For the first time in thirty years, Lithuania’s migration balance is positive. This is indicated by results from the first half of the year and a positive balance is predicted for the entire year of 2020 as well because increasingly many Lithuanians returning, Lina Brazauskienė writes in tv3.lt.
Luminor bank chief economist Žygimantas Mauricas says that due to international migration, over half a year the Lithuanian population increased by a number of residents equal to those living in Anykščiai town. The economist indicated the main reasons for this occurring and which Lithuanian cities are recovering the fastest.
According to the economist, already before the coronavirus, he made a bet in February that in 2020, the international migration balance for Lithuanian citizens will be positive for the first time in thirty years. He believes that this was less due to the pandemic and more due to returning citizens from the United Kingdom, whose gates have shut to many due to Brexit.
“The result of the first half of the year is plus 2.3 thousand residents. The combined migration balance, including third-country citizens, reached an increase of 8.5 thousand residents. Due to international migration, just over half a year, the number of Lithuanian residents increased by the same amount of people as live in Anykščiai town. If the trends persist, over the year, we will have another Druskininkai,” economist Ž. Mauricas predicted.
What led to such migration shifts
According to the economist, previously, half of those emigrating from Lithuania would be headed toward the United Kingdom and so these flows have greatly decreased. This is also related to Brexit.
“The United Kingdom was the main centre of gravity for Lithuanian emigrants, but this will no longer be the case. Around 50% of those emigrating between 2004 and 2020 departed to the UK. Now, these flows have massively decreased and will decrease further because the UK is struggling to handle the coronavirus crisis and also Brexit is underway.
London has become a third home for Lithuanians: Vilnius – Kaunas – London. Lithuanian students, just as other EU citizens, will no longer have certain privileges in applying, soft loans, which they could obtain before and so it will be more difficult and fewer will depart.
Furthermore, emigrating is going out of fashion in Lithuania. Emigrating to London or so used to be trendy. The coronavirus situation has changed people’s perception of large cities. For example, in London, the city’s activity levels remain at around 20% of pre-crisis levels, movement has been restricted,” Ž. Mauricas stated.
According to him, currently, Lithuanian citizens have far more freedom: “You take your car and go wherever you want. Restaurants and bars are open. If you want, you can go out in nature. Furthermore, a Scandinavian model of thinking is emerging among the youth. In a gymnasium in Vilnius, I led a lesson and asked how many plans to emigrate and only two students raised their hands. I asked the same five years ago and back then, around a third of the students were prepared to leave. Changes are underway and we can see that people no longer wish to leave.”
Lithuanians returning since differences in wages have narrowed
According to the economist, it is around time for Lithuania to balance its international migration balance because most of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the other Baltic States, have done so.
“Looking at the region and Lithuania, there is rapid convergence with Western Europe. We are seeing incomes equalising. When we had just entered the EU, wage differences between Lithuania and the UK were fivefold. Thus, practically someone earning even minimum wage in the UK would earn more than most of those working in Lithuania.
Now, the differences are a little over twofold. Particularly the past two years saw rapid growth in wages. We should also thank tax reform because wages after tax have become larger than in Latvia or Hungary. And so, we also no longer see as large a flow of emigrants to Western Europe,” the economist stated.
Lithuanians returning and according to him, Lithuania has also become an appealing country for Eastern European citizens. The flow of immigrants continues to grow and it is predicted that this will not abate.
Lithuania handled the pandemic well
Ž. Mauricas noted that in terms of immigration, the coronavirus crisis was favourable to Lithuania.
“Lithuania was among the best in handling the pandemic. When the OECD released its rating, Lithuania found itself in fourth place. This time, we suffered relatively little.
It is currently still difficult to physically depart many other countries – either restrictions are applied or many staff are in downtime, companies are uninclined to hire new staff and seasonal work is stalling,” Ž. Mauricas observed.
Three main remaining emigration destinations
According to the economist, three main foreign destinations remain that attract Lithuanian emigrants – Germany, Scandinavia and Ireland.
“We shouldn’t really talk about emigration to Western Europe anymore. Our nationals are only perhaps departing for specific countries. There’s no longer any point to travelling to certain Western European countries because the economic differences are no longer all that big and will decrease even further after the crisis. For example, Italy and France are losing relevance. Ireland is as well because it has been among the countries suffering the most from the pandemic,” Ž. Mauricas explained.
Lithuanians returning – rapidly recovering cities
The economist reminded that previously, we had Vilnius, which avoided a decline in population, while in other cities we saw emigration and decline.
“The big wave of emigration was not from Vilnius, but from the rest of Lithuania. Now, the other regions are also rapidly recovering.
We now have many recovering and appealing cities. I would highlight Kaunas, Šiauliai and Palanga,” Ž. Mauricas noted.
According to the Department of Statistics of Lithuania, in early 2019, Lithuania’s population (permanent residents) was 2 million 794.2 thousand residents, which is 14.7 thousand (0.5%) less than in early 2018.
Since 2009, the number of permanent residents has fallen by 389.6 thousand or 12.2%.
In early 2019, the residential density in the country was 42.8 people per square kilometre (early 2009 – 48.8).
From 2009 to 2018, due to the negative net international migration, the population shrank by 281.9 thousand (72.4% of total decline), while due to negative natural population change – 107.7 thousand (27.6% of total decline). In early 2019, there were 203 thousand more women than men in Lithuania (respectively 1 million 498.6 thousand and 1 million 295.6 thousand). Women comprised 53.6% of all permanent residents and there were 1,157 women per 1,000 men (in early 2009 – respectively 53.7% and 1,161).
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