News2019.08.25 12:00

#Voices – Expats in Lithuania faced with Kafkaesque shuffles in Migration Department corridors 2019.08.25 12:00

Lithuanian population has shrunk by around 16 percent since joining the EU in 2004, and recently, increasing numbers of foreigners have made up the labour shortfall. Majority of those have been from Belarus, Ukraine, and other non-EU states. Alongside them, students have continued flocking to Lithuanian universities.

To cope with the migration flows inward, rather than out, Lithuania’s Migration Department has been undergoing major changes since 2018, However, expat groups on Facebook have routinely featured pleas for assistance on how to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles, or respond to negative experiences.

LRT English reached out to the most populous and majority English-speaking expat group on Facebook, 'Foreigners in Vilnius’ with 13,824 members, to ask how dealing with Migration Department has affected them.

This is what they had to say.

“What one employee rejects, another one will accept”

US national who preferred to remain anonymous as the individual is in the process of applying for a residency permit. The full name is known to LRT English.
Discrepancies in the amount of paperwork required and “bureaucratic pedantry”. The same criminal background check was refused by one employee, and accepted by another.

There exists an organizational culture of total indifference, save for a few employees who I wish I could remember the names of. The staff seem annoyed from the moment you sit down with them, as if you're bothering them by applying. The actual process is mired in bureaucratic pedantry, often over very inconsequential semantics on a document.

The promise of a new and revolutionary electronic system has been seemingly abandoned with no news or updates as to when it will be implemented. And now, the removal of the information desk at the Naugarduko office only to be replaced by a piece of paper with a phone number seems almost like a slap in the face.

My troubles started the first time I applied for my temporary residence visa. This was around March or April of 2018. I had two major issues here: the financial requirements and the criminal background check.

The options for proving sufficient finances are either having your own bank account, or using a parent's bank account. To declare parental support, you must have notarized documents [...] but the way notaries work in the US is much different from Lithuania. Any documents cannot just be notarized, and notary officers in the US simply act as a witness to the signing of a document.

There is a massive discrepancy between the employees at the MD regarding what documents they will take. What one employee rejects, another will accept. The requirements are incredibly vague and based only on Lithuanian policies which may differ massively from a person's home country [...] It largely comes down to the employee sitting in front of you.

Since I graduated from a Lithuanian university, I am allowed 12 months to search for a job (I'm not sure of the official title of this visa). My last TRP expired June 15, meaning that I must leave the Schengen Zone by September 15.

The Migration Department promised that on July 1, 2019, a new electronic document submission system would be in place that would drastically reduce the workload of the employees, negating the need for a first face to face meeting to submit documents.

However, the system was delayed and as of August is nowhere in sight. There are also no updates on the website as to when this system will be in place.

“The lack of basic empathy from this department is appalling”

Kristina Mak from Lithuania, and Eric Mak from Malaysia
Time slots are too far away, meaning some people face their documents expiring before having a chance to renew them. Lack of communication and the way information is transferred is inadequate.

The new system where one has to book an appointment does not work well at all. Vacancies are booked months in advance and no one is able to plan their time one year ahead. There is no alternative solution to solve this issue as the information desk is gone. No one cares about someone's residence permit expiring, no one provides alternative solutions, but everyone there seems to be keen on offering going back to one's own country. People have families and jobs here, and the lack of basic empathy from this department is appalling.

The information on their website is usually outdated or just simply incorrect as the workers of the department claim.

Officers there are not only unhelpful but also terribly impolite [...] And the way they reply to emails shows clear suspicion the person is staying in the country illegally when I specifically wrote that the residence permit is still valid.

Also, people don't really speak English there. They do know the basics such as 'This, that, yes, no, take, there, etc' which is not a sufficient level of the language to discuss and explain immigration matters.

The MD collects personal data such as emails, but it's not clear what it’s for. We don't receive any news of important changes of the procedures, etc.

“Everything has been modernized”

Sarah Martin, from the UK
Noticeable improvements since 2006, with more employees speaking at least basic English.

The biggest difference I notice between interacting with the Migration Department now, compared to in 2006 when I first came here as a student, is just how much has been done to make this a comfortable experience for foreigners looking to register their stays.

Principally – the first time I was here, the entirety of the interaction was in Lithuanian [...]

Fast forward to 2018, when I last went to register my stay at Naugarduko 100. It had been many years, my Lithuanian was rusty (I didn't have much chance to practice after I left Vilnius), and I didn't know what to expect. Everything has been modernized, and the process was much more clear.

And this time, when I got to the desk, and I started the conversation in Lithuanian, the worker who was taking my case replied that she spoke a little English.

The story of “kabinetas” and the two ladies

David (name changed) from Colombia works for a company affiliated with Lithuania’s Ministry of Energy and preferred to stay anonymous due to nature of his work
Shuffled between different rooms, sent to wrong institutions, eventually returning to the original point of enquiry

I asked for an appointment in November and when I went there with all my papers, a very unfriendly young guy who spoke broken English told me that he could not process my application because I requested the appointment in the wrong “kabinetas”. I asked him to tell me what “kabinetas” I should go for and he just said that he didn’t know and kicked me out of his office.

The reception desk told me to go to the police office on Naugarduko street, [but there they] told us to go to the Migration Department in Antakalnis. Then I went to the Antakalnis office with my colleague and she again asked the receptionist in Lithuanian, who told us to use the online system. Thank God, my colleague saw an open “kabinetas” with two old ladies talking and drinking coffee. She approached them in Lithuanian and spoke about my situation. They explained her in detail the whole process and how to do it.

By March [...] I didn’t get any answer. By April, I asked my colleague to call them again and [...] they told her that my application was rejected in February, because the company where I work had a debt of €1 in Sodra [State Social Insurance Fund]. Then we talked with the responsible people at the company and we got the issue with Sodra solved. [After being told re-apply] I got an automatic email three days later saying that my TPR was approved.

“I have to go back to my country to apply for a visa to be able to return to Lithuania”

Anonymous, university student in Vilnius from a non-EU country
Due to being issued conflicting instructions, the person now has to reapply for a student visa from his home country

The first time I went to Migration Department in Vilnius, [I was told that I] need to provide one more new document. It's a new requirement, they didn't update it on the website. So I had to make a new reservation.

The document they require is quite ridiculous for my university. They ask my university to provide certificates that I have money to study next year. [My university doesn’t] have the ability to check my family’s or my account. [Another employee during another visit] checked my documents and said “everything is okay”, even though I didn't provide any new documents.

I tried to get my [residence] card earlier, because I have to fly to another country before my old card expires. I had already received the [positive] decision of my TRP, so I asked the receptionist at the Migration Department and they said I could get my card early.

However, the officer who took my fingerprints said it wasn’t possible, but when I asked again at the reception, they said it was possible, and told me to come on Friday afternoon to collect the new card.

One hour later, they called me again and said: “Sorry, you can't get your card because the board said no.”

It was five days before my flight, which meant I missed the opportunity to apply for a visa in Vilnius. I have to go back to my country to apply for a visa to be able to return to Lithuania.

Bureaucracy “puts studies in jeopardy”

Roshan Shafi, from India, university student in Kaunas University of Technology
The changes were announced beforehand, which left people struggling to get appointments – losing a visa means having your studies terminated, according to Roshan. Lack of spoken English poses further difficulties, and the need to translate documents into Lithuanian is a heavy financial burden for students.

When the appointment slots were introduced, they didn't even inform the students – and the Migration Department should know English, because why will Lithuanians need to go to this department? This is for expatriates who for sure don’t speak Lithuanian.

We, students, have to pay €5-10 to translate each document.

Appointments to apply, submit documents and biometrics, and receive the card happen in different rooms. [But when] you are done with steps one and two, a slot has to be booked for step three, and when the process is delayed, you are issued with fines or asked for explanations that you cannot provide, as they don’t speak English.

[When student visa expires], our TRP [can be cancelled in] two weeks’ time, which puts my studies in jeopardy

“A good bureaucracy is a predictable one – no matter how ridiculous”

Iselin Berg Mulvik, from Norway, working in Vilnius
Different rules are given by different employees and also differ from the instructions online

1. I was given a different form than the one I found online

2. I was told I could apply after six months after I get a permanent contract with my job, instead of three.

The officer was giving me less strict rules than the ones I had read online. My understanding is that there are no fixed rules. Although it was convenient for me at the time, this is confusing and potentially unfair. It made me wonder what would happen if I met a different officer next time who told me this was wrong.

A good bureaucracy is a predictable one – no matter how ridiculous.

Language has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Lithuanian Migration Department has sent the following comment via email:

“Historically, the majority of clients of the Migration Department come from Russian-speaking countries”

Thus it is natural that the majority of our employees speak Russian as their foreign language. However, the Migration Department is gradually shifting its orientation from Russian-speaking to English speaking audience. For example, MIGRIS, the electronic migration cases handling system, which will be launched this autumn, will be Lithuanian and English. In addition, while hiring new employees, the Migration Department requires them to have at least basic knowledge of English language.

In any case, if a client is an English speaker, there is always at least one employee, in every client service division, who speaks English and can assist the client.

“Please have some patience, and you will notice significant improvements very soon”

Migration Department is continually improving its‘ client service level. Consider the fact that territorial migration services merged with Migration Department on July 1, 2019, we have been working together for less than 2 months only. Please have some patience, and you will notice significant improvements very soon.

Information online “can have various exceptions”

Migration procedures are very complex and depend a lot on individual case of every applicant. The webpage provides general information. However this information can have various exceptions, which is very hard to describe on the webpage. Thus it can happen sometimes that a particular client receives slightly different information (because it is individualised).

Where to seek advice:

All information regarding our services is provided online, also via phones 8 700 60000 (all questions) and 8 5 271 7112 (complicated issues), and by email .

Migration Department is now reviewing its capacities to provide for additional time slots for clients in Vilnius. Meanwhile, we encourage people to go to other towns where there are registration times available (for example, Alytus).

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme

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