2019 was the first year in three decades when more people came to live in Lithuania than left the country, statistics show. Most of the arrivals are repatriating Lithuanians, attracted by better economic opportunities, analysts say.
Miglė Orlauskaitė has recently returned from the UK and now works as project manager at Create Lithuania, a government programme offering public sector internships for young expatriates.
“It was a number of factors, both social and economic,” Orlauskaitė says about her decision to return to Lithuania.
The salary she is making in Vilnius is a third of what she could expect in the UK, but living expenses are also about three times smaller, she says. Brexit was not a decisive factor for her, Orlauskaitė adds, though it may have factored in for some Lithuanian expatriates for whom the UK has long been the number-one destination.
Preliminary data from Statistics Lithuania show a net positive migration of about 8,000 in 2019, a stark reversal from the year before when almost 4,000 more people left the country than arrived.
“It must be the first year in tree decades when we have a positive migration balance,” says Audra Sipavičienė the Vilnius bureau chief of the International Organization for Migration.
About 60 percent of the new arrivals are Lithuanian nationals returning from emigration, she adds.
Algirdas Matačiūnas is one of the returnees. After spending 16 years in Spain and the UK, where he worked as a chef, he decided to build a business in Šiauliai, a town in northern Lithuania.
There is relatively little competition for his restaurant in the town of some 100,000 people, Matačiūnas believes, even though local government agencies could be more benevolent.
“I can still feel some pressure, perhaps there's the attitude that all businessmen are thieves and need to be closely inspected,” Matačiūnas tells LRT TV.
Analysts note that a fifth of new businesses outside the country's main cities are set up by returning expats.
“It's great that [expatriates] return to their home regions where they want to create value, jobs for themselves and for others,” says Inga Juozapavičienė of Enterprise Lithuania, the government's business promotion agency. “After spending time abroad, they perhaps build up confidence [to start a business] that Lithuanians here, in the regions, may lack.”
Improving and developing the education system is very important if Lithuania wants to continue the trend, since families with children make a big part of the returnees, says Marius Dubnikovas of the Lithuanian Business Confederation.
Surveys suggest that about half of expatriates consider returning to Lithuania, while 16 percent are determined to live in their home country.