Lithuania is already becoming an attractive destination for labour, but this is not enough

Working DELFI / Valdas Kopūstas

According to demographic researchers, Lithuania is already becoming a country of immigration. Although the number of people is growing and the war in Ukraine is changing the situation, job vacancies are not being filled. There is no shortage of workers in several specialities. “Bringing in cheap labour has never had a lasting benefit in any country or state,” commented Donatas Burneika, head of the Lithuanian Social Science Centre. However, he stressed that Lithuania is still a very attractive country for labour migration, Lukrecija Giedraitytė writes in lrytas.lt.

Foreigners work here according to the list of professions that are in short supply, while Ukrainians fleeing the war work according to their abilities: if they need a job more quickly, they choose one profession, but if there is no urgency, they prefer to work according to their existing qualifications.

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The statistics are both encouraging and challenging

“If we talk about the arrival of non-EU citizens to Lithuania in general, we can say that Lithuania is already becoming a country of immigration rather than emigration. More and more people are choosing Lithuania as a destination country where they would like to work and live, and especially a lot of people are coming for work purposes,” – shared the insights of migration sociologist Giedrė Blažytė.

Although the statistics on arrivals in 2021 have not yet been compiled, the number of foreigners registering their residence in Lithuania has been growing significantly over the last few years. “At the beginning of this year, foreigners who have already declared their residence in Lithuania accounted for more than 3% of Lithuania’s total population,” said G.Blažytė.

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“Before the war, tens of thousands of migrants came from the East and made up a large percentage of the total workforce. Our economy is based on relatively cheap labour, so businesses looked for alternatives and found them in the East,” said Burneika.

However, he explained to lrytas.lt that if Lithuania continues to develop an economy that does not have a very high added value, we will continue to have a shortage of construction workers, drivers and other specialists.

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According to the information published by the Department of Statistics, in 2020, about 20.8 thousand citizens of this country came to Lithuania, while 15.3 thousand emigrated.

Indrė Genytė-Pikčienė, a chief economist at INVL Asset Management, confirmed to lrytas.lt that EU accession opened up the possibility of the free labour movement and that Lithuania experienced a brain drain as well as a labour drain. The country experienced structural unemployment problems, with labour demand not matching supply.

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However, such statistics are both encouraging and a challenge. As the migration sociologist pointed out, we need immigrants, and we will continue to need immigrants because of the relatively rapid ageing of the population and the declining birth rate.

The arrival and establishment of foreigners scare some people because of the potential jobs they may take. However, she stressed that this should not be feared.

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She explained that it is also important to understand that immigrants create jobs, pay taxes to the Lithuanian budget and buy goods and services, contributing in one way or another to the Lithuanian economy.

More workers, more jobs

According to Ms Blažytė, the last few years have shown that a large number of foreigners in Lithuania are working in what is known as the ‘shortage occupations list’. In 2020, third-country nationals were mainly employed in international freight transport, construction and other industrial sectors.

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“As jobs in Lithuania are improving due to better working conditions and rising salaries, Lithuania is certainly becoming a good place to work in the European context, although not the best one,” agreed on the head of the Lithuanian Social Science Centre.

He also pointed out that if the situation in certain markets is such that it is not possible to bring in workers, salaries go up and then Lithuanians return from abroad. As Burneika explained, high immigration will, in any case, reduce re-emigration.

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I.Genytė-Pikčienė also pointed out that foreigners and war refugees from the East would activate the labour market: it is good for long-term social prospects, public finances, and the efficiency of the labour market.

“On the other hand, those Ukrainian workers who worked in Lithuania before the war, mainly in transport and construction, have probably just left to fight in Ukraine, which will probably create some challenges for these sectors”, the economist said.

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“Yes, a higher proportion of men are coming for work, but it should be remembered that family migration is also important when it comes to the male side. If they feel well, they are potentially thinking of bringing their family. As a result, they are more likely to be granted residence permits”, Blažytė said.

However, the migration sociologist interviewed by lrytas.lt stressed that the immigration of foreigners for work or family reasons has not changed in many years.

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“The Statistics Department has been providing statistics since the accession to the EU in 2004. We can see that the most frequent arrivals are citizens of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. According to the 2020 data, Ukrainian citizens who were granted a residence permit accounted for 32%, Belarusian citizens for 24% and Russian citizens for 17%.” – commented the migration sociologist.

When asked what impact the war in Ukraine could have on the international migration of Lithuanians, Blažytė assured me that it is impossible to say at the moment – only certain assumptions can be made.

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If you need money, you’ll take unskilled jobs

According to the latest data from the Migration Department (MIGRIS), about 38,000 Ukrainian citizens have arrived in Lithuania over the whole period, of which slightly more than 20,000 are aged 18-64.

The statistics show that the minority of immigrants are men. For example, in the last days of March, around 11.4 thousand men arrived in Lithuania on 24 February and registered in the MIGRIS system. This is almost a third of all refugees.

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As Inga Vegytė, Chief Specialist of the Communication Department of the Employment Service told lrytas.lt, 769 employers offered jobs to Ukrainians at the beginning of April, and the number of vacancies reached almost 6,000. The largest number of offers for job positions were submitted by companies engaged in manufacturing, construction, administrative and service activities, and accommodation and catering services.

“40% of those who came have a university degree or other qualification suitable for a skilled job. So we already have examples of IT specialists, lab technicians, teachers, dentists, nurses’ assistants, social workers, art gallery supervisors, advertising and marketing specialists, and school psychologists.

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The Employment Service also recruited 5 Ukrainian women to work as counsellors for arriving war refugees in the registration centres in Kaunas and Vilnius,” said the Employment Service.

Ms Vegytė said that some Ukrainians want to work in the fields of medicine and pedagogy and are qualified to do so. However, Ukrainians also want to continue working in Lithuania or become accountants, sales managers, lawyers, administrators, cooks, tailors and salespeople.

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She pointed out that those who want to get a job more quickly prefer unskilled positions. The representative of the Employment Service confirmed that the majority of war refugees are of this type.

The distribution of employment is widening

Registration centres in Vilnius, Kaunas, Alytus, Klaipėda and Marijampolė have so far received the highest number of war refugees. According to I.Vegytė, the three largest Lithuanian cities – Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda – have the highest number of job offers.

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However, the geography of recruitment is expanding rapidly. Ukrainians are actively working in Zarasai, Visaginas, Širvintos, Šilalė, Akmenė and other districts of Lithuania.

The Employment Service announced that there were at least 13.5 thousand vacancies in the country at the end of March.

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As for the scale of international migration, we need to look back to last summer, when the number of illegal migrants from Belarus increased, pointed out G. Blažytė.

She believes that this situation and the war that has been going on for more than a month now have shown that the migration issue is more pressing than ever and that problems cannot be solved so quickly.

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She believes that it is important to assess how many Ukrainians will be willing and able to stay in Lithuania and what will be the course of the war in Ukraine. However, migration may be replaced by an endless pandemic and loosening demands. “We may see that the end of the pandemic will lead to some people who had returned to Lithuania returning to their previous place of residence,” she said.

Ms Blažytė also called for taking into account the findings of a study conducted by the International Monetary Fund in Germany on the 2015-2016 migrant crisis.

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“The economic benefits of migrants were analysed. It was argued that one euro spent on the integration of migrants during the 2015-2016 migrant crisis showed that five years later, twice as much money was returned to the German budget. This shows that we need to invest in integration programmes, in language courses and that those returns come back sooner and later,” she said.

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