Opinions in the Latvian society on immigration are divided, as shown by numerous polls and opinions expressed in the public space. Last week, a memorandum signed by about 600 people “on ensuring the interests of the state of Latvia” was submitted to both the government and Saeima. One of the key messages of the memorandum – no to immigration.
“We are already only 65 percent Latvians in our country. That's critically low. Our demographics are very poor. And of course, any migration, especially from African and Middle Eastern countries, will put our nation's prospects in Latvia at very serious risk,“ said Viktors Birze, a supporter of the memo.
Entrepreneurs who believe that additional working hands are necessary for economic development take the opposite view.
“We have been needing it for a long time. Given the demographic figures we historically have. We see that natural recovery – the balance between the number of births and the number of deaths – has been negative for us for a long time, since 1990,” said Jānis Endziņš, Chairman of the Board of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LTRK). “But clearly, we wouldn't want to open the door to that extent either so that we're here years later and not hear any Latvian while walking down the street.”
Economics Minister Valainis explained that this is basically happening in any case. For example, this year, 14 thousand employees from third countries who participate in the labor market have entered Latvia.
However, because of the complicated and untidy registration system, many are officially registered in other neighboring European countries – Poland, Lithuania, Estonia. Therefore, the question is essentially not whether Latvia needs foreign labor, but how the state will control it.
“These are so-called rental employees, where Latvia also does not obtain a certain share of taxes. Those taxes go to other countries. But that person is actually here. Fighting it in a different way than sorting out the regulatory base is impossible,“ said Valainis.
Researcher, associate professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Latvia Inta Mieriņa said that overall the attitude of Latvian society towards immigration varies greatly.
The researcher explained that there are certain groups of migrants that Latvian society is not prepared to accept, including migrants from the Middle East and African countries. At the same time, our culturally closer countries are treated more favorably.
“There are very different attitudes, depending on where these migrants come from. According to the surveys, the most important thing is that these migrants respect the lifestyle of Latvian residents, that they have the necessary skills for Latvia, and that they have the necessary education. And in that case, a lot of the public would have no problem with immigration,” said the researcher.
According to Mieriņa, Latvia needs a targeted and systematic labor attraction policy and the issue should not be left to resolve itself.