Facts and Figures
People come to Lithuania for different reasons – tourists do a little sightseeing and relaxing, while others settle here for longer stay. Some relocate to Lithuania for study, for work, to start a family, or because they are seeking a haven from an unsafe homeland. Can we refer to all these different people simply as “immigrants”? Below is a basic primer on commonly used immigration terms.
|Departure to another country with the intention to reside abroad permanently or for a period no shorter than 12 months.|
|Arrival in a country with the intention of residing there permanently or for a period no shorter than 12 months.|
|A person unable to safely return to his or her homeland due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for his or her race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or for membership in a particular social group.|
|Means that the Lithuanian government has reviewed a refugee’s case and granted a person the right to permanently reside in Lithuania. In some cases, this can also include social assistance to that person.
Subsidiary protection: a foreigner who is unable to meet the application requirements for refugee status but who cannot return to his or her home country for fear of torture, inhumane treatment, armed conflict, widespread violence, or widespread human rights abuses may be granted subsidiary protection in Lithuania. This status allows the foreigner to remain in Lithuania for a year, or until the situation in his or her home country improves.
Temporary residence permit
|Is a document granting an immigrant temporary residence in the Republic of Lithuania (or European Union) for a limited time.|
Permanent residence permit
|Entitles an immigrant to reside permanently in the Republic of Lithuania (or European Union).|
|A document allowing a foreign national to work in Lithuania for an indicated period of time.
Family reunification: allows family members to come to Lithuania to join an immigrant residing here lawfully. This policy was designed to help keep families together, regardless of whether the family ties were formed before or after the immigrant’s arrival in Lithuania.
HOW MUCH? Let’s Crunch the Numbers
Lithuania’s emigration rate is among the highest in the European Union. Around 800,000 people (or one-fifth of the population) have left the country since it declared independence in 1990. Between 2001 and 2013, more than 500,000 people emigrated from Lithuania, and aroun 120,000 immigrated.
Increasing immigration figures can mainly be attributed to returning Lithuanian emigrants. The immigration of non-Lithuanian foreigners remains quite low with an annual average of between 2,000 and 2,500 people. Most of these foreigners come from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. There are currently around 32,000 foreign residents in Lithuania. Most of them are of Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian origin and moved to Lithuania during the reign of the Soviet Union. There are also foreigners who reside in Lithuania as family members, workers and students.
Almost half of immigrants come to Lithuania for work related reasons. Many are under employment contracts, work as directors of their businesses, or own their own businesses. Other foreigners come to Lithuania for family reasons. Students make up 11 percent of foreigners in Lithuania.
Foreigners in Lithuania represent 125 nationalities, though they only make up around one percent of the national population and constitute one of the smallest immigrant populations in the entire European Union. Only Bulgaria, Poland, and Slovakia have fewer immigrants.
Immigrants make up 6.6 percent of the EU population. The number of third country (non- EU) national workers increased during the economic boom only to plummet during the ensuing recession. In 2012, the Lithuanian Labour Exchange issued more work permits for third country nationals (mostly Belarusians, Ukrainians, Chinese, Russians, Moldavians, Indians, and Georgians) than in previous years to fill vacant job positions for long-distance drivers, naval hull assemblers, welders, and restaurant cooks.
HOW are they doing?
How do you survive in a foreign country, where unfriendly strangers surround you and your family is thousands of miles away? How do you find a way to support yourself and your family when labour markets are unbending and the legal system is confusing? You need help.
There are resources available to immigrants in need of assistance. One example is the Centre Plus, which offers counselling and advice to third-country nationals. The centre offers Lithuanian language courses, immigration guidance, business start-up assistance, employment help, driving courses, a library, and information about Lithuanian life, culture, and history. A foreigner can also speak to on-site social workers, lawyers, and psychologists.
Not all foreigners choose to move to Lithuania for business, employment, study, or love. Some end up in Lithuania after fleeing persecution for their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. These people are refugees. In their own country, they face persecution and inhumane treatment. Sometimes, these people have no citizenship at all and are afraid to seek legal counsel.
Once in Lithuania, refugees may request asylum-permission to live in our country- and social support. While the application is under review, they live in the Alien Registration Centre in Pabrade. From 1997 to 2012, the centre hosted immigrants of 75 nationalities –7, 569 people in total. The majority of them are from Russia (one in four), Georgia (one in seven), Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Belarus, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and China. Some 4,000 immigrants faced expulsion from Lithuania. Those who are granted asylum move to the Refugee Reception Centre in Rukla, where they continue to make their lives. They learn the Lithuanian language, train for a profession, and try to find work.
Refugees face four integration stages in a new country: getting acquainted with their new home, getting settled, finding employment and obtaining permanent residence status. The whole process usually takes about 5 years. A permanent residence permit is only granted after the applicants pass exams on the Lithuanian language and the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.
The state finances the integration process for an individual or family, so that they can set down roots in Lithuania and live independently. The Refugee Reception Centre provides necessary social, health and legal services and organises intensive Lithuanian language, computer literacy, and profession orientation courses. It also helps refugees find work and rent housing. Their children are enrolled in school.
If an immigrant is not ready to take the exams for full integration within eight months of his or her arrival, the time limit may be extended for up to 18 months. For this limited time, the state can cover the children’s education, health insurance, social support, counselling, cultural integration, all in addition to covering rent and utility costs and providing a lump sum of cash to cover basic needs. This extension normally lasts around a year, but for minors or families with children, people who were tortured in their homeland, pregnant women, and seniors, it can be extended for up to five years. Every year, about 50 immigrants rely on this extended integration support in Lithuania.
Sources: centreplus.org; Refugee Reception Centre
WHAT do people really think?
In the past, Lithuanian society has struggled to welcome newcomers. As a nation, we’ve been particularly hesitant to accept immigrants from distant countries, those who look different from us and we are lagging behind the rest of Europe in our lack of open-mindedness. According to one poll, only 16 percent of Lithuanians consider immigration a positive thing. Compare this low number to Finland, where 43 percent of those polled reported that they viewed immigration as a positive thing, followed by Germany at 38 percent and Poland at 17 percent.
That small number of Lithuanians recognized some of the key benefits of immigration. According to them, immigrants breathe new life into the cultural and intellectual landscape, with new and exciting cuisine, technological advances and ideas, and new ways of tackling problems; even a small influx of immigrants can improve the demographic situation in a country. For example, in some countries, the population is aging quite quickly and young immigrant workers are needed to fill vacancies in industries struggling to recruit local workers. They also point to economic benefits of immigration as well as to the fact that immigrants help bring Lithuania into the global community spotlight, fostering travel to Lithuania and interest in its customs and culture.
Instead, the majority dwell on what they perceive to be the negative aspects of immigration, and complain about the different culture of foreigners, the different religions of foreigners, the different traditions of foreigners, the fact that immigrants look different and dress differently, that foreigners demonstrate their own culture and customs too openly, that immigrants often come from less developed countries and provide cheap labour that could undercut the local labour force, that some foreigners are unfamiliar with the laws of Lithuania and have not learned the Lithuanian language, that foreigners can bring social unrest or increase crime rates.
In their turn immigrants say they appreciate good treatment and tolerance of faculty, peers and counsellors who help them integrate into Lithuanian society, opportunities to participate in local events and be part of the community.
However, foreigners regret that majority of local people are reluctant to communicate and interact with immigrants, some Lithuanians are even hostile toward foreigners, immigrants feel unsafe in Lithuania and fear that their security is not guaranteed by the police.
One poll reveals that more than one-fifth of Lithuanians would not want to share a neighbourhood or rent an apartment to people from Chechnya, Pakistan, China, or Africa. A smaller number would not even want to see these regions represented amongst their colleagues at work. Another poll reports that two-thirds of Lithuanians would prefer to admit immigrants into the country only if the unemployment rate was zero percent.
So what can be the recipe for a friendlier Lithuania? Most people do recognize that these negative prejudices stem mostly from unfair media representations of immigrants and Soviet era attitudes. But what can we do to clear the air? It is not enough to just talk of tolerance and open-mindedness.
When we talked to local immigrants, they provided their own recipe for a friendlier Lithuania. They wish we would adopt a positive attitude to foreigners and immigration in the media and in our schools, strive to make it easier for foreigners seeking Lithuanian language courses to enrol, familiarize foreigners with Lithuanian culture, history, customs, and traditions.
Migrants suggest Lithuanians should learn the music of different countries, cook dishes of different nations, organise cultural exchanges, “live libraries”, and board game nights and simply communicate more.