Schrödinger's Russians: nobody knows if they are in Latvia or not

In September, official statistics showed a significant reduction in the number of people resident in Latvia. Most of the figure is accounted for by the apparent departure of Russian citizens whose permanent residence permit expired in September, which meant they were removed from the population register. But it is impossible to state with any certainty whether they have actually left, writes in a special report December 21.

Due to amendments to the Immigration Law, for people who have previously been Latvian citizens or non-citizens (nepilsoņi) but have accepted Russian citizenship, the requirement for knowledge of the official language at the conversational level (A2) is mandatory. The Saeima decided to allow Russian citizens who fail to pass the official language test the first time around to retake it until the end of November, in the meantime maintaining their residence permit and extending the submission of documents until the end of the year.

The law stipulated that permanent residence permits issued to Russian citizens expired on September 1 of this year. If an application to get a permanent residence permit, along with a passed Latvian language examination, or an application for a temporary residence permit has not been received, Russian citizens have to leave the territory of the Republic of Latvia by December 2, 2023.

This regards those Russian citizens who have still not applied for a re-examination of the official language and who have not submitted documents to apply for long-term resident status in the European Union by November 1.

In September, officially, Latvia's population dropped by 4.5 thousand people, according to operational data from the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB), with just 811 of them “lost” due to the birth-death ratio. The obvious explanation for the “disappearance” of nearly 3.7 thousand people is emigration, on a scale typical of the crisis period 2010-2011.

The CSB confirmed to the portal that the calculations are correct, indicating not only the exact amount of migration – minus 3,656 people – but also the reason: it was affected by “the cancellation of permanent residence permits for Russian citizens who have not applied for a language exam.” They had been removed from the Population Register by the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP).

However, no one knows exactly how many of these 3,656 people who are officially no longer residents continue to live here.

If both the residence permit and personal identity number have been revoked for a foreigner residing in Latvia, but the person is still physically present here (for example, is in the process of issuing a temporary residence permit, or is about to leave, or does nothing at all), how are such foreigners visible to the state? What data does the country have about these people at all?

“We do not collect such data,” PMLP spokeswoman Madara Puķe responded to

But who does? Most likely, no one. “if a person has no legal basis to stay in Latvia anymore, then the residence permit and everything related thereto shall be revoked. The law requires these individuals to leave voluntarily within a time limit set by the state,” the PMLP noted.

It is not known by the PMLP how many such people have left not just the register but the country. “This border crossing also takes place over the internal borders of the European Union and Schengen area, so there is no possibility of total population control – it can only take place in countries where all borders are closed and every fact of border crossing is recorded,” the office's press service explained.

The Latvian Border Guard carries out regular checks on such individuals, the PMLP added, explaining that each person often has an individual situation, such as being in the process of getting a new residence permit. In those cases, the person is not officially here, but may be officially re-registered later and will thus 're-appear' in the official statistics.

PMLP staff do not personally visit specific addresses of residence of Russian citizens with canceled residence permits. Instead they are sent letters. If these letters fail to achieve their purpose and return unopened, the State Border Guard may be asked to check that they are no longer in the country.

The Border Guard did not respond to's follow-up questions.

One consequence of the loss of a personal identity number is the exclusion of a person from the Patient Registry – a database of recipients of health care services maintained by the National Health Service (NVD). If a person is not on the register, then all treatment, from emergency calls to emergency operations, costs money. NVD spokeswoman Sintija Gulbe said that 3,534 Russian citizens living in Latvia who had their permanent residence permits revoked were removed from the registry in September.

Payments of pensions and other benefits (disability, survivor, unemployment, sickness, utility payments, child benefit, etc.) are also stopped.

About 600 people have been affected by loss of such payments, according to the State Social Insurance Agency (VSIA).

Social services can only recommend seeking help from volunteers. Daugavpils Social Service, for example, has about a dozen and a half customers who have Russian passports but no longer have the documents necessary to receive benefits.

"We are giving them four months to complete the registration process - once it is completed, they will get the status and assistance they need right away, but for now, they are in that “suspended” position and don't get help from the service. If the situation is critical, you can turn to the public organization, they have volunteers, food parcels etc. Unfortunately, suppose a person receives a refusal of a residence permit. In that case, we will not be able to help them," Marina Gerasimova, head of the Social Service of Daugavpils, told


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