In its history, Lithuania has experienced various phases of emigration and immigration. In the summer of 1940, as a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Lithuania was annexed by the USSR, only to be occupied by the German Wehrmacht one year later. During German occupation, about 200,000 Lithuanian Jews were deported and killed – almost the entire Jewish population of the country. At the same time, Germans were called upon to settle in the occupied territories. In fall 1944, the Red Army reoccupied Lithuania. Hundreds of thousands fled Soviet occupation. During the post-war period, Russians and other population groups from regions belonging to the Soviet Union were resettled in Lithuania in order to tie the previously independent republic to Moscow. However, starting in the 1980s, Lithuanians increasingly called for independence. When Lithuania finally declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, almost ten per cent of its population were Interner Link: people born outside the territory of the now independent state.
Trends of migration in Lithuania since independence in 1991
In the three decades since the formal restoration of independence in 1991
Emigration as dominant migration pattern
The first decade after Lithuania's restored independence was marked by extensive emigration. At the beginning, emigration to the countries of the former USSR sharply increased, reaching its highest level in 1992. Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and citizens of other countries of the former USSR left Lithuania and returned to their countries of origin. After 1992 migration patterns and directions began to change – ever since, migration directed towards Western countries has been twice as high as migration to the East.
On 1 May 2004, Lithuania became member of the European Union (EU). In 2007 the country joined the Schengen area. Since then, Lithuanian citizens can freely travel, work and settle (almost) all over Europe. The EU integration process and the interlinked integration of Lithuania into the European labour market led to increasing emigration of Lithuanian citizens to other EU Member States. Their outflows from Lithuania peaked in the period 2009 to 2010 due to the global financial crisis with its negative impact on Lithuania's economy. The high point of emigration was recorded in 2010, when 79.315 Lithuanian citizens left the country.
Countries that attract the highest numbers of migrants from Lithuania have been changing over time. Prior to Lithuania's accession to the EU countries of the former USSR and those with a significant Lithuanian diaspora (Poland, Germany, the United States) were the preferred destination of Lithuanian migrants.
The first countries that opened their borders for Lithuanian citizens were the United Kingdom (UK), Ireland and Sweden. Together with Germany and Norway the first two countries have been among the most popular destination countries for Lithuanian citizens for more than a decade. 44 per cent of Lithuanian citizens living abroad reside in the UK, twelve per cent in Germany, 10 per cent in Norway, and eight per cent in Ireland.
The main reason for emigration is dissatisfaction with the economic situation in Lithuania and the hope for better economic perspectives abroad. A study, which involved 1,500 Lithuanian citizens residing abroad, revealed that the majority of them left Lithuania in order to work abroad (56 per cent). Yet, employment is not the only reason for emigration. According to the cited study 20.7 per cent of Lithuanian emigrants stated that they left for self-realisation, another 20.3 per cent emigrated because they were dissatisfied with governance in Lithuania, 25.9 per cent of the respondents indicated that they emigrated due to family reasons.
In 2019, about 73 per cent of all emigrants were between 15 and 44 years old.
Immigration to Lithuania: returning Lithuanian citizens and increasing labour migration
On the 1st of January 2020, 78.081 foreign citizens resided in Lithuania, which constitutes 2.79 per cent of the population.
Statistics show that during the period from 2004 to 2016 immigration flows to Lithuania consisted mainly of returning Lithuanians (about 80 per cent). This trend started to change in 2017. The most recent provisional data provided by the migration department under the Ministry of the Interior show that Lithuanians accounted for half (51 per cent) of the total number of immigrants in 2019.
The majority of foreigners, who immigrate to Lithuania, are third-country nationals (non-EU citizens). Most of them come from Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. In 2019, citizens of the mentioned countries constituted almost half (45 per cent) of the total number of foreign citizens who immigrated to Lithuania that year.
In the last five years, employment has been the main reason for issuing and extending temporary residence permits (68 per cent in 2018),
Asylum plays a minor role in Lithuania. With the exception of 2015, in the period 2004 to 2018 the annual number of lodged asylum applications ranged between 400 and 650. In total, 747 asylum seekers have been granted refugee status, and 2,779 the status of subsidiary protection.
In 2015, Lithuania joined the European Commission Emergency Relocation Scheme to take in refugees from Italy and Greece, two EU member states at the EU's external borders that were confronted with a massive arrival of asylum seekers.
Since 2015 several relevant legislative developments have taken place regarding refugee reception and integration. First of all, in 2016 and 2017, the Government approved two resolutions
Migration and integration policy
Migration policies primarily aim at reducing the number of Lithuanian citizens leaving the country, encouraging the return of Lithuanian emigrants, and maintaining ties with the Lithuanian diaspora.
The Law on the Legal Status of Aliens
In 2007, the Economic Migration Regulation Strategy
Despite relevant developments in the area of migration and migrants’ integration policy during the last decade, there is still a lot to do with regard to the implementation of a comprehensive migration policy that encompasses the long-term integration of foreign citizens. Recent developments show that Lithuania's migration and integration policies remain highly selective as they continue to favour return migration of Lithuanian citizens and immigration of certain groups of migrants (especially highly skilled specialists and their family members) from particular third-countries (especially from developed countries such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, USA, Canada, and South Korea).
Instead of conclusions
Since the world is struggling with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, cross-border migration flows to and within Europe have decreased due to the closure of the states’ borders – a measure adopted to contain the pandemic. It is hard to predict how this situation will impact future migration from and to Lithuania. However, migration experts assume that the growth of immigration to Lithuania observed in recent years will slow down for a while. Meanwhile the economic downturn in the follow-up of the pandemic-related lockdown in spring of 2020 might cause an increase in the number of people leaving the country. According to statistics provided by Lithuanian Employment Services unemployment increased more than 21 per cent in April compared to the previous month.