Outgoing Latvian coalition wants residency language exam deadline prolonged

Latvian flag.
Latvian flag. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Latvia's government is recommending that the Saeima, the parliament of that country, grant Russian citizens required to pass a Latvian language exam in order to retain their residency rights there a two-year period of grace.

ERR's Latvia correspondent Ragnar Kond, reporting for "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK), said the initial deadline for passing the language exam is today, Friday, leaving around 10,000 people due to leave the country – the forfeit for not passing the exam as per the policy introduced.

These people, plus over 4,000 more people who took the exam and failed, would have to leave Latvia by year-end, as thing stand.

Speaking Thursday, Latvian climate and energy minister Raimonds Cudars said that: "We are seeing that quite a large number of Russian citizens have not yet passed the language exam, or have applied for the extension of their residence permit for unknown reasons.

"This means we need to provide additional opportunities to achieve this. In so doing, we can reach the primary goal, where a proportion of the people of Latvia who have not yet learned the Latvian language, then do so, and then they can really integrate into our society," Cudars went on.

An additional issue is that outgoing Latvian Prime Minister Krišjanis Karinš disbanded the coalition last month, while a successor coalition is in the process of being formed up.

The outgoing government's desire to relax the immigration law at the last minute has created confusion, as Russian citizens do not understand when the deadline to take the language exam, originally this month, now falls, or whether they need to start packing their bags. 

Many people, including those over the age of 75, are also in fact exempt from taking the Latvian language exam.

The ending of the validity of residence permits in Latvia would mean that Russian citizens who had been living there up to now would not be able to apply for medical benefits, for instance.

Around 4,500 Russian citizens resident in Latvia also failed the language exam on taking it, and will have to retake in the coming months.

The outgoing government discussed the situation in a closed sitting, and found that the Saeima, the Latvian parliament, should extend the deadline by two years, to make attaining the goal more realistic.

It is also not clear what line the new coalition will take, since that coalition has not been formed yet.

Much hinges on whether the National Alliance , which is currently in government and is opposed to making concessions, reenters the new, forthcoming administration.

The party argues that for any individual who has not even expressed a desire to learn the language of the state over many decades, in addition to choosing Russian citizenship for themselves, two additional years will not make any difference.

Conversely, Maris Kucinskis (unlike in Estonian, Maris is a man's name in Latvian – ed.), the interior minister from United List , has long stated that enforcing a strict immigration law will prove impossible.

"Those who do not pass the exam the first time must be given the opportunity to take it anew. So more time is needed to attain this," he told AK.

Estonia has not put in place any language requirement for Russian and Belarusian citizens who hold permanent residency, though a bill has been tabled which would if it passes strip them of the right to vote in local elections.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', reporter Ragnar Kond.

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