Latvia

37

 Download MIPEX III Latvia-Estonia-Lithuania in Latvian (pdf)

Overview

Latvia started changing immigration law to attract migrant workers and investors, despite some political resistance. Still, it has no comprehensive policy for their integration. Due to overall budget cuts, closing the Social Integration Ministry, Naturalisation Board and education projects will do little to serve integration objectives.

However, cuts did not extend to EU funds for societal integration. There may be a future integration strategy (2011–2014), after many failed attempts. Recent improvements (+ 3 points since 2007) were not enough for Latvia to catch up. Having projects but no coherent strategy, Latvian policies still fall behind other countries, scoring 31 and coming last of 31 countries.

Like many Central European countries, Latvia follows EU standards only to a minimum, e.g. on anti-discrimination. Basic access to education slightly improves newcomers’ labour market mobility. Long-term residence is also slightly favourable, thanks to European standards. Major weaknesses are political opportunities for non-nationals, access to nationality, migrant education and discrimination protections. Debates (e.g. dual nationality for Latvian diaspora) have not solved wider integration problems for all residents.

Timeline - What's Changed

0 May 2007
Access to nationality
Regulations on knowledge tests for naturalisations.
0 July 2007
Anti-discrimination
Law on Consumer Protection – ethnic/racial discrimination to access.
0 July 2008
Labour market mobility
Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No. 44 – permit fees, employer costs decreased.
0 September 2009
Long-term residence
Regulation on language for some jobs, tests for long-term residents
-2 January 2010
Access to nationality-conditions
Naturalisation Board becomes a department of OCMA
+9 March 2010
Labour Market Mobility
Equal access education, vocational training.

Key Findings

  • Catching up, but not enough: still last of all 31 countries. 
  • New immigration opportunities, but not immediate or equal right to work. 
  • All residents now have equal access to education, training, study grants. 
  • Still schools little adapted to needs of all newcomer children. 
  • Latvia takes only ‘minimum’ approach to fight discrimination, weakest enforcement possibilities. 
  • Weakest nationality policies in Europe impede common citizenship among all residents. 
  • Voting rights in Estonia and Lithuania, none in Latvia. 
  • Discretionary procedures that leave many types of newcomers insecure in their status can discourage integration. 
  • Small improvements for long-term residents: easier to certify language knowledge, longer periods allowed outside Latvia.  

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

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    Equal Education

    Article 3 of the Education Law (26 March 2010) grants all third-country nationals with a residence permit (including temporary), equal access to education, training and study grants. This change came partly thanks to transposition of 8 EU Directives and follows recommendations from 2008 research from the Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS. Previously, only permanent residents and EU citizens had equal access to education, even though pre-school and education until 18 is compulsory. This was found to be contrary to the law on protecting the rights of the child.

     

    Latvia started removing basic obstacles that prevent newcomers from entering its relatively closed labour market, despite continued politicisation and restrictions. Applicants should see reduced bureaucracy, waiting times and costs. Before July 2008, fees were 6 times higher than LT and 8 times above EE. These were decreased to encourage legal recruitment of migrant workers, in response to feedback from employers. 2 years later, in June 2010, a one-stop agency for employers was introduced, again to facilitate recruitment. Latvia is opening up to investors and in the same month established an immigration procedure for third-country businesspersons, on condition that they created 5 jobs and invested certain amounts in Latvia. Response to the scheme has so far been positive, according to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA), even if some political parties warn against fraud.

    In general however, most newcomers to Latvia (as in its Baltic neighbours) will not have an immediate equal right to work. Non-EU residents must fulfil many conditions to enter the private and public sectors or to set up a business, which have a disproportionate impact on their ability to work. For example, since September 2009, persons working in an increased number of professional and craft professions in contact with the public must have a certain standard in the Latvian language. This requirement comes in response to complaints that non-citizens (not newcomers) have an insufficient knowledge of Latvian (see long-term residence).

    The greatest progress Latvia made on labour market integration came in March 2010, when it granted all with residence permits, equal access to vocational training and study grants. The new Education Law will provide new opportunities to migrant workers to improve their skills and qualifications (see box). Rights and general support score only halfway in Latvia (and LT) with little targeted support. In comparison, Estonia’s Integration Strategy better assists all residents, especially youth, to find jobs and training, recognise their qualifications, improve their language skills and meet professionals in their field.

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    Non-EU residents in Latvia have less favourable opportunities to reunite with their families than in the average European country and in nearby EE, LT, and PL. The procedure has as many favourable as unfavourable elements. As across Central Europe, discretionary procedures may undermine favourable eligibility provisions and legal conditions. In contrast to EE’s clearer legal framework, family members in Latvia are critically insecure about their application and status. Authorities have wide grounds for discretion for rejection and withdrawal. In procedures they are not required to consider families’ personal circumstances (as in only 6 countries), nor allow for judicial oversight (as only in IE). If reunited, families do enjoy basic rights, as required by EU law. 

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    So far, Latvia has few policies to ensure all newcomer pupils, whatever their background, participate and achieve like others, or to help all to learn how to live in a diverse society. All children can access compulsory education and pre-school, as well as general support for disadvantaged pupils. There, basic intercultural education is supposed to be taught. However, financial and targeted assistance to newcomers is ad hoc and largely EU funded, with no policy like EE’s Integration Strategy. They can learn the language of their family and of instruction, while standard courses were being developed by the Latvian Language Agency. However, projects linking mainstream and bilingual schools have been affected by funding cuts.

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    By keeping foreigners outside democratic life, Latvia has not addressed the need to build public trust. Long-term residents can vote locally in EE (also HU, SK), and be elected in LT (also SK). However, neither is possible in LV. Moreover, not all residents have equal political liberties, a problem in the Baltics and 6 Central European countries. In Latvia, they face restrictions on political associations and parties. Associations get some national support to represent immigrants (largely EU funds), though civic and political participation is not a funding priority (see PT). Community leaders are not yet brought into the public debate through the type of consultative bodies emerging across Europe (e.g. EE, GR, ES, IE).

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    Similar tests

    Before 1 September 2009, applicants for long-term residence could certify knowledge of Latvian in numerous different ways. The new Regulation simplifies the procedure by requiring a language certificate from the State Education Centre. It standardises the level in line with European standards (e.g. including listening in tests). These changes mean applicants can use their certificate to work in the private sector and prove their language level in other EU countries. They may improve quality and enhance the chances of success.

     

    Long-term residence guarantees basic opportunities to newcomers in Latvia and promotes their fuller participation in society. Although an EU area of strength, especially in Central Europe and Baltics, long-term residence is relatively insecure in Latvia, alongside only IE and the UK, both outside EU law. Without effective judicial control (unlike 24 MIPEX countries), any long-term resident born in the country or living there for decades could be deported to countries they barely know (unlike a 3rd of countries). Applicants enjoy a few new conveniences: clearer requirements on periods abroad and more coherent language tests (see box). Still, they face comparatively burdensome conditions. Only 6 other countries impose such high job and language requirements on applicants.

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    Crisis creates opportunities

    In January 2010 the Naturalisation Board was dissolved and 24 of the 60 staff members transferred to the OCMA. This may however improve the overall procedure. The OCMA is now responsible for the entire integration process, which may clarify the path to citizenship. The procedure may also become more accessible, with 30 offices as opposed to 8 under the Board. OCMA plans to analyse why people naturalise and aims to simplify the process e.g. similar language tests for different situations (NL, UK).

     

    Long-term democratic inclusion is the serious challenge for Estonia and Latvia. Limited access, restrictive conditions and persisting insecurity for naturalised citizens impede rather than encourage common citizenship. Moreover, children born a generation after independence are still foreigners. Europe’s newer immigration countries are increasingly introducing some birthright citizenship (15 countries) and embracing dual nationality (18) as cornerstones of common citizenship (recently GR, LU). This debate has just started in Central Europe. New Latvian citizens can have their status withdrawn on many grounds, without appeal (unlike in 19 countries, including EE), even leading to statelessness (see HU for changes). This contrasts with nearby countries, such as CZ and PL, where all citizens are equally secure.

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    Latvia adopts a minimum approach to discrimination (like EE, CZ). Several other Central European countries lead the way (e.g. BG, HU, RO), while others (LT, SK) made the greatest progress to comply with EU law. Not only is Latvian law incoherent by not explicitly prohibiting religious or nationality discrimination in all areas of life (unlike racial/ethnic discrimination) but it is also discouraging for victims, who have the weakest mechanisms to enforce their rights in Europe. Most countries, including in Central Europe, have slightly favourable mechanisms providing free legal aid and wider ranges of sanctions. Apart from some EU funds and the Ombudsman’s slightly favourable mandate, the State has made no legal commitments to equality in its work.