Klaipėda, Lithuania’s third-largest city of 157,000 people and a seaport on the Baltic Sea, has welcomed particularly many foreign workers.
Klaipėda Labour Exchange, which has to sign off on all third-country nationals who have job offers in Lithuania, says it expects to give out 2,000 work permits this year.
“We have already received over 940 work permit applications from foreigners. Most of the applications are satisfied – the applicants get either one-year or two-year work permits,” says Egidijus Palevičius, head of the Labour Resources Department at Klaipėda Labour Exchange.
“I am fairly confident that we will grant over 2,000 work permits to foreigners this year,” he adds.
This represents a significant annual growth. Klaipėda issued 1,776 work permits to third-country nationals last year, 1,083 in 2014 and only 301 in 2010.
“We are almost back to the pre-crisis level. When the economy is growing, people can choose in which country to work and where they can get better pay. Lithuanians are going to countries that offer higher wages, while we are receiving workers from countries with wages significantly lower than in Lithuania,” Palevičius explains.
This year, most foreign workers came to Klaipėda from Ukraine, 658 (1,046 in 2015). Belarusian workers totalled 136 (122 last year) and Moldovans, 110 (175 last year).
“Klaipėda is a seaport, so most foreign workers fall into three professions. Those are long-distance truck drivers, welders and ship assemblers. Local companies need skilled labour, which is growing short in Lithuania, since Lithuanians are going to work elsewhere, where they are better paid,” Palevičius says.
“If €1,000 or €1,500 a month is a small salary for Lithuanian long-distance drivers, for Ukrainians that represents huge money,” he adds.
Employers who want to hire foreign workers must first inform their local Labour Exchange about the vacancy. If a qualified candidate does not turn up within a month, the employer can offer the job to a foreigner.
“Specialists who are currently in high demand are trained in Lithuania, too. But employers usually need someone quick. Which is one of the reasons why they go for foreigners. Hiring a foreigner, processing the paperwork for a work permit, takes about a month, while you need six months to train a good welder.
“Another reason is that the Lithuanian population is not growing, while businesses are expanding, they need more employees that are simply not there, so they need to bring in labour from abroad,” Palevičius says.
Most foreign workers in Lithuania are based in Vilnius, Klaipėda and Šiauliai.