Migration Policies: Lithuania (2015)

Introduction
During the Soviet period, international migration was regulated by the laws of the Soviet Union, which were identical for all the republics, including Lithuania. No deviation from the common rules was allowed. In general, up to the end of 1980s, the main feature of the Soviet Union’s external migration policy was an attempt to reduce migration ties with foreign countries to a minimum. In general, migration policies indirectly stimulated migration in the context of inter-republic mobility. As a result, a huge emigration potential developed in Lithuania, which, after the restoration of independence, changed patterns of international migration. Eventually, Lithuania became an example of how changes of the geopolitical situation influence patterns of international migration (Sipavičienė 1997).

After the restoration of independence in 1991, Lithuania experienced significant political and socioeconomic changes which led to specific patterns of international migration. After 1991, the large-scale emigration of Lithuanian citizens to the western regions of the EU brought demographic challenges. After Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, economic emigration became more visible. Together with the growing trend of economic emigration, new migration patterns were identified as the demographic shortfall combined with labour force shortages triggered immigration from third countries (Žibas 2012). 

After collapse of the Soviet Union, some issues of migration policy in Lithuania were resolved or were at least adequately addressed. When Lithuania restored its independence, citizenship issues were successfully resolved using the ‘zero option of citizenship’, although dual citizenship issues related to the Lithuanian diaspora are still unresolved (Žibas and Platačiūtė 2009). In the context of citizenship polices, the Law on Citizenship (02.12.2010 No. XI-1196) regulates the naturalisation procedures for foreigners. The asylum system has operated in Lithuania since 1997, using the common principles of EU asylum policies, consolidated in the conventions of Geneva (1949), Dublin (1990), and other EU documents and national legislation such as the law On the Legal Status of Aliens (29.04.2004 No. IX-2206).

The law On the Legal Status of Aliens is the main piece of legislation that regulates asylum and immigration policies in Lithuania. The action plan for implementation of the policy for the integration of foreigners (31.12.2014 No. A1-683) and the law On the Legal Status of Aliens regulate migrant integration process. The national programme ‘Global Lithuania’ (30.03.2011 No. 389), with accompanying documents (19.10.2011 No. 1219; 15.12.2014 No. 1427), regulates emigration (particularly diaspora) polices. In general, the area of immigration policy in Lithuania is still in the process of development.

 

Naturalisation policies
Naturalisation procedures are regulated by the Law on Citizenship. The granting of citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania through naturalisation is one of the possible ways in which one can acquire Lithuanian citizenship, when granted to a person who meets the conditions (language and constitution examination, residence in Lithuania, among others1) indicated in the Law on Citizenship (02.12.2010 No. XI-1196.). According to the Law on Citizenship, Lithuanian citizenship may be granted if a person (foreigner) meets the following conditions: has passed the language examination, at the time of submission of the application has permanent residence permit, has been residing in Lithuania for the last ten years, has a legal source of support, and has passed the examination on the constitution.

 

Migration policies 
The Economic Migration Regulation Strategy (25.04.2007 No. 416), which was adopted on 25.04.2007, could be considered the response to demographic challenges caused by emigration, and outlined the long-term priorities of Lithuanian migration policy, underlining return migration and reducing emigration. The main objectives of the strategy were the reduction of negative migration net to zero by 2012, focusing on processes of return migration, and the regulation of labour immigration from third countries. With regard to the last objective, clear targets were set to apply a selective immigration policy by defining the geographic priorities (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, and South Caucasus) and, at the same time, the strategy emphasised the regulation of immigration from non-EU countries. It should be mentioned that the Economic Migration Regulation Strategy was formulated under conditions of rapid economic growth and intense emigration. Many objectives that were set up in the Strategy were relevant only for 2007 and 2008. Consequently, after 2008, when global economic changes emerged, there was no any action plan accompanying the Strategy. 

Due to the high outflow of population and labour market needs, the Government initiated a working group to establish migration policy guidelines. Eventually, in 2014, the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines (22.01.2014 No. 79) were adopted. The guidelines should be considered the second attempt (after the Economic Migration Regulation Strategy) to tackle high emigration flows, migrant integration challenges, and Lithuanian labour market needs. The aims of the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines are to establish the key objectives, principles, and direction of migration policies in Lithuania. These actions are aimed at ensuring the management of migration flows in line with national needs, in particular to solve the problems of assuring long-term structural and economic requirements and to contribute to national development on a social and economic basis.

 

Emigration (diaspora) policies
In the context of international migration processes Lithuania played an important role as a ‘sending’ country. The trend of emigration has prevailed in Lithuania for many years. Emigration (which has strong economic aspect as a motive for mobility towards the western part of the EU) continues to be the dominant migration pattern in Lithuania. Because of mass emigration and intense debates on political and societal levels, in 2011, the programme of ‘Global Lithuania’ and the accompanying legislation (such as action plans for implementation of the programme from 2011 to 2019) with an aim to involve Lithuanian emigrants into the life of the state were adopted. These documents regulate emigration policies, particularly concerning Lithuanian migrant communities abroad. Parallel to ‘Global Lithuania’, where ties between migrant communities and the Lithuanian state are emphasised, the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines prioritise return migration and attempts to reduce high outflows of the Lithuanian population. The ‘Global Lithuania’ programme is implemented through an inter-agency action plan, which is updated annually. ‘Global Lithuania’ and its action plan aims to facilitate five main goals among the Lithuanian diaspora: to encourage the maintenance of Lithuanian identity; promote engagement in the life of Lithuania; support public diplomacy efforts; transform the ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain circulation’; and strengthen communication through innovative technologies. 

 

Asylum and immigration policies 
Immigration flows started to adjust in 1991, when the Immigration Law (04.09.1992 No. I-1755) came into force. This law stipulated an annual immigrant quota, which receded into the background in 1999, when the law On the Legal Status of Aliens was implemented. It changed the previously mentioned law and became the main document regulating the legal status of foreigners in Lithuania and in the main areas of immigration management: asylum, immigration, and the legal status of foreigners. This law is a starting point for the analysis of Lithuanian immigration policies. 

While analysing the content of asylum and immigration policies in Lithuania, one important distinction concerning the timeframe has to be made. Before 2014, migration policy was based on the so-called ad hoc principle. During first half of 2014, a new trend emerged as the Government adopted the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines, in which the main priorities in the area of immigration were identified. The Guidelines cover emigration, return migration, immigration, migrant integration, asylum, the fight against illegal migration, and issues related to the institutional development of the implementation of migration polices. Analysing the legislative and institutional developments in migration management in Lithuania since the restoration of independence, it seems that the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines have to be considered the first step towards long-term strategy and a vision of migration management in Lithuania.

 

Integration policies
The law On the Legal Status of Aliens (29.04.2004 No. IX-2206) stipulates that Lithuania shall provide conditions for foreigners holding a residence permit to integrate into the political, social, economic, and cultural life of the state. However, no specific action plans were adopted to implement these priorities in practice. Eventually, during the first half of 2014, a new trend emerged as the Government adopted the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines, in which migrant integration issues were emphasised and, for the first time since the restoration of Lithuanian independence, received special status as a prioritised policy area. Parallel to the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines, the Action Plan for Implementation of the Policy for the Integration of Foreigners and the Decree of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania ‘On the composition of coordinating working group for integration of foreigners’ (22.01.2014 No. 54) were adopted. At the same time, a new area of policy emerged in the Ministry of Social Security and Labour: the integration of foreigners. Moreover, migration experts and practitioners began to develop the Strategic Document for Integration of Third Country Nationals.2 Such legislative developments show that the integration of foreigners should become a prioritised policy area. However, regardless of recent positive legislative developments, Lithuanian migrant integration policy in the context of such policies applied in other EU Member States shows evidence of stagnation. According to the Migrant Integration Policy Index, since 2007 no progress has been made in the implementation of migrant integration policies. In 2007, Lithuania was ranked at 20th place out 28 countries, at 27th place in 2011, up from 31st, and at 34th place in 2015, up from 38. The newest Migrant Integration Policy Index revealed that the country's labour market is not attractive to migrants who want to stay in the country and integrate. Schools are poorly prepared to accept immigrant children as they lack basic infrastructure. Immigrants do not have equal access to general health services. Moreover, the right of migrants to participate in the country's political life is restricted, as they cannot join political parties and associations. Finally, immigrants have to a long and complicated road to becoming citizens.3 

 

Authors – Contributors 
Karolis Žibas
Vytautas Magnus University, Demographic Research Centre

 

Bibliography

  • Decree of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania On the composition of coordinating working group for integration of foreigners. 2014.01.22 No. 54.
  • Decree of the Minister of Social Security and Labour on Approval of the 2015–2017 Action Plan for Implementation of the Policy for the Integration of Foreigners. 2014.12.31. No. A1-683.
  • Institute for Social Research. “Migrant Integration: Third-Country Nationals in Lithuania”. Ethnicity studies 2009/2 (2009). ISSN 1822-1041.
  • Law of Republic of Lithuania, Law on Citizenship, 02.12.2010 No. XI-1196.
  • Law of Republic of Lithuania, On the Legal Status of Aliens, 29.04.2004 No. IX-2206.
  • Resolution of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, On Approval of the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines. 2014.01.22. No. 79. 
  • Resolution of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, On Economic Migration Regulation Strategy. 25.04.2007. No. 416. 
  • Sipavičienė, A. “International Migration in Lithuania: Causes, Consequences, Strategy”. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Vilnius (1997).
  • The Republic of Lithuania, Immigration Law, 04.09.1992 No. I-1755.
  • Žibas, K. (2012). “Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians in Lithuania: from Immigrants to Future Citizens”. Ethnicity Studies 2012/1-2 (2012): 145-77.  ISSN 1822-1041.

 

Notes

1 For more information on conditions, see: http://www.migracija.lt/index.php?-226443181. 
2 For more information, see: http://www.ces.lt/projektai/vykdomi-projektai/treciuju-saliu-pilieciu-in...
3 For more information, see: www.mipex.eu