2019.05.29 14:00

Positive migration for first time in 18 years gives hope for Lithuania’s demographic crisis

Lithuania's population edged up this year, following decades of contraction. Economic growth and Brexit uncertainty may have encouraged more expatriates to return home, but economists say the government must work hard to make them feel welcome.

Marijus, a hairdresser in Vilnius, has recently moved back from Denmark, where he worked as a team manager at a transportation company.

Settling in Lithuania, after having spent years in Denmark, went smoothly enough, he says, and he can do the job he trained for. However, the transition did take some planning.

“I prepared a plan to live in Lithuania without pay for as long as I was training and settling in,” he tells LRT TV.

Audra Sipavičienė, who heads the information centre for repatriates ‘Renkuosi Lietuvą’ (‘I choose Lithuania’), says that she has been receiving three times as many enquiries from Lithuanian expats interested in returning home.

Data by Statistics Lithuania support the point. In April, 3,032 people left the country while 4,061 arrived – positive net migration for the first time in 18 years.

Moreover, Lithuania's population grew for three months in a row.

Economists say that the country's growing economy may have been a factor, alongside uncertainty about Brexit, as the UK has been a popular migration destination.

Immigration from non-EU countries, especially Ukraine, has risen substantially in the last years.

Still, to make the uptick into a full reversal, the government has to have a strategy and ensure that repatriates feel welcome, they add.

While Marijus settled in Vilnius, many returning Lithuanians would prefer to live outside the capital, but the smaller towns and rural areas are the ones worst-equipped to integrate the repatriates, say businesses and consultants.

“Regions present a problem, because the people do not want to return to a big city, since they probably come from foreign megalopolises,” says Dovydas Petrošius, the president of the Association of Ex-emigrants. “They are coming back to the empty homes of their parents or grandparents, want to build their lives there.”

The Lithuanian government is focusing on education for repatriates' children, according to Government Vice-Chancellor Deividas Matulionis, including extra funding for their reintegration into Lithuanian schools.

Moreover, the government expects to use EU funds for professional training of repatriates themselves.

“Many return after doing one particular job for 10-15 years, while they may have had different skills before,” says Matulionis. “There should be state support for them to easily refresh those skills”.

Economists estimate that the Lithuanian population could grow by 6,000 people this year, having contracted by almost a fifth over the preceding two decades, from 3.5 million to 2.8 million.

Aware of the negative economic impact of depopulation, numerous governments have proposed policies to encourage expatriates to return and women to have more children.

At the same time, the cabinet has proposed introducing annual quotas for workers from non-EU countries.