Viewing cable 05VILNIUS1100

05VILNIUS11002005-10-14 11:27:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
C) 04 VILNIUS 1522 
D) 04 VILNIUS 1493 
¶1. SUMMARY: Immigration to Lithuania is increasing, with 
foreign workers filling gaps in the local economy as 
Lithuanians continue to emigrate in large numbers. 
Countries of the former Soviet Union, notably Russia, 
Belarus, and Ukraine, are the primary source of Lithuania's 
immigrants.  With some exceptions, immigrants appear to 
integrate fairly well into Lithuanian society, although 
more as a result of their small numbers than efforts of the 
GOL.  Immigration has to date not significantly affected 
Lithuania's religious or linguistic balance.  While its 
modest immigration system has thus far served the country 
well, Lithuania is not yet prepared to deal with the 
inevitable immigration pressures to come.  END SUMMARY. 
General Immigration Trends 
¶2. Lithuania's immigration system does not clearly 
distinguish between foreigners who intend to reside in the 
country temporarily and those who wish to do so on a more 
permanent basis, making it difficult to track the number of 
immigrants entering Lithuania.  This system, in sharp 
contrast to our own, is likely the result of Lithuania's 
general inexperience with large immigrant inflows.  The 
Statistics Department estimates that 3,571 people 
immigrated to Lithuania from January-July 2005, a figure 
dwarfed by the large number of Lithuanians currently 
departing the country (net migration for 2004 stood at an 
estimated -9612).  These numbers are not precise, however, 
and several other measures indicate general immigration 
¶3. Foreign nationals wishing to reside in Lithuania for any 
significant period of time (regardless of purpose) must 
obtain a temporary residency permit from the Lithuanian 
Department of Migration.  The total number of issued 
residency permits has consistently increased in recent 
years - 6,559 in 2004, 5,604 through September of 2005. 
The Migration Department has issued the most residency 
permits in 2005 to citizens of the following countries: 
Russia - 20.59% 
Belarus - 15.58% 
Ukraine - 13.70% 
United States - 6.07% 
¶4. Lithuania's visa issuance statistics are also useful in 
analyzing the country's immigration trends.  According to 
the MFA, the GOL issued 339,303 visas in 2004.  Citizens 
from the following countries accounted for nearly 98% of 
visas issued: 
Russia - 59.9% 
Belarus - 24.6% 
Ukraine - 6.1% 
Kazakhstan - 5.2% 
Kyrgyzstan - 1.5% 
Moldova - 0.5% 
¶5. Although not including most European and American 
visitors (who do not require visas), these statistics 
indicate that Lithuania remains an especially attractive 
destination for foreigners from the former Soviet Union. 
Foreign Workers 
¶6. Increasing emigration following Lithuania's 2004 
accession to the European Union has forced the country's 
employers to turn increasingly to foreign workers to fill 
in the gaps in the local economy (Refs B-D). 
¶7. The Lithuanian Labor Exchange is responsible for 
approving work permits for foreigners seeking employment in 
Lithuania.  Through the first three quarters of 2005, the 
GOL issued 1077 temporary work permits and refused only 55. 
The number of issued permits has consistently increased 
over the last several years.  In 2005, 95% of Lithuania's 
temporary foreign workers are men, and 67% are between 25- 
44 years old.  The vast majority (82.9%) of foreign workers 
are employed in Vilnius or the bustling port city of 
Klaipeda.  The following is a breakdown of foreign 
employment by sector: 
Manufacturing - 59% 
Services - 15% 
Construction - 13% 
Transportation - 10% 
¶8. Lithuania has signed bilateral agreements with Russia 
and Ukraine that allow citizens of these two countries some 
additional working rights.  The Labor Exchange has issued 
the most temporary work permits in 2005 to citizens of the 
following countries: 
Ukraine - 35% 
Belarus - 26% 
Russia - 12% 
Romania - 12% 
¶9. The following are a few of the largest categories of 
foreigners who have obtained work permits in 2005: 
Occupation          (Nationality)    % of Total 
----------      -----------    ---------- 
Ship/dock workers       (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia)      33% 
Specialized welders         (Belarus, Romania)          12% 
Truck drivers   (Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia)  9% 
Chefs         (China, Turkey, Armenia, the Philippines)  7% 
Chemical/aviation engineers  (Russia, Belarus, USA)      6% 
¶10. Xiaomin Feng and Hongwei Zheng, a Chinese couple who 
have lived in Lithuania for 8 years, are a true success 
story among Lithuania's immigrants.  Invited to Lithuania 
by an uncle who owned a Chinese restaurant in the city of 
Kaunas, Xiaomin and Hongwei quickly began developing a 
chain of successful restaurants - they now own and run four 
in two different cities.  Hongwei described their first 
years, without any knowledge of the language or culture, as 
truly "scary."  Now very much integrated into Lithuanian 
society, the pair enjoy their lives away from China and 
have no intentions to return anytime soon.  But the 
Lithuanian immigration system, according to Hongwei, 
discourages permanent immigration, forcing the couple to 
acquire residency permits yearly and denying any 
possibility to become Lithuanian citizens. 
¶11. Most immigrants to Lithuania, perhaps due to their 
small numbers, appear to integrate fairly well into 
society.  Exceptions exist, however, most notably several 
geographical pockets of ethnic Russians who have failed to 
integrate despite lengthy periods of residency. 
¶12. The Lithuanian government has established a national 
integration program "to promote national minorities to 
integrate into the society of Lithuania, to foster 
tolerance among the public, to prevent discrimination, 
seclusion, and hatred on an ethnic basis."  The Department 
of National Minorities, which takes the lead in 
implementing the integration program, focuses its efforts 
on minority groups present in Lithuania for at least 20 
years.  The program works primarily with Lithuania's 
domestic Roma community, not recently arriving immigrants. 
The Ministry of Social Security and Labor, meanwhile, 
provides some integration assistance to asylum seekers but 
very little to ordinary immigrants.  Lithuania grants 
refugee status to only a handful of asylum seekers, and 
provides temporary social protection to 200-500 people, 
each year. 
¶13. Oleg Beloborodov, a Moldovan construction worker in the 
Vilnius region, is a positive example of the integration 
process.  Oleg's occupation allows him to communicate 
perfectly well on the job in Russian.  Yet, in the year 
since his first arrival, Oleg has begun to speak some 
Lithuanian, and he is already a popular figure among 
Lithuanians in the Lithuanian Baseball League. 
Political Influence 
¶14. Immigrants in Lithuania have little political influence 
compared with immigrant communities in other European 
countries.  Ethnic Poles and Russians, themselves usually 
long-term Lithuanian citizens, have had only limited 
success in organizing themselves politically.  The Polish 
Electoral Action, an electoral coalition, united Polish, 
Russian, and Belarusian politicians for the October 2004 
elections with hopes of creating the first ethnic faction 
in Parliament.  The effort failed, although Voldemar 
Tomashevski, leader of the group and prominent Polish 
politician, did succeed in reaching Parliament. 
¶15. Former immigrants, and others from ethnic minority 
groups, have gone on to hold high political positions, 
demonstrating society's general acceptance of minority 
figures.  Viktor Uspaskich, controversial but popular 
leader of Parliament's leading political party, moved to 
Lithuania from Russia in the mid-1980s.  Vaclav Stankevic, 
born in Belarus, is the chairman of Parliament's NATO 
Affairs Commission and as MP was a champion of Lithuania's 
NATO accession. 
¶16. Lithuania's immigrant population has done little to 
disturb the country's religious balance.  Lithuania remains 
an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country with very small 
religious minorities.  According to the most recent survey 
data, 79% of residents are Roman Catholic, 4.1% Russian 
Orthodox, 0.8% Old Believer, and 9.5% are nonreligious. 
Lithuania's ethnic Polish minority reinforces the Roman 
Catholic dominance.  With countries of the former Soviet 
Union serving as the primary source of immigration, 
immigrants and temporary foreign workers in Lithuania are 
predominantly Russian Orthodox and nonreligious.  The 
Orthodox Church remains an uncontroversial force, given its 
long history and physical presence (in the form of 
attractive onion-domed churches) in Lithuania, while 
decades of living in the Soviet Union have left most 
Lithuanians comfortable with agnostics. 
¶17. Muslims remain a statistically miniscule portion of the 
population (less than 3,000 total, according to the latest 
census).  Most of Lithuania's Muslims are from the Tatar 
community, which settled in the region over 600 years ago, 
practice a very moderate form of Islam, and are considered 
part of mainstream Lithuanian society.  Some foreign 
Muslims, notably young students, have begun to fill the 
country's few mosques.  Not yet exposed to significant 
immigration from the Muslim world, however, Lithuania is 
one European country where Islam and religious extremism 
(Ref A) remain largely abstract concepts. 
¶18. Almost all Lithuanian adults speak fluent Russian, and 
Russian-speaking immigrants from the former Soviet Union 
therefore have an advantage in the Lithuanian job market. 
However, language use in Lithuania is changing drastically, 
with younger generations learning English and other 
European languages rather than Russian.  Increased 
immigration may help perpetuate the use of Russian in this 
former Soviet outpost. 
Comment: A Naive System 
¶19. The GOL has designed an immigration system to allow for 
a limited influx of foreigners to fill the gaps for 
specific needs in the Lithuanian labor market.  Permanent 
immigration is envisioned primarily for family of 
Lithuanian citizens only and not for "your tired, your 
poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." 
¶20. This system has worked well to date, bolstering 
Lithuania's growing economy without disturbing the 
country's social and cultural balance.  As Lithuanians 
continue to leave their country in startling numbers, and 
as Lithuania continues its impressive economic growth, 
however, it is likely that immigration pressures will 
continue to grow. 
¶21. (SBU) Zygimantas Pavilionis, Director of the MFA's EU 
Department and long-time observer of European politics, 
noted during discussion of Turkey's bid for EU membership 
that Lithuanians have thus far not faced a large immigrant 
population with drastically different cultural values. 
Becoming a full member of Europe would therefore require a 
gradual "education period," he opined, for Lithuanians to 
become accustomed to larger-scale immigration.  While 
immigrants continue to play a positive role, Lithuania will 
inevitably have to tackle the challenges of immigration 
that today beset Western Europe.