Latvia increasingly attractive for immigrants

  • 2010-08-11
  • By Ieva Cielava

RIGA - Since the changes in the Immigration law were approved on July 1, two requests have been accepted from foreigners for residence permission for five years, in exchange for buying real estate in Latvia for an amount that reaches 100,000 lats (142,800 euros). Both applicants are from Russia, reports the Department of Citizenship and Migration.
“There is no group of foreigners who would be welcomed with flowers. Special help is offered only for repatriates who emigrated from Latvia before May 1990. All the rest are responsible for themselves,” says the deputy head of the Citizenship and Migration department, Maira Roze.

In January of this year, 50,785 residence permits, both permanent and temporary, were in effect. Although about half the number of permits that were handed out in 2008 were issued in 2009, interest is still high, says the office. Last year 2,388 residence permits were issued.

Most of all foreigners living in Latvia come from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and EU countries Lithuania, Germany and Estonia. Reasons given to immigrate to Latvia most often are for family reunification, studies or job possibilities in the manufacturing industry, for social or individual services, and real estate dealings, explains Roze.

“Every country is interested in attracting qualified specialists from other countries, because they can therefore receive a skilled professional without investment in the educational process,” explains economist and professor at the University of Latvia Juris Krumins. There are some specific professions which can’t be developed in Latvia therefore we need foreign professionals, he says.

The cement manufacturer Cemex now employs ten foreigners. “We always give preference to local candidates, but cement manufacturing is a very specific technology, therefore the local employee market often can’t offer highly qualified specialists,” explains the head of the personnel department Iveta Bukane. Cemex is a global company, therefore, management tries to support the rotation of employees. Qualified workers can move to a Cemex company subsidiary in another country to share their experience and gain some new knowledge, says Bukane.

“Migration is an unavoidable process in the world. Human resources are becoming older because of the low birthrate. Latvia is not an exception,” explains Krumins. We are in a better position than countries which are near to those where the level of welfare available is beyond comparison, for example, in the Middle East or Africa.

“Most of all immigrants in Latvia come from countries which have similar cultures. Therefore the integration process is easier in Latvia than it could be in some other countries,” adds the economist. The professor admits that the only problem is the local language, because there are a certain number of immigrants who refuse to learn it.

Roze agrees that there are some problems with integration, and with the attitude from Latvian society. She connects the negative attitude from society with the Soviet times, when a lot of immigrants were sent in. The young people have a different attitude, believes Roze. They haven’t experienced the Soviet times, and the global culture has affected them.
The immigration policy in Latvia is focused on the inner market, continues Roze. The employer is allowed to take a foreign employee only if the vacancy position has been offered in the State Employment Agency for at least one month, and local candidates aren’t qualified enough to take the position. To invite a foreigner is much more complicated than recruiting a local employee, notes Roze.

Foreigners who immigrate to Latvia legally are usually planning to stay here, not to move further to other EU countries, says Roze. In contrast, the illegal immigrants found in Latvia usually use Latvia as a transit country to get further to other EU countries, explains the chief deputy of the Border Guard in Riga, Major Andris Purvins.
Officers in the Immigration office, however, note that “You can’t even imagine how many illegal immigrants are there in the streets of Riga.” Purvins explains that the number of illegal immigrants is not as big as in the countries in the south of the EU, but the problem is topical nonetheless. Most illegal immigrants come from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia. On the border illegal immigrants from Africa or Afghanistan are sometimes caught, says Purvins.

Illegal immigrants, before being sent back to their home country, are held in a camp for illegal immigrants in Olaine, outside of Riga. Currently there are only five immigrants in detention, but a couple of years ago illegal immigration was so explicit that the Immigration Office was thinking about building one more camp, says Purvins.

Once caught, illegal foreigners are usually held in the camp for two weeks. There might occur some problems with jurisdiction. Purvins remembers that a few years ago seven people, who claimed to be from Somalia, were caught. Somalia didn’t accept them back because nobody could prove their identities. The immigrants arranged that Latvia gives them a shelter; they have learned the language and still live here.

Illegal immigrants are still attracted to Latvia, says Purvins. The Baltic States are financially strong if compared to other post-Soviet countries. Therefore, if Russian workers can’t find work in Moscow, they will possibly try to find it in the Baltic States, as many speak Russian here and the environment is familiar, explains Purvins. “They do it illegally because, honestly, they don’t have any chance to do this legally, although in theory every single person has the chance to get a visa,” he says.

The Department of Citizenship and Migration declares the possibilities to immigrate legally to Latvia are numerous. Roze says that though reasons exist for requiring the request of temporary residence permission, there are no quotas for these permits.

Purvins explains that an Afghan, for example, will be able to get a visa to the EU only if he is working in the government or has strong “connections.” To get a visa the person has to have a certain amount of funds, he has to wait for a certain time while his application is considered, and then most probably he will get only a temporary residence permit. For these reasons, people often choose the illegal immigration route.

Many employers are interested in employing illegal immigrants because they don’t have to pay taxes for them, and their salaries can be lower. “The law is helpless against these employers because it’s almost impossible to prove anything,” says Purvins. The Major brings out that most of the illegal immigrants are between twenty and thirty years old; they want to change their lives and they take a risk in finding their fortune. There are hundreds of fake marriages, which is one of the most popular ways to get residency permits. Just like with the employers, with fake marriages it is difficult to prove that the marriage is only a way to bypass the law.

“I am an optimist. I don’t think that after some years Latvians will be everywhere except in Latvia; and in Latvia everybody else but Latvians will be living. But there are some patriotic values, like language, fatherland, and relatives; these values made and will make people come back to their home countries,” asserts Krumins.