Migration Policy

Being incorporated into the former USSR (1940-1990) Latvia lost rights to its own policy as regards both international and internal migration. There were two main features of All-Union migration policy: minimization of international migration across the "Iron Curtain", especially emigration and movement without borders between the republics inside the Union. Flows of migration (among republics and from rural areas to cities) were regulated by the rules limiting the choice of residence ("propiska"): there were used to be restrictions to leave countryside, to settle in the largest cities, to return to previous residence for former convicts on political reason including some Latvian, Crimean tatars etc.

Following the Soviet policy of russification population losses in Latvia caused by W.W.II and mass deportations of the Stalinist regime were replaced and exceeded by migrants from other parts of the former USSR, mainly Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It resulted in limited possibilities for titular nationality (Latvians) to use its language in all spheres of life, to improve housing conditions etc.

This situation formed the necessity and aims of Latvia's own migration policy during the "singing revolution" (1988-1990) and regained independence (since I991). In January 1989 making use of relative freedom due to Gorbachov's "perestroika" Government of the republic adopted a Declaration No. 46 "On Elimination of Unjustified Immigration to Latvian SSR". It ruled out all privileges in housing for residents of worker's hostels, established payments for settling in Latvia to be used for development of infrastructure in accordance with population growth due to immigration. After regaining of the state's independence the main efforts as regards migration were devoted to repatriation in both possible directions: of non-native immigrants who had arrived during the soviet occupation to their homeland and the resettlement of ethnic Latvians and Livs (ancient minority on this territory) living in other Eastern and Western countries - to Latvia.

In 1992 the Department of Citizenship and Immigration was established, whose mission included resolving repatriation questions. To encourage repatriation in January 1992 the Council of Ministers accepted the Declaration "On Paying Compensation to People who Vacate Living Space in the Republic of Latvia" (renewed at the end of the year and in 1994 in accordance with laws on denationalization and privatization, withdrawal of Russia's Troops up to 1994 August 31 except the Russian military pensioners etc.). It was one of the reasons that 1992 really was the year of the most active emigration.

In 1993 the agreement with Russia was signed "On Regulating Resettlement Process and Protecting Resettlers' Rights". Nevertheless, emigration from Latvia slowed down mainly because the repatriation to Russia or Belarus did not ensure a better housing or living standards.

Actual migration in Latvia is influenced not only by a special policy and corresponding laws but also by legislation on state's citizenship (1994) and naturalization (1995), changes in rules on border-crossing for non-nationals, unsigned up to the end of 1997 agreement on states' border with Russia. Already on 15 October 1991, the Supreme Council in Latvia adopted a resolution on the renewal of citizens' rights of the Republic of Latvia and fundamental princips of naturalization, under which the citizenship was recognized only to those who were citizens before Latvia's incorporation in the USSR in June 1940 and their descendants. Other residents would require the citizenship by naturalization. Basic requirements for naturalization include a legal residence in the country for over 5 years, command of State (Latvian) language, legal source of income etc.

The law on the status of the former Soviet citizens passed in April 1995, states that the people who entered Latvia after July 1, 1992 must have a visa or a residence permit.