As reporter Kārlis Roķis learned in his reportage, Estonia is the only Baltic state which has publically announced a recruiting campaign to find foreign workers for the sectors of the national economy which need to address workforce shortages. But some Latvian companies have been busy hiring specialized staff from abroad during the past year, too, leading to about 1600 foreigners finding jobs here.
As Māra Roze, deputy director of the Citizenship and Migration Affairs Administration explained, “the recruiting of a foreign workforce is growing, last year ever more so.”
“These are mid-level qualifying specialists. Half of them are cargo truck drivers of large vehicles, which our employers lack. There are some cooks, welders, athletes, but not as many as compared with the trucking transport sector. There aren’t that many qualified workers out there. They’re the programmers. We really could wish for more highly-qualified workers,” she said.
The three states supplying most of the imported workforce to Latvia are Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. There are also specialists coming from Germany, Norway and other western European states. Though the issue has always been a sensitive one, employers believe there is nothing to fear.
“If low-paying jobs are being taken over by foreign workers doing them for even less pay, then that’s a problem we need to fight, just like in the rest of civilized Europe,” said UPB company board chairman Uldis Pīlēns.
“But if the recruitment of specialists from elsewhere fosters the development of a more complex economy and integration capacity, then it’s not a problem and we must consciously pursue this as an element of real policy,” the business sector representative argued.
The current rules for importing an employee from another country are stringent. Only if a job vacancy cannot be filled by a locally sourced specialist within at least 30 days’ time is it permitted to offer the position to a foreigner. The foreigners’ wage must be at least at average levels, and if they wish to relocate their families here they must prove enough savings to support them for at least a year in advance.
The Olaine drugs maker PharmIdea has hired pharmacy analyst Kristīne from Belarus. She is 25 years old and has a degree from her national university’s faculty of chemistry. Though she didn’t take the decision to leave her homeland lightly, she is satisfied with her move. She has been here nine months now and has begun learning to speak Latvian.
“It’s experience, working outside the borders of your country, especially in the EU. It’s a whole new level, different in many particular ways. The main motivating factor is the experience I never would have gotten in Belarus,” she explained.
Company chief Vitālijs Skrīvelis said the lack of qualified young chemists is a Europe-wide problem, where more children have learned in humanities-oriented fields rather than in the exact sciences.
“Our local candidates are forged in the Riga Technical University and the Olaine College of Mechanical Technology, but they are still wet behind the ears. It takes them a year or two to fully acquire the specific skills they need in this field,” he explained.
“That’s why we look to other countries, firstly to Belarus and Ukraine, as the specialists there have the required technical education. They are also more accessible according to their salary requirements, when compared to the unemployed of Greece or Ireland,” Skrīvelis went on to say.
To prepare a cadre of specialists at this level of qualification would take at least ten years, even with the full involvement of the state government in the education system. But if nothing whatsoever is done about it, more than twenty years would be needed to train the required number of workers.
But representatives of the business sector say that they need these highly qualified workers already now.
The formalities of paperwork required to recruit an employee from another country take up about a year’s time as well. The Citizenship and Migration Affairs office agrees the system for importing foreign workers needs to be streamlined and made more flexible and responsive. However the Welfare Ministry has objected to easing the requirements currently in place to regulate the importation of workers from other countries.