In the last three years, the number of foreign students in Latvia has grown 80%. Foreigners study in universities in Riga and other regions. Their contribution to Latvia’s state economy is estimated around EUR 150 million. Turība University’s Development and International Cooperation deputy rector Imants Bergs emphasizes that the contribution of foreign students for the state budget would be considerably larger if they were allowed to work more than 20 hours a week, as it is permitted now.
Permitted to work 20 hours a week
Foreign students in Latvia are allowed to work 20 hours a week. This is regulated by Cabinet Requirements on Employment of Foreigners.
The expert mentions that Latvia’s government has made a lot of progress in the matter regarding employment of foreign students. For example, unlike some other European countries, foreign students in Latvia are automatically provided with a work permit. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of work to do in this field.
Most students are able to work a lot more
Bergs comments: «Students travel to our country to study and receive a little bit of work experience, not work and receive a little bit of education. This is why there is a 20-hour limit on the amount of work students are allowed to do. There is also the concern for their grades, as they may suffer if a student spends too much time working and not enough time studying. Nevertheless, I believe a large number of students are able to work 40 hours a week without it impacting their studies. The EU directive provides for a unified order in accordance with which foreign students from third countries are able to request residence permit for up to a year after graduating.»
He also mentions that every member state may apply this measure differently. As a result – Latvia already has regulations that state how graduates from Master’s and Doctor’s degree study programmes become eligible for six-month residence permits. «I believe that such an opportunity should be made available for Bachelor’s degree graduates,» said Bergs.
Liquidating absurd situations with work permits
The deputy rector also emphasizes that it would be best to fix a certain absurd situation: «The requirements I’ve mentioned allow graduates from Master’s programmes to work full time (40 hours a week), but if the student decides to continues studies to receive a Doctor’s degree, they once again have to deal with the 20-hour restriction on work. This is definitely bad for their potential employers as well.»
He adds: «I believe students who are starting their second year should be allowed to work 40 hours a week. This should not be the case in the first year – students need time to adapt to the study process and order of things.»
60% of companies lack employees
Bergs says that Latvia suffers from a catastrophic deficit of labour force – approximately 60% of companies working in Latvia have problems with finding skilled workers. «I would propose considering the option to provide all graduates of Latvian universities with work permits. It would greatly help out with competitiveness – both for exports of higher education and development of the national economy. While youngsters are busy studying, there is no need for them to settle any paperwork to be provided with a work permit – they can just go to a potential employers ant start working,» said Bergs.
After graduation it turns out the employer has to start filling the necessary paperwork, which costs money and time [up to three months]. «This puts employers at a crossroads – go through with this process or employ a different student. Such a situation is beneficial to neither the student nor their potential employer, because the latter has already invested funds in training their potential employee. Such a state of affairs only serves to alienate potential taxpayers,» says the deputy rector.
The specialist says that businessmen are experiencing deficit of labour force. This applies to qualified workers and unqualified ones. At the same time, he adds that this situation may cause the country’s social system to collapse in the future – if the number of taxpayers sharply declines and the portion of society financed from the social budget remains the same or increases.