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History of Migration since the Second World War | Lithuania |

Lithuania Background Information Historical Development Immigrant and Foreign Population Flight and Asylum Integration of Minorities Irregular Migration Current Development References and Further Reading

History of Migration since the Second World War

Benjamin Brake

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Between 1940 and 1958, Lithuania experienced a loss in population due to deportations, acts of war and the Holocaust. Nearly the entire Jewish population of the country was exterminated. In total, the country lost an estimated 1 million people during this time.

During the post-war period ethnic Russians and population groups from other regions of the Soviet Union (mainly from the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus) were systematically resettled in the Baltic States. This was done in order to tie the previously independent republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania more closely to the central power in Moscow and thus prevent the manifestation of a desire for independence. Increased industrialisation brought about a further influx of labourers from the Soviet Union. In 1989, approximately 10% of the country's population was foreign-born.

Despite the immigration of a wave of exiled Lithuanians, the Baltic state has been experiencing a significant decline in population since the restoration of independence in 1990. Both natural population development and the migration balance have been negative since the beginning of the 1990s. Accountable are the period of drastic economic change from the earlier, planned economy to the current free-market economy, as well as the newly-won freedom to travel. In the first years after 1990, members of ethnic minorities in particular emigrated primarily to Russia and Ukraine. Since the second half of the 1990s, emigration to Western Europe and North America has been predominant. Since Lithuania's admission to the European Union in May 2004, and subsequent freedom of movement as workers to the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden, the number of Lithuanians working or studying abroad has increased further.

Migration Balance

Due to immigration from the territories of the Soviet Union, Lithuania experienced a positive net migration of 6 000 to 8 000 persons per year until the end of the 1980s.

Migration balance in Lithuania, 1997-2005 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

Net migration has been consistently negative since the regaining of independence in 1990 (see figure). In conjunction with the declining birth rate, this intensifies the country's overall demographic problem. Since 1989, the total population has shrunk by 5.8% (300 000 persons) to the current population of 3.4 million. The number of people emigrating from the country is also likely to be considerably underestimated.

The reasons for which Lithuanians migrate are primarily of an economic nature: the prospect of finding a better job or a higher income abroad figure highly. According to official statistics, 61 800 Lithuanians left the country between 2001 and 2005, with 83.1% of that number leaving for employment reasons. Moreover, 37.2% of migrants above the age of 15 stated that they had been unemployed before leaving the country. In this period, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the USA, Spain and Germany were the main western destination countries for emigration. To date, however, the migration behaviour of ethnic minorities has differed significantly from that of ethnic Lithuanians; thus Russia, Ukraine and Belarus continue to be destination countries for Lithuanian emigration.

In the period between 2001 and 2005, 63.8% of migrants aged 15 years and above had secondary school qualifications, while a further 20.9% had a university degree. The phenomenon of highly-qualified people emigrating, commonly referred to as "brain drain", is not a major concern among the governing bodies in Lithuania; indeed, the Department of Migration points to returnees using the knowledge gained abroad in their native country. This assumption coincides with a study carried out among university students in 2005 in cooperation with Vilnius University. Students were asked, among other things, whether they were planning a stay abroad, and if so, for how long. Of 169 students, just 5.9% replied that they would want to turn their backs on Lithuania permanently. A significant majority of about 92% could only imagine a temporary stay abroad.

These attitudes toward emigration also seem to be reflected in the general population. According to a study carried out by Lithuania's market and opinion research centre, 73% of those surveyed stated they had no intention of emigrating. Only 1.3% felt that permanent emigration was worth considering.

Lithuanians make considerable use of the opportunities that the free movement of workers gives to EU citizens. As only the United Kingdom, Sweden and Ireland opened their employment markets fully in the first phase of the transitional arrangements (May 2004 to May 2006), labour migration within this legal framework was concentrated primarily to these three countries. In the United Kingdom, Lithuanians made up about 15% of workers from the EU8 in the year 2005. Here they pursue low-skilled occupations as harvest helpers, bricklayers and temporary staff. In Ireland they make up a significantly higher proportion at 21%. Although there, too, they are mostly found in relatively simple forms of occupation, the numbers employed in the health service (as nurses and doctors) are rising.



  1. According to the Department of Migration, it is not possible to gather exact data due to inadequate recording methods and the absence of political will.

  2. See also the interview with Almantas Gavenas, director of the Department of Migration in the Lithuanian Interior Ministry, in: Baltic Times, 04.05.2005 (456), p. 16.

  3. See Brake, Kuoni and Simetaite (2005).

  4. See Traser (2005).

  5. Germany has extended the transitional period to 2009 and will probably maintain it until 2011.

  6. The term "workers from the EU8" refers to workers from the eight Central and Eastern European countries that acceded to the European Union on 1 May 2004.

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