Governance of migrant integration in Latvia
Latvia is an emigration country: more nationals have been leaving the country than foreigners arriving since the restoration of its independence in 1991. The integration of these immigrants is primarily apprehended through a cultural lens. National identity and social memory are the common threads of the country’s integration measures.
On 1 January 2017, 73 965 Third Country Nationals were legally residing in Latvia. They represented 4% of the total population, according to data published by the Latvian Central Statistical Bureau and Ministry of Culture.
Most came from neighbouring states Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. 47 703 of them were permanent residents and 26 262 had valid temporary permits. Nearly half of the latter were real estate investors (11197). Another 3 930 were in the country for work, 4 129 for family reunification and 2 889 for studies.
No aggregated data on Latvian citizens with third country background are made available.
The integration and social inclusion of people with a migrant background is streamlined in all sections of its 2012-2018 Guidelines on National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy. The document for example acknowledges the need to improve the availability of language and integration courses for newcomers to improve their level of understanding of the Latvian society. It also covers a wide range of services, including civic education on national identity and social memory. A new strategy is expected to be adopted in 2021. In the meantime, a plan extending the activities of theses Guidelines for 2019-2020 was adopted in 2018.
In addition to these overarching guidelines, an Action Plan for refugees was adopted in 2015. Although the document mostly focuses on reception conditions, it also touches upon several integration related activities. About a million euros were to be earmarked for Latvian language and integration classes, as well as school or professional education for children under 18. Another 2.5 million euros were to be allocated to social workers and individual consultants to increase refugees’ employability prospects.
An informal integration programme is in place for third country nationals in general, and for beneficiaries of international protection in particular. It is provided in the shape of social orientation courses for refugees and individual consultations for other groups of migrants, and consists of:
☑ language courses
☑ civic education
☑ vocational training (and labour market assistance)
The general programme is implemented as a project, currently managed by the Information Centre for Immigrants and the Latvian Language Agency. Following a procurement process, the Association Shelter Safe House and the Latvian Red Cross are the providers of social worker and social mentor services for beneficiaries of international protection. The services were developed in response to the 2015 EU relocation scheme.
A mid-term evaluation of the 2015-2018 Guidelines was conducted in 2014 by the Baltic Institute of Social Sciences. The analysis commissioned by the Ministry of Culture identified delays in the implementation of projects as one of the main challenges to integration. Even though the number of participants in language and social orientation courses was in line with expectations, the provision of certain courses was delayed for several months, impacting their continuity.
☑ Foreigners Law
The Latvian Immigration Law was first adopted in 2002 and last amended in 2018. It determines the procedure for the entry, stay, transit, departure and detainment of foreigners.
☑ Asylum Law
Latvia’s first Law on Asylum Seekers and Refugees was adopted in 1997. A reform of the Asylum Law took place in 2009 and was followed by amendments in 2013 and 2016. The latter reduced the amount and duration of social benefits allocated to beneficiaries of international protection. Furthermore, registration at the State Employment Agency was made a requirement for the reception of financial benefits.
☒ Integration Law
Latvia does not have a self-standing integration law.
☑ Nationality Law
The Latvian Citizenship Law was adopted in 1994. It has further been amended in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2013. The latest amendments introduced dual citizenship for immigrant coming from certain countries.
Latvia does not have a dedicated anti-discrimination Law. Discrimination is addressed in other legislations and most prominently the in the Latvian Constitution.
In Latvia, the Ministry of Culture leads the governance of integration issues. It is responsible for the implementation of the National Identity Guidelines and the development of policy documents. The Ministry also works closely with other State and non-governmental institutions to create a cohesive society based on common values and intercultural dialogue, as well as represents Latvia at the European Integration Network. The Ministry of Interior’s Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs for example issues residence permits and compiles migration statistics.
At the local level, municipalities are to provide social assistance services and financial support to all disadvantaged groups on their territories, including migrants.
Established in 2016, the Advisory Committee of Representatives of Minority Non-Governmental Organisations is the main consultative body aimed at promoting the participation of non-governmental organisations in the development of integration policies and minority rights. Since 2014, its composition includes representatives of the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs, as well as those from minority non-governmental organisations. The Committee plans and implements measures to support minorities – both cultural preservation and capacity-building.
There are 2 other consultative structures in the area of integration in Latvia: the National Consultative Council for the Integration of Third Country Nationals and the Council overseeing the implementation of the Guidelines on National Identity.
Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several funds. EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) is the most important one in terms of budget. The Ministry of Interior is the overall coordinator of Latvia’s national AMIF programme but the Ministry of Culture is the delegated authority for the integration strand. Latvia’s national basic allocation under AMIF is € 13 751 777. 22% of this amount is allocated to asylum and 46% to integration. National integration priorities presented in the Latvian AMIF programme include supporting consultative platforms for TCN, providing standardised integration courses and specific programmes for TCNs, improving access to information and (mass media) awareness raising campaigns.
In addition, national funds are made available for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects aiming for a better integration of the migrant population.
☑ Providing integration services
- NGO I Want to Help Refugees, a network of volunteers providing socio-economic inclusion support
- Association Shelter Safe House
☑ Implementing Integration Programme
- Association Shelter Safe House
- Latvian Language Agency
- State Employment Agency (only for beneficiaries of international protection)
- Education Development Center
- Innovation Support Center
- Language courses are provided by various language schools and NGOs on a project basis.
- Ministry of Culture
- Society Integration Foundation
- Association Shelter Safe House
- Centre for Public Policy
- Latvian Centre of Human Rights