VILNIUS –The growing inflow of foreigners coming to Lithuania for work is a threat to Lithuania's security, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite says, adding that newcomers are being used as a cover by the intelligence services of hostile countries.
She and several other politicians on Monday presented new migration restrictions.
"The growing inflow is a threat because it is becoming obvious that it is more difficult to ensure control and integration processes. The State Security Department has also pointed out that a worrying trend has recently emerged where immigrants are becoming a cover for the intelligence services of hostile countries," the minister told a press conference on Monday.
Some 50,000 foreigners have come to work in Lithuania this yea, she said, adding that these are mainly citizens of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. The number of foreigners coming from Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan is also increasing.
"This year, 16,000 decisions have been made to ban the entry of foreign citizens to Lithuania due to threats to national security," the interior minister said. For the same reason, she added, 411 Belarusian citizens have had their residence permits revoked and 562 have been refused temporary residence permits.
"This year, the State Border Guard Service has refused to allow 527 Russian citizens and 600 Belarusian citizens to enter Lithuania due to threats to national security. This shows that our prior decisions and restrictive measures are really bearing fruit," Bilotaite said.
For the first time, the total number of foreigners living in Lithuania has exceeded 200,000, of which 62,000 are Belarusian citizens, she pointed out. This year alone, the number has increased by 14,000.
VISA CENTERS TO BE CLOSED
The existing legislation allows employers to abuse the system for the employment of foreigners, Bilotaite said.
"We see a lot of new companies being set up which do not employ foreigners, but, I would say, sublease them to other companies," the interior minister said.
She also announced that she would initiate an inter-institutional working group to develop a new migration policy strategy in line with the existing threats.
In addition, there are plans to close visa centers in some countries where foreigners can apply for national visas and temporary residence permits in Lithuania. There are currently 34 of them.
Laurynas Kasciunas, chair of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defense, says that not only labor market needs, but also threats to national security and cultural proximity will be assessed when deciding which centers to close.
He's also proposing consulting the State Security Department before establishing visa centers abroad.
According to the interior minister, her ministry will propose introducing additional controls for the recruitment of foreigners, the activities of their employers and the presence of foreigners in Lithuania, and also imposing a tax on the use of mediation letters for companies that invite foreigners to work.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE
MPs Laurynas Kasciunas and Paulius Saudargas have drafted amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens, which would allow a foreigner who has lived in Lithuania for five years and wishes to extend their temporary residence permit to be issued such a document only if they present documents to prove their proficiency in the state Lithuanian language.
According to the lawmakers, the practice shows that people tend to renew their temporary residence permit for an indefinite period of time and are therefore not subject to the requirements to have sufficient command of the Lithuanian language and have basic knowledge of the Lithuanian Constitution when applying for a permanent residence permit. This, they argue, creates a risk of the formation of foreign diasporas.
"There are attempts to bypass the integration mechanism. (...) There is a very clear path to prevent the formation of closed diasporas, which would create parallel societies, and for those communities to integrate into the life of the country through the knowledge of the state language," the CNSD chair explained.
The MPs will also propose adopting an amendment stating that if a residence permit is suspended or revoked in Lithuania, the foreigner will have to leave the country immediately.
Saudargas says that if such a person appealed to courts, they would no longer be able to wait for their judgments in Lithuania.
The two lawmakers also propose increasing employers' responsibility when employing foreigners. The amendments seek to establish that a temporary residence permit issued on the basis of employment shall be revoked or a new one denied if the employer has had a period of non-insurability for more than 90 days in the previous 180 days for any of the foreigners employed.
In addition, the amendments would provide that a foreigner in Lithuania would be able to change their employer no earlier than six months after the date of obtaining a temporary residence permit.
Under the current regulations, employers commit to employing a foreigner for six months, but in practice, after a month or so, foreigners often asked the Migration Department to allow them to change employers.
Kasciunas and Saudargas are also proposing limiting the number of temporary residence permits issued to persons of Lithuanian origin or to foreigners entitled to restore Lithuanian citizenship. According to the bill, a temporary permit would be issued to them only once. After living in Lithuania for five years, they would have to learn the Lithuanian language, pass the exam on the basic knowledge of the Constitution and could obtain a permanent residence permit.
RESTRICTIONS FOR BELARUSIANS
Kasciunas also confirmed plans to get back to the idea of tightening restrictions for Belarusian citizens.
"We are getting back to restrictions for Belarusians. Next week, we will meet with the minister and discuss specific wordings, possible extension of the restrictions for Belarusian citizens," he told journalists.
Bilotaite says her ministry has never given up its position that the Belarusians should be subject to the same restrictions that the Russians are. Now, the proposal, initially rejected by the Lithuanian parliament, can be considered again because the context had changed.
"We have consistently spoken, as a ministry, on these measures and we have not changed our position, and these discussions continue," the minister said. "Especially after the State Security Department made its arguments public, identified real threats, I think we need to get back to this debate and to talk to MPs because there is a new context and new circumstances that need to be assessed," she added.
Lithuania now has a law in place on restrictive measures for Russian and Belarusian citizens, but Russian citizens are subject to more restrictions that Belarusian nationals. Both Russians and Belarusians face restrictions on obtaining Lithuanian visas and electronic resident status, but Russian citizens face additional difficulties in entering Lithuania, purchasing real estate and having their applications for residence temporarily rejected.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda maintained that Belarusian citizens should be subject to the same sanctions as Russian nationals, but the Seimas overrode his veto on the grounds that Belarusian citizens should be subject to a more relaxed regime.
SECONDARY MIGRATION ON THE RISE
Speaking on illegal migration, Bilotaite said it had been taken under control but he also stressed the importance of staying vigilant.
More than 500 asylum applications have been received this year, half of them from Belarusian citizens, she said.
"We see that secondary migration is also on the rise. This year, more than 1,000 migrants from the Latvian side have been detained," the minister said.
This year, Lithuanian border guards have prevented a total of 2,505 irregular migrants from entering Lithuania from Belarus at non-designated locations.
And more than 21,800 migrants have been refused entry from Belarus since August 3, 2021 when Lithuanian border guards were given the right to turn irregular migrants away. Some of them have tried to enter Lithuania more than once.
The influx of migrants from Belarus to the EU's eastern member states started in 2021 and the West blames the Minsk regime for it. Almost 4,200 migrants entered Lithuania illegally from Belarus at the time, but most of them have since left the country after movement restrictions were lifted.