Working international students and graduates contributed over ten million euros in taxes

Posted on 11 December 2019, 10:00

Statistics Estonia prepared an analysis for Archimedes Foundation on the participation of international students in the Estonian labour market and its impact on the economy. It appeared that in the previous academic year, foreign students paid eight million euros in income and social tax in Estonia. International students who graduated the year prior contributed additionally over two million euros. The share of international students who work besides studying has increased significantly in the last three years. A half of them continue working in Estonia even after receiving a diploma.

Working international students and graduates

There are more than 5,000 international degree students in Estonia. One in ten students in Estonian higher education institutions comes from another country. Each year, study opportunities in Estonian higher education institutions are promoted abroad. Archimedes Foundation sought to find out whether and how international students participate in the Estonian labour market.

“Foreign students who get accustomed to life in Estonia during their studies could contribute to the local labour market and economy also after graduation. Considering that the money foreign students earn is also spent in Estonia, it can be estimated that, in the previous academic year, international students contributed around 20 million euros to the economy,” explained Eero Loonurm, head of the international marketing agency at Archimedes Foundation. He added that one of the indicators in the strategy for the international promotion of Estonian higher education is employment in Estonia after graduation. The objective is that 30% of international students in Master’s or Doctoral studies would continue working in Estonia.

Kadri Rootalu, data researcher at Statistics Estonia, explained that by combining databases Statistics Estonia’s experimental statistics team can study data on student employment in more detail, for example, by level and field of education. “It came as a surprise that international graduates make such a big contribution in information and communication as well as manufacturing enterprises,” said Rootalu.


  1. Approximately a half of international students in Estonia work besides studying, compared to over 80% of local students.
  2. The share of international students who after graduation stay in Estonia for work has slightly increased in the last two years: in 2017, it was 45%, and in 2018, it was 51%.
  3. The share of working international students is smallest in integrated study programmes. Only a few international students in these programmes work besides studying, as opposed to around 80% of local students. Compared to other levels of study, international students in Bachelor’s studies work less.
  4. The share of international students with a Master’s or Doctoral degree who worked immediately after graduation was 56% in academic year 2016/2017 and 58% in 2017/2018.
  5. The most likely to continue working in Estonia after finishing studies are international students of Tallinn University and Tallinn University of Technology.
  6. The most likely to work besides studying are international students in information and communication technologies; engineering, manufacturing and construction; and business, administration and law (two thirds of international students in these fields worked in academic year 2018/2019). Graduates in the same fields also stay working in Estonia more frequently compared to others. A contributing factor could be that there are many enterprises offering an international work setting for graduates of these fields.
  7. For years, international students have mainly worked in administrative and support service, accommodation and food service and information and communication enterprises.
  8. Compared to local students, international students are more likely to work in enterprises in foreign ownership.
  9. In academic year 2018/2019, international students in Estonia paid 2.4 million euros in income tax and 5.6 million euros in social tax.
  10.  International students in information and communication enterprises contributed the most (total income tax paid in academic year 2018/2019 was 0.73 million euros). The contribution of foreign graduates was also largest in this economic activity.
  11. In 2018/2019, international students who graduated in 2017/2018 paid 0.9 million euros in income tax and 1.9 million euros in social tax in Estonia.

The analysis covered international students and graduates in academic years 2016/2017–2018/2019 who had Estonian ID codes and were entered into the Estonian Education Information System. Employment and income of the students were observed on the basis of records in the employment register and tax form TSD of the Tax and Customs Board.s

Statistics Estonia’s experimental statistics team performs contract work that involves linking or combining the data of Statistics Estonia with register or survey data. The team also engages in data mining and analysis, builds statistical models and assesses policy impacts.

The study was supported by the Dora Plus Programme, which is financed from the European Regional Development Fund as part of European structural funds.