As a digital identity, E-Residency enables access to Estonian state and private sector e-services regardless of the resident’s nationality, residence, or nationality. When Estonian researchers talked to e-residents, they found that some of them see e-residency mainly as a way to get convenient services, while others see it as a way to join an international community.
Piia Tammpuu, who participated in the research project led by Tallinn University of Technology, states, “How an e-resident views or perceives his or her relationship with the Estonian state is largely individual.” Others are interested in the environment, value system, and principles that shape e-residency, whereas for some e-Residents, the platform is comparable to any other in terms of accessibility and usability.
e-Estonia as a “home club”
Due to the fact that e-residents interact with the Estonian government through a specialized online platform, the researchers based their work on the concept of “platforming.” Piia Tammpuu explains that platforming is best understood as the increase in influence (power) of digital platforms. In other words, platform infrastructure, their data-driven business models, governance frameworks, and operational logic have a growing impact on diverse economic and social spheres.
Tammpuu asserts that e-Residency is similarly presented as a platform created by the Estonian government that brings together service providers and e-residents as consumers of these services. “Therefore, we were interested in how platforming manifests itself in the perceptions and imaginations of e-residents—how they perceive e-residency as a ‘platform’ and their relationship to the Estonian state as the creator and owner of this platform,” she explains.
According to Anu Masso, they anticipated that speaking with e-residents would provide the best insight into the platform’s ideological assumptions and social impact. Therefore, they analyzed the narratives, perspectives, and attitudes that emerged from the interviews.
According to the co-professor, the results of the new survey indicate that e-residency provides not only a relationship based on economic transactions and services, but also a sense of connection with Estonia. “One of the important conclusions of the article is that e-residency can also serve as a foundation for a transnational sense of belonging,” she explains.
According to Tammpuu’s findings, those who have registered for e-residency do not view it as a merely pragmatic relationship between consumer and service provider. In some instances, they may feel a stronger connection to Estonia. “This can include a sense of openness, democracy, and innovation in society, as well as an interest in Estonian culture and the nation,” says Tammpuu.
According to Masso, those for whom e-residency represents a sense of belonging have an emotional connection to Estonia as a digital nation. She says the two primary types of affiliation revealed by the survey are transaction-based affiliation, there is also a value-based perceived digital membership, which can serve as the foundation for a collective sense of belonging across countries.
Not only do interests vary, but so does treatment.
Piia Tammpuu and Anu Masso note, based on the interviews, that the respondents’ motivations for joining e-Residency vary considerably. According to Masso, the reasons for joining may be primarily economic, but may also include, for instance, an interest in the Estonian countryside and culture as well as the digital solutions Estonia provides. “In general, some people apply for an e-residency digital ID for a specific reason, while others do so out of general interest or curiosity,” says Tammpuu.
She notes, based on the statistics of e-residency applications, that over time, more and more e-resident applications are made for practical reasons. Here, Tammpuu observes the effects of increased program awareness and more targeted marketing communication.
At the same time, not all Estonian e-Residents can use and benefit from the platform in the same way, as their access to digital services, such as banking and financial services, differs. According to Tammpuu, these issues may arise for so-called e-residents of a third country. “Interviews with e-residents from Africa, for example, showed that geographical borders and location, which shouldn’t matter for e-residency, are still a concern for some e-residents and limit their options,” she says.
If the e-Residency team wants to further develop the program based on the experience of its participants and a social science perspective, Masso suggests focusing on the two pillars of a sense of belonging that emerged from the study: economic services and values. “From the point of view of e-residency as a platform, these two somewhat different dimensions show how the individual and the state relate to each other,” she says.
Tammpuu believes it will be necessary in the future to examine the global implications of e-residency from a broader perspective. “From a social science standpoint, it is also important to highlight the opportunities that e-Residency initiatives can provide for citizens of nations with fewer digital opportunities,” he suggests. For example, Anu Masso’s working group has already written an article about African e-residents.
E-Residency team: e-Residents make Estonia bigger.
At the end of 2014, Estonia was the first nation to launch an e-residency program. In 2014, Estonia was the first nation to launch e-Residency. In seven and a half years, Estonia has gained over 92,000 e-residents, including digital PR company, fintech company, martech, edtech and many more. The e-residency team’s spokesperson, Liina Suvi Ristoja, predicts that this number will increase by six figures this year, and that the e-residency community will soon be Estonia’s second largest city.
According to Liina Suvi, Estonia’s e-residents are forming a diaspora that now encompasses 179 countries; in a sense, e-residents are expanding Estonia. Their relationship with Estonia depends on their individual circumstances and lives. Overall, Ristoja believes that the relationship between the e-residents and Estonia is much stronger than the program’s creators could have hoped.
“We see many e-residents who are true fans of Estonia and Estonian culture,” he says. “Many of them will settle here, at least temporarily – there are many so-called digital nomads who work freelance wherever they are.”
Ristoja asserts that e-residents value Estonia’s straightforward and easily-understood business environment because establishing a business in many EU countries is difficult and expensive. “In any case, e-residents are eager to preserve a thriving entrepreneurial environment in Estonia, so it’s safe to say they are pleased with the country’s progress,” she says.
In the future, the team hopes to further intensify interaction with e-residents in order to better comprehend their needs, enhance the user experience, and connect them to Estonia on a more permanent basis. The team is also considering expansion, as the coronavirus pandemic increases the number of cross-border freelancers. There are currently between five and ten million digital nomads worldwide. Ristoja explains, “Continuous expansion is essential, as other nations have begun to develop e-residency following Estonia’s lead, and if Estonia wishes to remain at the forefront of the digital world, we must consider competition.”
The most recent digiID issuing points for e-residency are located in Johannesburg, Singapore, So Paulo, and Bangkok. Currently, digiID issuing points for e-residency are available in 48 countries across the globe. According to Ristoja, e-residency plans to open up to 15 more locations in global hubs over the next few years.