Interviewing emigrants: the human tragedy of emigration surfaces

Only thirty percent of emigres say that they lived well in Lithuania, even fewer could allow themselves everything here, while others admit they faced greater or lesser poverty.

This was revealed by research into reasons for Lithuanian emigration presented at the Lithuanian demographics forum Will we become a country of 3 million once more? By Vytautas Magnus University Expatriate Institute research co-author dr. Ilona Strumickienė.

A representative survey of emigres was performed this year on January 19 – February 10. The researchers were operating based on the premise that emigration is not limited to economic and sociodemographic factors.

This hypothesis was confirmed by the research data. After reviewing the positions of adult emigrants in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Spain, specialists concluded that economic factors are only a single variable among an entire complex. The sociopsychologic state of individuals is also significant.

Concerned by corruption, disrespect to people

Emigrants were asked, what are the key issues to amend in Lithuania, what their greatest problems with Lithuania are. 57.7% of respondents pointed out the scale of corruption, 51.9% – economic inequality, 43.3% – disrespect to common citizens, 34% – the size of the bureaucracy, 23.8% – the size of pensions and social benefits and 23.3% – businessmen’s greed.

The researchers also tried to evaluate the respondents’ material circumstances, how they perceived their life in Lithuania.

The research showed that only 30% of respondents could allow themselves a decent life in Lithuania, stating that “we had access to certain expensive items such as a television, fridge, but we could not allow ourselves more expensive purchases as an apartment, yacht or so.” Around 7% of respondents stated they could afford everything.

However, 13.4% of respondents stated that they would struggle to fund even eating expenses. 25.1% answered that they could only afford food, but struggled to afford clothing. 30% of respondents specified that they would struggle to obtain larger purchases such as a TV or fridge.

Only 33.5% of respondents owned their own home, around 40% could afford leisure, which would relax them.

More than half could see no prospects

Researchers tried to uncover not only the economic and financial reasons, but also find out, how people felt living in Lithuania.

33.1% stated, “I felt unhappy and was glad to leave.” 56.7% agreed with the statement that “I felt unneeded in Lithuania,” 70.5% agreed with the statement that “Life in Lithuania is worsening, prospects for the future are poor,” 38.1% believed that they did not manage to achieve happiness in Lithuania.

The researchers uncovered that poor sociopsychologic experiences are linked with labour relations. People, who had work experience specified that they felt disrespect to employees (54.8%), high stress levels (62.1%), lack of recognition (37.9%), insensitivity to personal problems (53%), poor career prospects (61.7%).

Three types of emigrant

Based on the most often specified reasons for migration, the researchers outlined three types of migrants: those, who left to work, test themselves and those, who fled Lithuanian governance.

The researchers uncovered that usually the decision to emigrate was rational and thought through. Spontaneous and impulsive decisions were only in 22.3% of cases.

26.7% responded that it was good, 27.8% understood that it is risky, but had no other choice, 23.3% said they had guarantees that they would obtain better conditions abroad.

When investigating the respondents, it turned out that 17% departed prior to 2004, that is to say before accession to the European Union, 26% – between 2005 and 2009, during the pre-crisis period, 32% – between 2010 and 2013, during the crisis, while the Crimean occupation in 2014 had no influence on emigration choices.

Those seeking self-expression chose to test themselves

The researchers noted that emigrants, whose reasons for emigration differed, also differed by traits. For example, those who wished to test themselves were mostly female, younger, well educated and high qualification, top or mid-tier employees. Looking at their psychology it can be seen that they had a strong desire for self-expression.

Looking at what did not appeal to them in Lithuania, they criticise administrative and economic restrictions, but their departure was due to a pursuit of more interesting work.

They are satisfied with their decision. These are individuals of a global viewpoint, they care about being world citizens. They are well integrated in their host countries.

They have no clear hostility to Lithuania, are active, trust in one another, are uninclined to distance themselves from civic issues, if need be take initiative and do not wait for the state to act. They usually chose the Spanish, rarer Scandinavian and UK regions.

Economic migrants not noted for sentiments for their place of residence

Economic migrants make up the majority of respondents. There was no specific distinction based on gender or age. These are highly educated individuals, however among all the groups, the portion of high education is the lowest here. They are qualified or unqualified employees.

Upon departing, they retain interest in goings on in their homeland. They make use of Lithuanian news media. These emigres are not noted for sentiments for either Lithuania or their host country. They care most about economic benefit.

Their views of Lithuania worsened somewhat on departing. The largest issue with Lithuania they have is economic inequality. They care about specific economic welfare.

They are the most content in emigration. These emigrants are the least involved in civic activity, however upon departing they have seen that civic involvement is a greater value than they though while in Lithuania. These are consumers of state services. They typically choose Scandinavia.

Learn about life from Russian news media

20.3% of respondents wished to escape Lithuanian governance. These are slightly more often men, more so older individuals. This group also features more individuals with vocational education, but also qualified labourers.

They have integrated decently in their host country, feel strong opposition to Lithuania. They are most discontent with state administration and economic aspects of Lithuania.

Their decision to depart was linked with disrespect for individuals in Lithuania. In Lithuania, this group was the most active in civic activities – elections, protests. They are the most disappointed and feel most unnecessary in Lithuania.

These emigres take interest in the news of their hometowns, also those of the world. The factor of Russian news media is especially prominent in this group. They are the most content with their decision to emigrate and typically choose the UK to emigrate to, afterward – Spain and more rarely – Scandinavia.

Overall, it is younger individuals who most emigrate. Respondents aged 26-45 are dominant.

From the survey, it can be seen that most emigres do not regret their decision. “I am happy where I live, but I miss Lithuania,” 56.6% say, “I am happy where I live and lack for nothing” – 35%, “Emigration fulfilled expectations more than it didn’t” – 77.1% of respondents.

Demographic crisis

First deputy government chief of staff Deividas Matulionis concluded during the conference that Lithuania is experiencing a demographic crisis – birth rates are not high, the natural population growth is negative.

“Alongside we see the greatest problem of emigration. We must seek means, which would help us once more become a country of three million,” D. Matulionis said.

According to him, the number of how many people have left can be discussed, but there can be no doubt that it is in the hundreds of thousands.

“The first months of this year show improvements in migration flows. Compared to 2017, over the first five months the situation has changed dramatically. A negative somersault – 1700 residents of Lithuania. Around 17 thousand have departed and 15.5 thousand arrived. Our data shows that two thirds of the returning are Lithuanian citizens. A third are migrants – from Ukraine, Belarus and other countries,” D. Matulionis said.

According to him, a positive would be more people arriving than departing, something that has not been seen since 2005-2006. However, the government representative did not hazard to guess whether this improvement is stable.

He informed that the Ministry of Social Security and Labour had prepared a demographics, migration and integration strategy, which has been approved by the cabinet. Proposals were also sought from the public.

Suggestion to encourage moving businesses to Lithuania

Among the ideas of how to return migrants to Lithuania, the government is proposing to make the migration centre Renkuosi Lietuvą (I Choose Lithuania) into a consulting agency, so that every individual interested in returning would have information access.

Based on the Irish experience, an idea is being considered, how to encourage Lithuanian citizens with businesses abroad to move their business to Lithuania. European Union support may be employed, assigning grants for every employee drawn in from abroad.

Possibilities for expat Lithuanians’ children to attend summer camps in Lithuania are being explored.

There are a number of ideas regarding education. The concept of an integration teacher is being considered. This would not solely be a pedagogue, but also a social worker, who would aid children in adapting to the environment.

Schools are also to feature catch-up classes or lessons so that returning students could receive assistance.

He also emphasised vocational education reform. D. Matulionis noted that most of the departing are lower qualification employees, who struggle to find work here. According to him, if they found work in their home country, they would not have to depart.

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