Politicians are concerned about what to do with immigrants, who are now the most significant in the history of independent Lithuania. As businesses seek to bring in as many foreign workers as possible because Lithuanians are in short supply, Laurynas Kasčiūnas argues that Lithuania is not paying enough attention to national security, Eglė Šepetytė wrote in TV3.lt.
Employers retort that politicians are just scaring the public, even though the shortage of workers is already critical and more immigrants are needed.
Ineesha, who comes from Sri Lanka, has been living in Lithuania for six years – she came to study at university in Šiauliai and decided to stay. Although she studied economics, she is now a production worker.
“I like Lithuania, it’s very calm and peaceful. I could earn more in other countries, but I chose Lithuania because of the peace and quiet,” says Ineesha de Silva.
However, she had a bad start in Lithuania.
“It happened on the very first day on the train. An older man, who might have been drunk, started shouting, ‘Lithuania for Lithuanians, you don’t belong here’. But the other passengers called the police and arrested him at the next stop. The locals reassured her that most Lithuanians are good,” she says.
Ineesha has no plans to leave the country yet. And Lithuania now has the highest number of immigrants in 33 years of freedom. They already make up almost 7% of the total population – 196,000. Although the statistics have been boosted by Ukrainians fleeing the war (85,000 in Lithuania), the number of immigrants from distant countries is also growing.
“This year, after the opening of an external service provider, there was an opportunity to bring in people from further afield, which is why the number of citizens of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan started to increase. But there are also people coming from further afield – India. The most common occupations of the newcomers are drivers,” says Evelina Gudzinskaitė, Head of the Migration Department.
Employers themselves are looking for labour through external service providers.
“If we let in less than 15,000, our labour market will degrade. We won’t have the money for education, medicine, pensions or anything else. This is the reality”, says Danas Arlauskas, head of the Employers’ Confederation.
According to Arlauskas, 15,000 immigrants are needed every year. However, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, chairman of the Committee on National Security and Defence, believes that immigrants could threaten Lithuania.
“Today, we are still at the stage where we can decide which way to go – whether to turn the taps off and make these processes uncontrollable or to turn the taps on and off in a way that we can control,” says Kasčiūnas.
According to Kasčiūnas, establishing external service centres abroad, where foreigners apply for temporary residence permits in our country, requires a check by the DHS, which is not the case now. This week, the Ministry of the Interior dropped its plan to bring in citizens from Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram operates, because it is too expensive. However, Kasčiūnas says the reason is different.
“The Nigerian example was not good because the DHS was not asked for its opinion,” Kasčiūnas said.
Three Seimas committees have met to discuss immigration policy.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should identify countries close to us regarding civilisation and other parameters and use international companies to attract labour to transport people from there. <…> These countries could be Venezuela, Colombia”, says Raimundas Lopata, Chairman of the Committee on the Future.
“Catholic countries, countries that are not involved in terrorist networks, countries that do not collapse,” says Kasčiūnas.
“When people say, ‘Well, you’re from Africa, so there’s corruption there, you’re not even bandits’, it reminds me of Soviet times when you see a black man on the street and everyone turns and looks at him,” says Arlauskas.
The head of the Employers’ Confederation explains that politicians are unnecessarily frightening the public, even though, given the low birth rate, only immigrants will fill the vacancies.
“There is no institution in Lithuania with which we can sit down and talk, not in a politicised way, not through fears, but very seriously. I would say a national agreement may even be needed,” says Arlauskas.
The Minister of Economy and Innovation believes Lithuania must attract highly qualified specialists.
“We need niche talent, talent that creates good jobs, and we need to stay open if we want to pay good salaries to our people,” says Aušrinė Armonaitė.
People interviewed on the street have different views on the situation – some support immigrants, while others are reluctant to let people from foreign cultures in
“By all means, let whoever wants to come. Let them work because we are also going far away,” says a woman in Vilnius.
“Maybe from those Muslims, from the other countries, maybe not”, says the man.
“Religion is not an indicator; I think it depends on the person”, says another interviewee.
“It’s more where you are around. Not from Africa. When you walk around, I think there are citizens from India and Asian countries”, says a passer-by.
Seimas committees will discuss how to ensure that only immigrants who do not pose a threat to national security come to Lithuania.