True Lithuania

New Immigrants

Independent Lithuania attracted many new immigrants from poorer and/or war-torn countries. Seeing a darker-skinned, black or Asian face was a very rare experience even in the largest cities of Lithuania in the years up to 2000. In the 1990s, the new immigrants were so unusual that disproportionately large number of non-white immigrants became instant TV or music celebrities precisely because of their “exotic looks”.

Not anymore so, even though the percentage of non-European immigrants and their children is still somewhat lower in Lithuania than in the Western European countries such as France or the UK. After all, in Lithuania, most salaries are significantly lower so it is better to migrate further west.

Still, the majority of new immigrants come from the former Soviet Union and therefore strengthen the already existing Russian and Russophone communities rather than establishing new ones. They tend to fill the jobs which too few Lithuanians could do, such as the construction sector of 2007 boom era or the burgeoning IT sector today. A good command of Russian helps them in Lithuania where Russian is still understood by 70% locals (while an inadequate knowledge of English often precludes from migrating further West). In many cases, they fill the gaps in job market left by emigrated Lithuanians (who are allowed to freely move into Western Europe and have fewer language barriers). Citizens of former Soviet Union countries make up 1% of Lithuania's permanent residents.

After Lithuania joined the European Union, increasingly many of its key businesses became owned by Western Europeans. Multinational companies would often move in expatriates into the higher-paid and executive positions. Most of these are Western Europeans as they could freely reside in Lithuania. As Western social security payments often surpass middle-class Lithuanian salaries, only the higher class Westerners would relocate to Lithuania. Citizens of other European Union countries make up 0,2% of Lithuania's permanent residents.

Some new immigrants (mainly Asians) work in ethnic businesses, for example, Chinese or Indian restaurants, Turkish kebab kiosks or Thai massage parlors. But even these positions are sometimes held by Lithuanians or the established ethnic minorities.

Most famous foreigners who live in Lithuania are basketball players (mostly South Slavs and African Americans). They are few in numbers however and usually move out after several years.

In addition to immigrants, there are large numbers of foreigners temporarily living in Lithuania. Many of them are ERASMUS students. This is a European Union-wide program that allows a university student to spend a semester or two in another EU country.

Not all students are temporary. Lithuania became a popular destination to study medicine and technical sciences among Arabs, especially the Lebanese. Some of them continue their careers in Lithuania.

Lithuania has maintained a policy of promoting skilled migration and migration from neighboring countries which helped to avoid interethnic tensions so far. However in 2015 European Union coerced Lithuania into transferring over a thousand of mostly African illegal migrants from Western European countries into Lithuania. This will raise Lithuanian "unwanted immigrant" annual intake many times, leading to fears that problems that now plague Western Europe (increased crime, riots, terrorism, strain on social services, interracial and interreligious conflicts, need for self-censorship) would also spread to Lithuania. European Union was also accused by Lithuanians of sharing problems rather than solving them and attracting even more illegal migrants by granting them what they want (life in Europe with government handouts), disregarding the law.

Lithuania has also served as a minor destination for refugees from the East, especially Chechnya and Afghanistan. While disproportional numbers of them have been also associated with joblessness and crime, their lower numbers and more historical similarity generally precluded them from making a higher impact on the situation.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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