Background InformationCapital: Vilnius
Offical language: Lithuanian
Area: 65,000 km2
Population (2006): 3,403,000
Population density: 53 inhabitants per km2
Population growth (1997-2004): -3.96%
Labour force participation rate: 69.1% (Eurostat)
Foreign population as a percentage of total (2006): 1.04% (35,300 persons)
Unemployment rate: 8.3% (2005); 11.4% (2004); 12.4% (2003)
Religions (2001): 30 religions represented in the census; 79% Catholics, 4% Russian Orthodox, 0.8% Protestant Ethnic groups (2001): Lithuanian (83.5%), Polish (6.7%), Russian (6.3%), Belarusian (1.2%)


History of Migration since the Second World War

Migration Balance

12 points to returnees using the knowledge gained abroad in their native country. This assumption coincides with a study34

Lithuanians make considerable use of the opportunities that the free movement of workers gives to EU citizens. As only the United Kingdom, Sweden and Ireland5 opened their employment markets fully in the first phase of the transitional arrangements (May 2004 to May 2006), labour migration within this legal framework was concentrated primarily to these three countries. In the United Kingdom, Lithuanians made up about 15% of workers from the EU86 in the year 2005.  Here they pursue low-skilled occupations as harvest helpers, bricklayers and temporary staff. In Ireland they make up a significantly higher proportion at 21%. Although there, too, they are mostly found in relatively simple forms of occupation, the numbers employed in the health service (as nurses and doctors) are rising.

Resident Immigrant and Foreign Population

According to the latest census, in the year 2001 5.9% of the population of Lithuania was born outside the country and were therefore first generation immigrants. The most strongly represented countries of origin were the Russian Federation (47%), Belarus (28%) and Ukraine (10%), followed by Latvia (4%), Kazakhstan (3%), Poland (2%), Germany (0.7%) and the USA (0.5%). This indicates that the patterns of migration from the times of the Soviet Union, whereby most immigrants originated from the territories of the USSR, have remained consistent.

Since 1999, the great majority of permanent and temporary residence permits have been granted for the purpose of reuniting families. According to the Department of Migration, 40% of permits issues in 2004 were for family reunification, compared with 15% for employment and 14% for educational purposes.

At the beginning of 2006 there were about 35,300 foreign citizens registered temporarily (7,100) or permanently (28,200) in Lithuania. That makes up just 1% of the 3.4 million inhabitants. This, then, is substantially different from Estonia and Latvia, where a considerable proportion of the non-Baltic population is foreign or stateless. The small percentage in Lithuania is mostly explained by the extremely generous naturalisation procedures at the beginning of the 1990s and the comparatively low immigration since the 1990s.

With regard to the distribution of the resident foreign population, there is a clearly discernible difference between town and country. The resident foreign population is mostly concentrated in the capital city of Vilnius and, to a considerably lesser extent, in the former capital of Kaunas and the Baltic port of Klaipeda.

Citizenship and Naturalisation

Stateless persons

Legal Measures relating to Immigration and Residence

Legislation concerning immigration and residence can be subdivided into a restrictive and a liberal phase. After regaining independence in the year 1990, a restrictive immigration policy, in particular with regard to citizens of the former Soviet Union, was designed to consolidate independence. To prevent an uncontrolled influx from the territories of the former USSR, the first Law on the Legal Status of Aliens was passed in March 1991. Among other things, the law made visas obligatory for citizens of neighbouring states to the east.7 The second phase of Lithuanian immigration policy is characterised by the desire to accede to the European Union and the associated conditions of bringing national law in line with the acquis communautaire.8 To this end the legislation was further adapted in December 1998 and lastly in April 2004 by the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens. As a result, for example, EU citizens now have the right to reside and work in Lithuania. For stays lasting longer than three months they must obtain a residence permit, which simultaneously serves as a work permit, from the Department of Migration in Vilnius. By contrast, non-EU citizens must generally apply for an entry permit from a Lithuanian embassy. After entering the country it is possible to submit an application for a residence permit at the Department of Migration.

Flight and Asylum

The living conditions for asylum seekers in the Foreigners Registration Centre in Pabrade have received criticism from international organisations. The Red Cross and UNHCR consider the centre, which looks like a prison, to be unsuitable for accommodating persons who have escaped crisis situations in their country of origin. Both organisations are currently attempting to persuade the Lithuanian government that asylum seekers should be accommodated together with refugees and persons who have been granted subsidiary protection in the reception centre in Rukla. 

Integration of Foreigners and Ethnic Minorities10

Irregular Migration

Since 1990, Lithuania has been a destination and transit country as well as a country of origin for irregular migration. In 2005, 150 individuals were detained for either entering the country illegally or for staying in Lithuania without a valid residence permit.11 This figure is significantly below the number of detentions in previous years (2002: 329; 2003: 283; 2004: 254). The great majority of detainees in these years came from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. Among Asian countries of origin in this period, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Vietnam are well represented.

In the context of combating irregular migration, repatriation agreements have been signed with the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Croatia, the Republic of Moldova, Romania and Armenia. Furthermore, in February 2002 higher fines were introduced for entering, crossing, remaining in and leaving the country without authorisation. Those who assist irregular residence by providing accommodation or a job may also be fined.

Human trafficking
Among the Baltic States, Lithuania is and always has been the country most affected by human trafficking.12

Current Developments


  1. According to the Department of Migration, it is not possible to gather exact data due to inadequate recording methods and the absence of political will.
  2. See also the interview with Almantas Gavenas, director of the Department of Migration in the Lithuanian Interior Ministry, in: Baltic Times, 04.05.2005 (456), p. 16
  3. See Brake, Kuoni and Simetaite (2005).
  4. See Traser (2005).
  5. Germany has extended the transitional period to 2009 and will probably maintain it until 2011.
  6. In the 1990s agreements on labour migration were concluded with the Russian Federation and Belarus.
  7. The term acquis communautaire refers to the entire body of laws of the European Communities and the European Union which candidate countries must adopt to become EU members.
  8. Here too an extension is possible under certain conditions; however, support from the Reception Centre and local authorities together is limited to a maximum of 60 months.
  9. See Migration Department (2006).
  10. See International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (2006).

About the Author:
Benjamin Brake

References and Further Reading

    • Brake, B., Kuoni, B. and I. Simetaite (2005): Potential of Lithuania _s Undergarduate Students to work or to study in Countries of the European Union. Working Paper, Vilnius University. Vilnius.
    • International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights (2006): Report 2006 (Events of 2005). Vienna.
    • Vienna.
    • Kasatkina, N. and V. Beresneviciute (2004): Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance of the Public Sector in Lithuania. UNRISD-Working-Paper. Geneva.
    • Migration Department (2006): Migration Yearbook 2005. Vilnius.
    • Migration Department (2005): Migration Annual 2004. Vilnius.
    • Ministry of Social Security and Labour (Ed.) (2003): Social Report of Lithuania. Vilnius.
    • Traser, J. (2004): Who is afraid of EU enlargement? Report on the Free Movement of Workers in EU-25. European Citizen Action Service. Brussels.
    • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (2006): 2005 Global Refugee Trends. Geneva.
    • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (2006b): Statistical Yearbook 2004. Geneva.
    • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (2005): Statistical Yearbook 2003. Geneva.
    • Zaagman, R. (1999): Conflict Prevention in the Baltic States: The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI). Flensburg.
    • Zukauskiene, R.(2005): Active Civic Participation of Immigrants in Lithuania. Country Report prepared for the European research project POLITIS, University of Oldenburg.  

Internet Sources

Migration Research Group
Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.