Updated: Estonia suspends e-residency applications by Russian and Belarusian citizens

The Estonian government has suspended the granting of Estonian e-residency status to Russian and Belarusian citizens to “prevent sanctions evasion and possible illegal activities”; an independent e-residents association has condemned the decision, however.

Kristian Jaani, the interior minister, said that since e-residency offers foreign citizens secure access to Estonia’s digital services and thus to the European and global economy, “the Russian Federation and Belarus have a vested interest in exploiting e-residency for their own benefit”.

The admission of new e-residents from Russia and Belarus will be suspended and pending applications will be rejected. The Russian and Belarusian holders of a valid e-residence digital identity card will retain it, but the interior ministry said they will be “under the heightened scrutiny”.

“It is important that existing Russian and Belarusian e-residents are under the heightened scrutiny of our supervisory authorities. In the coming months, we will pay special attention to them, follow their activities more closely and, if necessary, intervene by revoking their e-residency,” Jaani said.

An Estonian e-residency card being connected to a computer.

An independent e-residents association condemns the decision

Christoph Huebner, the president of the Estonian e-Residents’ International Chamber Association (Eerica) – an independent NGO that unites e-resident entrepreneurs across the world – told Estonian World the Estonian government’s decision is “destroying the roots of the reputation the e-residency has built”.

“At Eerica, we have tried to work against this decision in the background. An essential promise of e-residency is to democratise access to stable and trustworthy business environments. With this decision, e-residency has become a tool of politics,” Huebner said.

He emphasised that those Russians and Belorussians who use their e-residency company in Estonia are exactly those who need a democratic support. “Young democracy activists like Ksenia Ashrafullina (a board member of Eerica – editor) and many others who help promote fact checked truth and democratic rights in the Russian civil society. Those who are turning away from their governments and who share our Western values.”

“I doubt that the politicians behind this decision fully grasp the dimension of this step. Even as a German cofounder of four companies in Estonia and an Estophile entrepreneur, I will reconsider this and take actions to lower my dependency on the goodwill of Estonian politicians. This decision is destroying the roots of the reputation the e-residency has built up around the world in the last six years,” Huebner stated.

Christoph Huebner, the president of the Estonian e-Residents International Chamber Association (Eerica). Private collection.

Digital residency

The Estonian e-residency programme was launched in December 2014 with the aim of providing foreign nationals secure access to digital services offered within the Estonian e-governance ecosystem. The e-residents are effectively the digital residents of Estonia – they have an ID card that ensures access to digital services, but the e-residency status does not give them right to permanently live or work in Estonia.

To date, Estonia has welcomed 90,000 e-residents who have established around 20,000 new companies. Approximately 6,000 of the existing e-residents are Russian citizens and over 1,000 are Belarusian citizens.

Read also: Live updates: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – reactions in Estonia.

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