life. You can take any of the courses for your first five years in the country, the only requirement is that you must be an Estonian resident. (So you need to wait for any residence permits or visas to get approved.)

It’s also the group that runs the beginner’s Estonian course I’ve been taking.

So, what’s the Basic Module? The Basic Module is designed to give you an overview of Estonian law and society, including political structure, legal status of foreigners, e-services, culture and so on. While I went feeling pretty sure I would have learnt most of this through trial and error, due to having to organise most of my own admin myself while waiting for my permit to get approved, I had a rather specific question I wanted to ask, and getting it answered meant the day was worth it.

What was the question? Let’s start with some background.

Drew’s residence permit

While I have my temporary residence permit, Drew is still on his 90-day visa free period. However, he did land a job (yay Drew!), which suddenly means he has options.

Originally, he was planning to apply for a permit to settle as my spouse, which would give him full working rights. However, once he got the job offer, we wondered whether it would be better for him to register for a permit to work.

I reached out to the HR department at my job to see what they thought, and was surprised when they recommended that he stick to the spouse permit.

The reasons?

  1. It isn’t possible for anyone (except for top specialists*) to receive residence permit for employment at the moment. My company was told by the Police and Border Guard Board that anyone who applies for a residence permit for the remainder of 2018 would be turned back, even if there were still slots available.
  2. If he was registered for a permit by his employer, his residence permit would be tied into that employer. If he wanted to change jobs, he would need a new permit.

Wait, what? Did that mean my residence permit (the application for which was organised by my employer) was also tied to my employer.

Until now I’d just assumed that once my two-year residence permit was approved, I’d be free to flit from job to job if I chose within that two-year period. However, after reading this I started to think I was mistaken.

Even though I wasn’t planning to look for another job, I wanted to know what my options were. So, I went to the Basic Module with this question in mind.

What are my residence permit options if I want to change jobs?

Thankfully, the founder of Settle in Estonia was there on the day, and his business predominantly helps people with permits, citizenships and so on, so he knew exactly what I was dealing with.

First, he confirmed that yes, my residence permit was tied to my job. Even if it was a two-year permit, if I left my job I would need a new one. The same would go for Drew – if he got a residence permit for work, it would only be valid while he was in his current job.

With this in mind, it was definitely better for Drew to get the spouse permit. Basically, the spouse permit is the most flexible one on offer – you can work, you can study, you can sit around in your underwear all day watching Netflix – the choice is yours! The working one, on the other hand, is a set of golden handcuffs.

So, if for some reason I did decide to change jobs, here are my options.

Option 1. Get a new job

The first option would be to get a new job, and for that job to then organise a new residence permit for me. The only challenge with this is that because they allow two months for new residence permits to be issued, the new employer would need to be prepared to wait two months for me to move from my current job to the new one.

The process would be:

  1. Find new job.
  2. Apply for new residence permit with new job.
  3. Quit current job with two months’ notice.
  4. Start new job once new residence permit is approved.

And, because Drew’s spouse permit will be connected to mine, he’ll also have to reapply for a new permit that is connected to my new permit.

Option 2. Restart my 90 visa-free days

In this option, I would leave my current job and my permit would be cancelled. However, apparently my 90-day visa-free period would restart, so I’d have three months in Estonia to find a new job.

After that, the new employer would apply for the residence permit on my behalf, and everything would have the same set up as we have now. So:

  1. Quit job.
  2. Look for new job.
  3. Get new job.
  4. New job organises short-term permit so I can work while waiting for the official residence permit.
  5. Apply for residence permit with new job.

The same thing goes for Drew as before – new residence permit for me, new permit for him. (It’s fun being the spouse, isn’t it?)

Option 3. Drew changes his residence permit

Since Drew now has a job, he could switch his residence permit to a residence permit for employment, in which case I could then get a spouse permit that’s attached to him (so a reversal of our current situation).

The only catch here is that I don’t think Drew qualifies as a ‘top specialist’ (sorry Drew), so there may not be spots available. In this case, we’d need to think about this towards the beginning of a calendar year when there are still plenty of spots available.

The process:

  1. Quit job, and both of us restart our 90-day visa-free period.
  2. Drew gets short-term permit with his employer.
  3. Drew applies for new residence permit with his current employer.
  4. Once his permit is approved, I can then apply for a spouse permit.

Option 4. Study instead

The final option is to get a different type of permit entirely – probably a residence permit to study, or one for entrepreneurship.

I am pretty tempted by the idea of studying here – it’s so much cheaper than back in Australia and I’ve found a Master’s program that looks pretty interesting.

However, when I proposed this idea during the Q&A session at the Basic Module, they advised against it. Apparently if the spouse residence permit is the best, most flexible one available, the study permit is the worst, least flexible one available. So it’s far better to work or be a spouse and study using that permit (as both of them allow you to study) than to study and look for work as a student.

The good news is that we have options, just in case we ever need them. I’m hoping we don’t, as Drew’s experience applying for his permit has proven to be much more complicated than mine, but if we do want to make a change, we should be able to figure something out before we get deported.

*I’m kind of chuffed about fitting into the ‘top specialist’ category.

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