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Immigration Research in Lithuania: Discourse and Analytical Access

0 Comments 🕔02.Dec 2015

This article is part of our feature Framing Migration.

Preparing the stage for the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU. Photo credit: Council of the EU.


by Karolis Žibas


Research into immigration in Lithuania has appeared since 2004, after the country’s accession to the European Union (EU). Although long-term immigration and integration policy priorities have emerged, research on these topics remains fragmented. Since the restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990, the country has faced the most intense economic migration outflows in the EU. Even before EU enlargement, discussions about the economic and social consequences of emigration were taking place in Lithuania. It is, therefore, not surprising that emigration studies have been conducted systematically in Lithuania, and immigration research has not received greater attention. Although this situation has failed to stir a public debate on immigration or the need for scientific research on it, immigration trends of the past decade, associated legislative developments,[1] and public debate[2] all show that immigration is gradually becoming an important topic of research.


Immigration Research in Lithuania

This article looks at varieties of research that frame contemporary immigration processes in Lithuania in the face of recent legislative and institutional developments in immigration policy. Immigration research in Lithuania covers three main research areas: research on refugees, studies of immigration, and studies of integration and public opinion.


Research on Refugee Integration

In light of EU asylum policies and associated projects in Lithuania, a large portion of immigration research has analyzed the social and economic situation of refugees (DSTI 2003; FOLLOW 2005; SEKI 2006; LVI 2009, etc.). Such research has revealed a wide range of challenges: first, in the current social context, refugees find themselves addressing everyday challenges, causing a significant impact on their integration. Second, language barriers, age and gender discrimination and negative attitudes limit refugees’ employment opportunities, leaving them only unskilled, poorly-paid jobs. Third, successful integration into cities where refugees live often depends on support provided by non-governmental organizations. Finally, the decrease in their socio-economic status is one of the main challenges with which refugees have to contend.

Since refugee integration does not take place uniformly for a variety reasons, essential issues have been raised not only about the efficiency of state support and overall challenges to integration, but also about the use of social resources and capital. Two studies have revealed that the biggest obstacles, integration and social resources, have a large influence on refugee integration (STI 2007; Žibas 2014). These studies described not only major integration challenges, but also the collective and individual social resources used. According to these studies, collective relations and internal networks are one of the most broadly used social resources by refugees.

In order to further research on the situation of refugees in Lithuania, a dissertation was prepared on refugee experiences in the health care system (Bartušienė 2011). One year later, a monograph assessing refugee integration was published (Žydžiūnaitė 2012). According to its author, refugees suffer from poverty and insecurity because of the absence of accommodation policy and restricted mobility in the country (2012: 269). Furthermore, because of the lack of political and public debate, the notion of ‘refugees’ is becoming political, and encourages hostility between refugees and the majority of society. Furthermore, assistance to refugees is fragmented, unsystematic, and only available in the short-term because of a lack of consistency in non-governmental organizations’ activities.

The most detailed research in the area of asylum was carried out in 2013, under the framework of the project “Asylum in Lithuania: Legal and Sociological Focus.”[3] It encompassed the collection, analysis, and systematization of information about implementation of the EU Asylum Acquis, a set of laws covering asylum issues, in Lithuania. The research identified key shortcomings in the implementation of EU directives in Lithuania, including limited and fragmented areas of application, restrictions on freedom of movement, the material conditions of refugee reception, and the provision of medical services. The data has revealed specific shortcomings in national legal regulation and practices that must be addressed in order to avoid conflict between the EU Asylum Acquis and national law.


Vilnius ethnic festival parade.

Dancers at the Vilnius Ethnic Festival parade. Photo credit: Chad Kainz.


Research on Immigration and Migrant Integration

The characteristics of immigration and the integration of immigrants in Lithuania began to be analyzed more intensively when the European Integration Fund began operating. As a result of the project “Principles and indicators for assessment of the integration policy of third-country nationals residing in Lithuania,”[4] a quantitative study of immigrant attitudes was carried out in which more than 500 immigrants were surveyed. Immigrant experiences were analyzed by taking into account the processes affecting social integration: the forms of social relations and the formation of new immigrant groups, working conditions and protections against exploitation in the labor market, infrastructure and social services, social rights, intolerance and social exclusion.

Under the framework of the European Integration Fund, two studies covered issues specifically related to labor immigration (DSTI 2009; 2011). They revealed such issues as immigrant participation (access and mobility) in the labor market, indicators of economic activity, the need for immigrant work in the Lithuanian labor market, employment opportunities, and the needs of employers in the area of labor immigration policies.

Immigration of highly qualified specialists also received significant attention (Taljūnaitė et al. 2009; Matonytė and Klementjevienė 2011; Labanauskas 2011). Studies revealed the characteristics of skilled labor immigration and integration, described the factors for the immigration of researchers to Lithuania, and examined the role of Lithuania in the international migration of a highly-qualified labor force. Integration experiences were analyzed, taking into account the factors that affect integration at the macro (state), meso (the institutional), and micro (individual) levels.

In addition, research on the three biggest immigrant groups based on country of origin also bears mentioning (LSTC 2012[5]). This research revealed the characteristics of the social integration of Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians in Lithuania and provided an analytical assessment of the social situation of migrant groups, their comparison, and the conceptualization of ethnic processes after Lithuania became a member of the EU. In this research, the monograph “Chinese and Turkish Immigrants in Lithuania” should be emphasized (Žibas 2014). It explored processes of Chinese and Turkish immigration to Lithuania, explaining the political and economic circumstances that led to the rise of new diaspora communities and examined newly-formed migration networks in Lithuania. Using empirical research data, it also described internal and external social and economic ties and individual and collective migration experiences of Turkish and Chinese immigrants. The study also touches on Chinese and Turkish immigrants’ attitudes towards long-term residency and citizenship in Lithuania.

More general overviews of contemporary immigration processes were carried out by the International Organisation for Migration Vilnius and the European Migration Network. Usually, such research provides a systematic approach to a specific topic such as illegal migration, asylum, immigration or integration policies.[6] The 2006 study “International Population Migration in Lithuania: the model change and the situation analysis” explored the challenges of international migration in Lithuania, including illegal immigration, transit and human trafficking,[7] and provided an overview of basic theories of migration (Sipavičienė 2006).

Other studies analyze immigration in Lithuania within the overall context of international migration. A 2009 study examined the characteristics of the implementation of migration and immigration policy in Söderköping Process countries—Belarus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine (Leončikas and Žibas 2009). This overview analyzed specific situations in these countries in the context of international migration, and revealed common trends related to the enlargement of the EU and the Schengen area, as well as other processes that affected migration. Another study conducted in 2009 focused on the situation of Belarusians, Moldovans and Ukrainians in labor markets in Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia (EK 2009), examining both the implementation of labor migration policy and specific situations of immigrants in the labor market. The findings highlighted the need for labor immigrants in the EU integration processes and their vulnerability in the labor market. The study also considered negative attitudes towards immigrants as a problem common to all the countries it studied.


Bicyclist in Vilnius

A bicyclist in Vilnius. Photo credit: Paval Hadzinski.


Another study conducted in 2010 focused on the problems immigrants face in the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) in particular, and the characteristics of their implementation of integration policies (Kovalenko et al. 2010). The Lithuanian case-study revealed basic issues of migrant life in Lithuania, drawing particular attention to the limited implementation of integration policy, society and the media’s negative attitude towards migrants, a lack of information about migrants’ living and working conditions, and their limited participation in trade unions (Leončikas and Žibas 2010).

Gender and the political participation of migrants have also been a focus for researchers because of the increased relevance of these issues in Lithuania. The study “Active civic participation of immigrants in Lithuania” discussed historical migration to Lithuania, the composition of society, issues of citizenship, contemporary migration flows, and asylum policy (2004). In the article “Gender aspect in migration processes: analysis of the situation of third-country nationals in Lithuania,” authors argued that gender was one of the most important factors in the integration of third-country nationals in Lithuania (2012). This research suggested that gender differences were manifested both in trends of migrant movement and integration processes in the country of immigration.


Public opinion polls

Another important area for immigration research is public attitudes. Although there are quite a few studies on attitudes towards various ethnic groups, research into public opinion on immigrants only started relatively recently. The surveys conducted by the Institute of Ethnic Studies of the Lithuanian Social Research Centre reveal attitudes and resulting changes towards migrant groups living in Lithuania (2005–2014)[8] and analyzed issues such as social distance, the demand for information about immigrants, obstacles to integration, dominant forms of interactions, public opinion about the implementation of immigration and integration policies, the assessment of social and legal status, and immigrants’ countries of origin.



Several generalizations about the challenges of immigration in Lithuania can be drawn from these studies. Their findings reveal social differentiation between migrants and the majority of society, showing that integration processes do not take place equally among all migrant groups. The analysis of integration policy shows that integration measures are not applied to immigrants in Lithuania, meaning that these individuals solve difficulties without support from the state. In addition, studies of public attitudes testify to the growing social divide between immigrants and the host society, and the prevailing negative hierarchy of attitudes towards different migrant groups.

In summing up the characteristics of the development of immigration research in Lithuania, a number of trends can be identified: first, the development of immigration research can be linked to external factors, such as EU asylum policies and associated projects and EU funding, such as the European Integration Fund. Second, research has shown a complex array of topics within the field of analysis, a diversity of approaches, and a focus on different subjects. Third, immigration studies reveal different experiences of immigrant integration in Lithuania: the characteristics of the lives of refugees in Lithuania are clearly defined, but remain extremely problematic. In comparison, the larger scale of immigrants who migrated for other reasons present more varied challenges: different reasons for immigration lead to different legal statuses among immigrants, which subsequently affect individual and collective integration experiences.


Karolis Žibas, a researcher at the Institute for Ethnic Studies of the Lithuanian Social Research Centre, is a sociologist and NGO activist in the areas of human rights, equal opportunities, social integration, the fight against human trafficking, and migration. As a project partner, leader and independent expert, Karolis Žibas is involved in different projects and researches on national and international levels. Karolis holds a PhD in the Social Sciences (Sociology). 


This article is part of our feature Framing Migration.

[1] Between 2001 and 2008, immigration flows to Lithuania gradually increased. Given the growth in labour immigration, 2007 saw the adoption of the Economic Migration Regulation Strategy and the accompanying legislation. In view of the migration trends of recent years, in January 2014 the Lithuanian Migration Policy Guidelines were adopted.

[2] A few years after accession to the EU, an independent migration discourse formed in Lithuania, which managed to occupy a solid place in the public space, which is filled with certain concepts, images and emotions, related to economic migration (Leončikas and Žibas 2009).

[3] Articles are available online at

[4] Articles are available online at

[5] Articles are available online at

[6] For example, the research ‘Labour force migration: needs and policy in Lithuania’ (2010); ‘Students from third countries in Lithuania’ (2012); ‘Practical response to illegal immigration in Lithuania’ (2011); ‘Marriages of convenience as an illegal migration channel’ (2012), etc. All studies can be accessed at

[7] Separate mention should be made of the research of illegal migration (Sipavičienė and Kanopienė 1999; Sipavičienė and Tureikytė 2000, 2000a) and human trafficking (Sipavičienė and Tureikytė 2004). Although Lithuania does not face major challenges of illegal migration, this area is also a subject receiving attention from researchers.

[8] For more information about the surveys see Beresnevičiūtė and Leončikas 2009; Ethnicity Studies 2009/2; Žibas 2010; Vildaitė and Žibas 2010; Pilinkaitė Sotirovič and Žibas 2011. Online database available at



Bartušienė, Daiva. “The Ethnography of Asylum: Refugees’ Experience with Health Care in Lithuania.” (PhD diss., Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, 2011).

Erentaitė, Rasa and Vilana Pilinkaitė-Sotirovič. “The Gender Perspective in Migration: Analysis of Third Country Nationals in Lithuania,” Ethnicity Studies, 1/2. (Vilnius: Lithuanian Social Research Centre, 2012), 178–203.

“Evaluation of Social Integration Programme of Foreigners Who Have Been Granted the Refugee Status or Temporary Protection in the Republic of Lithuania.” (Vilnius: Lithuanian Social Research Centre, 2007).

Kaźmierkiewicz, Piotr. “The Situation of Migrants from Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine on the Labour Markets of Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and the Slovak Republic.” (International Organization for Migration; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Swedish Migration Board. European Commission, 2009).

Kovalenko, Julia, Peter Mensah, Tadas Leončikas, and Karolis Žibas. “New immigrants in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.” Legal Information Centre for Human Rights, AFROLAT (Lithuanian Social research Centre, 2010).

Labanauskas, Liutauras. “Social Cohesion in Lithuania: the Role of Intellectual Capital.” (PhD diss., Lithuanian Social Research Centre, Vilnius, 2011).

Leončikas, Tadas and Karolis Žibas. “Migration trends 2006–2008. Söderköping process countries” (Kyiv: Soderkoping Process Secretariat, 2009).

Leončikas, Tadas and Karolis Žibas. “New immigrants in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.” (Tallinn, Estonia: Legal Information Centre for Human Rights, 2010).

Matonytė, Irmina and Ana Klementjevienė. “Integration of Non EU National Scholars in Lithuanian Universities.” (Public Policy and Administration, 2011, 10:1), 79–90.

“Migrant Integration: Third Country Nationals in Lithuania,” Ethnicity Studies 2009/2. (Vilnius: Eugrimas, Žibas Karolis, eds., 2009), 128.

Pilinkaitė-Sotirovič, Vilana and Žibas, Karolis, “Ethnic and Social Groups in Lithuania: Societal Attitudes and their Changes.” Ethnicity Studies, 1/2, Lithuanian Social Research Centre, Vilnius, ISSN 1822-1041 (2011): P.136–155.

“Report on Social and Professional Integration of Asylum Seekers.” (Kaunas:  Institute for Social Economy, 2005).

“Research of Social and Professional Needs of Refugees and their Families.” (Vilnius: Institute for Labour and Social Research, 2003).

“Research Results and Conclusions of Survey of Employers of Third Country Nationals in Lithuania,” Research on Third Country National Integration in the Labour Market by Improving the Knowledge and Information about Evaluation of their Needs. (Vilnius: Institute for Labour and Social Research, 2009).

Sipavičienė, Audra and Mantas Jeršovas. Satisfying Labour Demand through Migration. (Vilnius: European Migration Network, International Organization for Migration, Lithuanian Social Research Centre, 2010).

Sipavičienė, Audra and Vida Kanopiene. “Foreign labour in Lithuania: Immigration, Employment, Illegal Work.” (Geneva: International Migration Papers, International Labour Office, 1999).

Sipavičienė, Audra and Danutė Tureikytė. “Illegal Migration in Lithuania: Trends, Current State and Problems,” Managing Migration in the Baltic States in the Framework of the EU Enlargement Process. (Helsinki: International Organization for Migration, 2000), 203–261.

Sipavičienė, Audra and Danutė Tureikytė. Illegal Migration in Lithuania: Retrospective and Current Challenges. (Vilnius: International Organization for Migration, Demographic Research Centre at the Lithuanian Centre for Philosophical and Sociological Research, Vilnius University, 2000).

Sipavičienė, Audra and Danutė Tureikytė. “Mechanisms of Trafficking in Women and Patterns of Recruitment,” Trafficking in Women: Problems, Solutions, Insight View. (Vilnius: International Organization for Migration, Institute for Social Research, 2004), 47–59.

Sipavičienė, Audra. International Population Migration in Lithuania: the model change and the situation analysis. (Vilnius: International Organization for Migration, 2006).

Studies carried out by the European Migration Network Vilnius:

Taljūnaitė, Meilutė, Diana Gumbrevičiūtė–Kuzminskienė, and Liutauras Labanauskas. “Social Aspects of the Mobility of Researchers and Highly Skilled Employees in Lithuania.” Research Report. (Vilnius: Institute for Social Research, 2009).

Vildaitė Dovilė and Karolis Žibas. “Overview of Public Opinion Polls Carried out by the Institute for Ethnic Studies (2005–2010),” Ethnicity Studies 2010/1-2. (Vilnius: Eugrimas, Lithuanian Social Research Centre, 2010), 121–137.

Žibas, Karolis, “Perceptions of Immigration in Lithuanian Society,” OIKOS: Lithuanian Migration and Diaspora Studies, 2010/2. Kaunas: The Lithuanian Emigration Institute, 2010), 9–30.

Žibas, Karolis “Chinese and Turkish Immigrants in Lithuania.” (Vilnius: Lithuanian Social Research Centre, 2014), 228.

Žibas, Karolis. “Asylum in Lithuania: Legal and Sociological Focus,” Ethnicity Studies 2013/1. Vilnius: Lithuanian Social Research Centre, 2013).

Žukauskienė, Rita, “Active Civic participation of Immigrants in Lithuania.” Country Report prepared for the European research project POLITIS, Oldenburg, 2005.

Žydžiūnaitė, Vilma. “Tool for the Evaluation of Integration of Foreigners Granted Asylum.” Tolerant Youth Association, the European Refugee Fund, Vytautas Magnus University. (Vilnius: Public Institution ‘Sorre,’ 2012).

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