Encourage civic and political participation of third country nationals through civil society organizations and trade unions, thus giving them an opportunity to elaborate, implement and monitor matters directly affecting them.
The National policy brief is prepared in the framework of o project „Fostering political participation and policy involvement of migrants in 9 Central and Eastern EU countries” (Agreement No. HOME/2013/EIFX/CA/ CFP/4234) supported by the European Commission's Fund fo the Integration of Third Country Nationals. The project is co-funded by the European Union.
The Council of Europe Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local level states that foreign residents should be guaranteed “the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests. In particular, the right to freedom of association shall imply the right of foreign residents to form local associations of their own for purposes of mutual assistance, maintenance and expression of their cultural identity or defence of their interests in relation to matters falling within the province of the local authority, as well as the right to join any association.”
In Latvia immigrants do not face either legal or practical restrictions to the membership in trade unions, professional associations and civil society organizations. Civic participation through NGOs, including the right to establish such organizations, is open to all residents living in Latvia regardless of their citizenship and residence status. The membership in trade unions is also opened not only to citizens, but also non-citizens, EU citizens and third country nationals.
Representative statistics or survey data on the members of NGOs, participation rates of immigrants in civil society organizations and the number of civil society organizations established by migrants in Latvia, are not available, as trade unions and associations in Latvia do not collect information on the ethnic background or citizenship of their members. Organizations generally report that they do not take particular measures to encourage the membership and participation of immigrants in their work.
The Guidelines on National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy (2012-2018) (adopted in October 2011) foresee the strengthening of traditional and non-traditional forms of civic engagement and improving the operational conditions of NGOs. To this end, they envisage the establishment of a national-level coordinating system to support immigrant participation - the National Integration Centre and national level Advisory Council, with the participation of immigrants and representatives of their organizations. Direct support to promote the establishment of migrant NGOs or to strengthen capacity of existing migrant NGOs is not foreseen; however some relevant activities have been financed through European Integration Fund.
Immigrant NGOs in Latvia: practice and challenges
Around 1% of all civil society organizations in Latvia are established by foreign residents (mostly, business organizations, such as chambers of commerce, business councils or trade institutes). Only a few of them directly represent the interests of migrants, promote their social, economic and political rights or provide permanent services to immigrants residing in Latvia. Publicly available information indicates that immigrants have set up seven NGOs with the aim to facilitate social integration of the relevant community and to promote development of intercultural dialogue in Latvia. Although there are more than 250 NGOs (mostly cultural associations) established by national minorities traditionally living in Latvia, newcomers from countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, etc. either do not join any association or join the various national cultural societies and diaspora organizations.
All migrant organizations were established with the following objectives:
- to bring together community members living in Latvia and to strengthen their sense of national identity and belonging;
- to provide practical and legal assistance to community members in such areas as employment and entrepreneurship, education and health, communication with public authorities, rights violations, etc.;
- to promote intercultural dialogue and interaction among different cultures in Latvia, thereby contributing to the social integration in Latvia;
- to encourage and strengthen cultural, social and economic ties between the particular kin state and Latvia.
Main challenges faced by the migrant organizations are:
- activities of all organizations are rather limited, implemented on voluntary basis and sometimes funded by the organizations’ members. Organizations have neither permanent office and stuff, nor permanent funding provided by state/ local authorities or membership fees;
- organizations have very limited cooperation with other civil society organizations (mostly within the framework of cultural events or seminars, conferences) and almost no cooperation with state and local institutions;
- none of migrant associations are represented in the Advisory Council for Integration of Third Country Nationals established in 2013. However all organizations would be interested to participate in the Council’s work if such opportunity would be given to them;
- immigrant associations have very limited information on integration activities, e.g. language training and adaption programmes, provided by the National Integration Centre (NIC) and various organizations.
- Promote the creation of immigrant organizations and support their social and political participation.
- Implement and financially support capacity building and mentorship programmes to facilitate engagement of immigrants in civic activities;
- Take steps so that the representation of immigrant interests would be better included in the work of other NGOs;
- Review state practice in distributing funds for immigrant organizations. Immigrant organizations should be provided with easily accessible information and less complicated administrative procedure for submitting project applications in the framework of various project calls.
 The Council of Europe Convention on the participation of foreigners in public life at the local level, Council of Europe, 1992. Available at: http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Treaties/html/144.htm
 The Guidelines cover three main areas: (1) Civil Society and Integration (where the one of the goals is to strengthen the traditional and non-traditional forms of civic participation); (2) National identity: Language and Cultural Space; and (3) Shared Social Memory. Ministry of Culture, Guidelines on National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy (2012-2018), adopted 20 October 2011. Available at: http://www.km.gov.lv/lv/doc/ministrija/saliedeta_sabiedriba/KM_bklts_A5_3mm_bleed_02_2012_EN_PRINT.pdf
 Latvia, Statistics of Lursoft: countries of the founders of civil society organizations, associations and foundations (Lursoft statistika: sabiedrisko organizāciju, biedrību un nodibinājumu dibinātāju valstis), available at: https://www.lursoft.lv/lursoft_statistika/?&id=40
 Latvia, Information provided to the LCHR by the Ministry of Culture (Kultūras ministrija) by e-mail, 6 January 2015.