According to the World Bank, in the past 30 years Lithuania’s population has decreased by 1 million (or 25%). Fertility rate, a key metric used to measure country’s natural population growth, has been hovering at around 1.5, well below the required replacement level of 2.1. People tend to move a lot, not least because free movement of people is one of the core pillars upon which the EU was founded, and it is not only in Lithuania the outflow of people is taking place. What has been happening in Lithuania are normal processes driven by globalization and wealth accumulation.
Demographic decline does not have to be alarming in and of itself, but the outcome, toward which Lithuania is leaping, is a concern. An emptying slow-growth country unable to support its ageing population would be a sad conclusion for a once-prospering pan-European powerhouse. But life should not be bleak and the ending should not be near.
First, let’s not lose any Lithuanians that are already Lithuanian. Understandably, there are serious risks in allowing dual citizenship, especially considering security implications of Russian citizens acquiring Lithuanian passports. However, smart lawyers and lawmakers should be able to draft, without relying on high-risk referendum, a leak-less law, which will ensure that all those who now have Lithuanian citizenship can keep it along with other passports.
The President of Lithuania can grant Lithuanian citizenship to a foreigner only for extraordinary accomplishments to our country. To apply the principle of proportionality, citizenship should only be revoked if extraordinarily grave damage is done to Lithuania. It is hard to believe Kaunas native Big Z caused any damage to Lithuania to lose his passport.
Personally, I have been working at a global institution for the past 5 years, a job that took me and my family to far away places. We never emigrated, but due to nature of work, our three sons are all born on different continents (America, Asia, and Australia). Like most Lithuanians abroad, as parents we work very hard to instil Lithuanian culture and teach the language. Eventually, they may still decide they want to live and work around the world, but they will always be Lithuanians with the passport serving as a hard evidence of their connection to the homeland.
Some will say passport is just a piece of paper. I cannot disagree more. Passport is a symbol of where one belongs. It is a document of the country whose history you were part of and whose future you are allowed to build. Maintaining Lithuanian dual citizenship will allow thousands of globally minded, well-educated citizens to participate in the creation of our country’s future. We are too small to ignore the cohorts of youth who may one day be the Sheryl Sandbergs, Ed Sheerans and Elan Musks of the world.
Second, we must encourage immigration to Lithuania. The facts are clear that Lithuania is on the losing side in terms of natural population growth. As a country of ambitious and entrepreneurial people we want to create wealth and prosperity. Therefore, foreign direct investment is crucial in helping create employment and improve living standards. Foreign capital is ready to come, but corporations need qualified people.
Singapore’s economic model fits eloquently with what we are trying to achieve. The island-state relies less on typical “capex” investments, and more on attracting industries with specialised knowledge, educated and skilled people, and value-creating enterprises. Labor laws, heavily controlled by the government, offer attractive conditions for multinationals to establish regional headquarters.
Lithuania has FDI success stories in the financial services, technology, aviation and other sectors, which created high-quality jobs and attracted talent from abroad, but we need more. According to several Lithuania-based executives, it is still expensive and time-consuming to bring qualified specialists to Lithuania.
Alarm bells of Lithuania’s demographic crisis are calling for bold steps by the government. The inevitable and long overdue legislative action to permit dual citizenship is a low-hanging fruit for politicians to reap. Every family in Lithuania has been affected by emigration and none of those who stayed want to deny citizenship to their children and grandchildren.
Same goes for functional immigration laws that are in much need as competition for investment and talent heats up in Central and Eastern Europe. Skilled foreigners will help stabilise Lithuania’s demographic problems and bring economic benefit to the country. It is up to the political parties to design an effective communications strategy around these solutions and win the votes. However, both dual citizenship legislation and the luring of highly skilled foreign workforce represent a clear opportunity to protect Lithuania’s future.
Giedrimas Jeglinskas is a Sydney-based finance professional. He is a former Lithuanian Army officer.