This article was originally published on Focus on Business
Author: Agnė Camara – Head of International House Vilnius
Relocating to a new country can be daunting. Navigating migration paperwork, finding a place to stay, sorting out health and social insurance – there is so much to do when settling in your new home. Even the most prepared newcomers can find themselves puzzled at times. And they should not be left to figure everything out on their own.
The recently established International House Vilnius was set up to welcome international talent to the Lithuanian capital and answer any queries they might have. From obtaining a residence permit to discovering the local cultural scene, we are a one-point entry for all incoming specialists that choose to pursue their careers in Lithuania.
Making Vilnius an even more attractive career destination for international talent is among the primary goals of International House Vilnius. Recently, however, our experience in providing valuable and timely support to newcomers has also been put to use to help Ukrainian refugees integrate in Lithuania.
All relocation and integration services under one roof
International talent greatly complements the local talent pool, playing a vital role in sustaining the economic growth of European countries. To encourage international specialists to choose Lithuania, there is a need to ensure accessible, high-quality services that support their big move. Looking at the good practices of the Nordics (Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Estonia all have similar centres), we began developing a one-stop service centre that helps international specialists and their families navigate the ins and outs of relocation.
That is how International House Vilnius was born. The centre is a joint initiative of Go Vilnius, the city’s tourism and business development agency, and Work in Lithuania, a national talent attraction program. Since its establishment in November 2021, International House Vilnius has already assisted more than 5,000 foreign nationals with various relocation and integration challenges.
International House Vilnius leverages an extensive network of national agencies, local organisations and experts to ensure a smooth and easy relocation process. All in one place, a new arrival can meet representatives of key Lithuanian public institutions, including the Migration Department, the State Tax Inspectorate, the Employment Service, and Vilnius City Municipality. Experts are on hand to sort out residence permit or health insurance issues, consult on taxpayer obligations, register children in educational institutions, and provide information on job opportunities or starting a business, among many other matters.
All consultations and services are provided in English or Russian and are free of charge. Appointments can be made on the centre’s online registration platform.
Our vision for International House Vilnius was an open, welcoming space where specialists from abroad could access public services without facing a language barrier or visiting the same offices multiple times. With the support of Vilnius City Municipality, we brought this vision to life, and we are ready to make international talent feel at home in our city from day one.
Supporting Ukrainian refugees
Since the early days of the war in Ukraine, Lithuania has mobilised its national institutions to support the Ukrainian people. For Ukrainian refugees coming to Lithuania, International House Vilnius launched a hotline to provide the latest information on arriving to the country, finding accomodation, receiving health care services, and other matters. We have also organised a number of seminars for Ukrainians on topics such as obtaining health insurance and finding a job in Lithuania. Our team has been able to use its expertise in assisting foreing nationals to provide the urgent and necessary support to Ukrainian refugees.
To provide more personalised assistance, International House Vilnius has also launched BeFriend Vilnius, a mentorship program aimed at helping Ukrainians integrate. The program has Vilnius residents act as volunteer mentors to newcomers, providing them with information and advice on a 1-1 basis, either in person, online or by phone. BeFriend Vilnius mentors help new arrivals by guiding them to the right institutions to sort out relevant paperwork, but also by giving them day-to-day tips on using public transport, finding an English or Russian-speaking barber, or discovering the best places for dinner.
Experience shows that programs that have locals answering foreigners’ questions are particularly effective in facilitating faster and easier integration. BeFriend mentors give their Ukrainian mentees individual attention and time, which helps to build social bonds and valuable connections. We hope that BeFriend will not only help Ukrainians integrate into the city’s life, but also make it easier to identify the pain-points of foreigners settling in Vilnius.
The idea of a mentorship program has been in our plans since the founding of International House Vilnius. But with a significant number of Ukrainians arriving in Lithuania – more than 40,000 Ukrainian refugees have entered the country the day I am writing this – the need for such assistance is particularly high. That is why the first phase of the BeFriend program is designed to help the Ukrainian people who have fled the war. Later down the line, we plan to expand the program by offering it to all foreigners residing in Vilnius.
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