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Resident Immigrant and Foreign Population | Lithuania |

Lithuania Background Information Historical Development Immigrant and Foreign Population Flight and Asylum Integration of Minorities Irregular Migration Current Development References and Further Reading

Resident Immigrant and Foreign Population

Benjamin Brake

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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.

Foreign population by country of origin (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

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.

Foreign population and stateless persons according to residency status

Total population
(in thousands)
Foreign citizens and stateless persons
(in thousands)
- with permanent residency permit
(in thousands)
- with temporary residency permit
(in thousands)
Foreign population and stateless persons as percentage of total (%)0,870,810,880,880,95

Source: Department of Statistics, Government of Lithuania; Department for Citizenship and Identification Documents, Ministry of the Interior

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

With the passing of the 1989 Law on Citizenship, almost the entire resident population of Lithuania legally registered on Lithuanian territory by the 3rd February 1989 was offered Lithuanian citizenship (known as the "Zero Option"). The only exceptions were former members of the Russian armed forces and secret services along with their families. Otherwise, Lithuanian citizenship was granted upon application irrespective of ethnic origin, duration of stay, or proven command of the language. According to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), from 1989 until the introduction of a more restrictive Law on Citizenship in 1991 the majority of inhabitants availed themselves of this opportunity and accepted Lithuanian citizenship. In 2001, 99% of all inhabitants were Lithuanian citizens.

According to the current Law on Citizenship, which came into force in 2003, a person can become naturalised if they have been living in Lithuania for at least 10 years, possess an unlimited residence permit, have passed an official language test, have passed an examination on the basic provisions of the Constitution, have taken the oath of allegiance to the Republic of Lithuania and are able to defray their own living costs. Dual citizenship is only possible in exceptional and justified cases, and in general those seeking naturalisation have to opt for one citizenship or the other.

Stateless persons

Statistics published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that there were about 8 700 stateless persons staying on Lithuanian territory in 2005, representing less than 1% of the country's population. According to the Department of Migration, most of them (7 500) possessed a permanent residence permit. Between the years 2001 and 2004, a total of 1 300 formerly stateless persons were naturalised. The group of stateless persons is therefore significantly smaller than those in the two other Baltic States (Estonia 136 000 stateless persons; Latvia 418 600).

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.

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. 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.



  1. In the 1990s agreements on labour migration were concluded with the Russian Federation and Belarus.

  2. 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.

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