Why is there going to be a future increase in Lithuanians returning from abroad?

Vilnius International Airport
Vilnius International Airport, DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

During the month of June 2020, there were 2,153 people more returning to Lithuania than leaving. It became a record since the restoration of independence, however, it is believed that the record will not stand for long and will be topped more than once. For three continuous months, the number Lithuanians returning back has been increasing, and the stories about the last Lithuanian citizen who will have to turn off the light at the airport are sinking into oblivion. Why are Lithuanian citizens returning, and is life in Lithuania really improving so quickly, Greta Ilekytė of Swedbank asks?

Gloomy emigration prognoses did not become reality, in fact, only since the beginning of this year, almost nine thousand more citizens returned than left, and almost 60 per cent of all those returning consisted of citizens who had previously emigrated. It seems that the price of emigration for Lithuanians is increasingly becoming more than the economic benefit.

 What is the price of emigration?

The price of emigration consists not only of the monetary costs wanting to set out, such as plane tickets or other costs of transportation, but also such societal and psychological aspects like the behaviour of relatives,  culture shock, and potential language barrier. This price also includes the time that the emigrants have to invest, finding a place to live, navigating the country’s legal system, or learning new skills.

However, usually, this price is redeemed with the economic benefit, or to state it simply, with the increased income which the emigrants were unable to secure in their native country. This is how a person’s purchasing power increases, which often reflects in the monetary remittance of the emigrated countrymen to their relatives in Lithuania.

In 2019, the monetary remittance of migrants to Lithuania reached almost 2.4 per cent of the country’s GDP, and this amounts to more than one billion euros. It is almost as much as we get in one year from European Union funds in terms of support.

It is true that lately, more and more emigrants use their funds not only to support their relatives that are left in Lithuania, but also to buy real estate in their native country. This indicates a lot for the not-yet severed link with Lithuania, and possible plans to return in the future.

The economic benefit of emigration is decreasing

Last year, about 24 thousand citizens had emigrated the country, and about one-third of them chose the United Kingdom as their place to live. Further down this list are Germany and Norway.

The average salary in the United Kingdom after taxes at this point reaches more than two thousand. euros, and Germany also has similar numbers. Meanwhile, people working in Norway on average ‘are handed’ more than three thousand euros. Comparing with the average salary in Lithuania, which at this point is almost 900 euros, the difference is huge.

However, one must not forget that the living costs in these countries are also far more expensive, and so the difference of the purchasing powers that includes the relation of funds and prices is lower, and the gap with Lithuania is decreasing every year.

For example, according to the data last year from the agency ‘Eurostat’, the consumption of goods and services whilst taking into account the differences between the prices in Lithuania, has reached even 90 per cent. of the EU average. In 2010, when we captured the biggest wave of emigration, it only reached 67 per cent. In the countries that are most liked by the Lithuanian emigrants, this measure is bigger by about a third, and sadly in the last ten years, it mostly hadn’t grown, or had even decreased.

So, the quick approach of Lithuanian purchasing power to the average citizen of the European Union is decreasing the economic benefit of emigration. In other words, the economic benefits in other countries are starting to become too little to fully compensate for the entire price of emigration. This is why we see fewer people leaving, and more returning to Lithuania.

Indeed, not only the desire to obtain a higher salary, but also the dearth of workspace often pushed Lithuanians towards emigration, and due to this reason, we saw a big leap in emigration after the 2009 financial crisis. However, during this time there is nothing close to that, and the number of employees in the country at the end of July 2020 is already bigger than it was at the beginning of March.

Is the grass really greener elsewhere?

The citizens who left often notice that a big portion of the money earned abroad goes to expensive services and housing rents. Quite often they also need to pay for the health protection or education services that the country provides.

Not only that, the negative outlook towards immigrants, especially during the times of ‘Brexit’ in the United Kingdom, often grows into discrimination and creates social barriers. Lastly, the so-called ‘Migrant Nets’ that connect emigrated citizens in a particular country do not only motivate anyone to come, but also do the opposite – after a portion of the countrymen return to Lithuania successfully, they influence people to follow that same example.

Lithuania is one of the countries in the European Union that has been least-affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, not only in terms of economy but also from a humanitarian perspective. It seems that a quick economic rebound and the billions from the European Union that are due to soon reach the country are not only going to stop the citizens from emigration in the future, but will also continue to add to the ever-increasing number of people returning from overseas.

Since 2001 Lithuania has lost almost half a million citizens, and it’s going to take time to gain them back. However, is important not to forget that the grass is not necessarily greener elsewhere. Even if it seems that way looking over the fence, the ever-growing flows of Lithuanians returning are only going to confirm that.

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