Lithuanian government confused by digital nomads

Immigration authorities in Lithuania are trying to apply outdated rules to tech start-ups and their nomadic employees. 

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Lithuanian government confused by digital nomads - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

"Increasingly, the world is recognizing their value and catering to their needs -- because digital nomads aren’t just barefoot hippies living hand-to-mouth," a magazine in New Zealand, which featured Vilnius as a digital nomad destination, wrote last month.

Migration authorities in this particular wannabe start-up city would disagree. In February, 15min reported that non-EU citizens struggle to obtain residence permits in Lithuania because of the rigid approach of the migration authorities.

One outspoken critic of the Russian government, who founded a business and relocated her entire family to Lithuania, found herself declared "illegal" after four years because the Migration Department failed to process her papers on time. Only when Lithuanian journalists started probing did the case start to move. A start-up also lost a highly qualified worker from China, because migration authorities took too long to process his papers.

People who manage start-up hubs are increasingly frustrated. Their clients are happy in Vilnius -- they relocate their families, sign rental contracts and make business plans. Yet because their digital enterprises work differently from conventional industries, they suffer when the same criteria are applied to test whether their companies are real (e.g. presence in the workplace during random checks).

Details from the story:

  • Dmytro Kravtsov from Ukraine has been living in Lithuania for four years and used Vilnius Techno Park as his office, but his residence permit was not extended. Despite all the growing body of knowledge on digital nomadism, the Migration Department did not find convincing reasons why he would work specifically from Lithuania if many of his clients are abroad, and why, if it was an IT business, it did not employ programmers.
  • Kravtsov is a data analyst. IMI.VC, a co-founder of Vilnius Techno Park, has invested into his business. Having developed a data analysis platform, he currently sells companies access to it, and his main job is marketing the platform. This sounded too outlandish to the migration authorities.
  • Ieva Dirvonskaitė, the head of Vilnius Techno Park, says that year after year, these failures to understand the nature of start-ups and digital services lead to non-EU start-ups being chased away from Lithuania. Earlier, the same happened to an Iranian entrepreneur. The reasons given for the unfavourable decisions include absence of the founders in the office (when they were on holiday) or absence of a company logo near the workplace. Dirvonskaitė said the authorities never called to double-check these findings.
  • Lithuania aims to host 1,000 start-ups by 2020 and issues one-year start-up visas, but their extensions are problematic. Dealing with migration authorities causes delays in micro-enterprises. Investors say that start-ups are increasingly contemplating a move to the more business-friendly Estonia.
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