Utilisation of returning migrants’ skills and labour: the case of Lithuania


During the last two decades Lithuania has experienced a significant outflow of its labour force, primarily to EU countries as well as to Norway and the United States of America. This has been driven by several factors, such as much higher income levels in the destination countries, lack of economic opportunities, weak social protection in the home country, and migrant network effects. EU membership since 2004 has had a facilitating effect in that joining the EU has dramatically decreased barriers to mobility and employment for Lithuanian citizens. High labour mobility was also experienced by many other Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries (such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania) that entered the EU in 2004 and 2007. While emigration has advantages and disadvantages, on balance, it tends to have a negative influence on the economic performance of the sending countries, because migrants are usually younger, more active in the labour market, and, often, better educated than the general population.

During the last few years emigration from Lithuania has slowed down, and a significant number of emigrants have returned. Much of the literature views return migration to CEE positively, assuming it may improve the demographic structure and economic performance of these countries. Empirical evidence concerning the number of returnees, as well as the outcomes of return, is inconclusive (see for example Hazans, 2019; Hazaus & Philips, 2011; Kaczmarczyk, Anacka. & Fihel, 2016; Lulle, Krisjane, & Bauls, 2019; Smoliner, Forschner, Hochgerner, & Nova, 2013). It shows that a significant share of migration from CEE is temporary, short term, circular; yet many workers return permanently after spending multiple years abroad. Various authors show that returnees may or may not earn an income premium for their experience abroad, are more likely to be self-employed, and may also face difficulties in finding employment, at least during the first year after coming back. The outcomes of return depend on the level of education, qualification, type, and duration of work abroad, the region of return, timing and duration of return, and other factors.

Return migration may increase labour productivity and labour utilisation (both quantitative and qualitative aspects as defined in this book), provided returnees can draw on their skills and work experience to find good-quality employment. Labour market institutions, such as active labour market policies and support by the public employment service (PES), may play a facilitating role. The core aim of this chapter is thus to analyse the status of return migrants in the Lithuanian labour market and the likely implications of return migration to labour productivity and utilisation. We will also consider, to the extent allowed by the data, the role that different institutions play in facilitating labour market integration of the returnees. The findings are pertinent to other countries of the CEE, such as Estonia, Latvia, and Poland, that show a trend towards increasing return migration.

We start this chapter by presenting contextual data concerning return migration and labour productivity and utilisation in Lithuania and carrying out a brief literature overview. Next, we introduce the data sources and explain the methodological choices. Afterwards, we carry out an empirical analysis in two steps. Firstly, we use Lithuanian LFS (Labour Force Survey) data for 2013-2018 to analyse the recent returnees. While this data presents important evidence concerning labour market status of the returnees, it only covers the recent returnees. This data can be used for the analysis of the role of institutions only to a limited extern because of the relatively small sample size. In order to understand the experiences of a wider sample of returnees, researchers usually draw on surveys (convenience samples, with or without quotas and answer weighting) or interviews. In this chapter we proceed to experiment with another approach and use emerging big data-type tools and machine-based automatic text processing to analyse articles on return migration in the main news portals for 2004-2018. We assess both the sentiment of the articles and the most prominent narratives. While such a method has not been used often for the analysis of return migration, we assume that it provides a promising angle to understand the labour market status of the returnees and the role of institutions. We agree that texts from news portals may be biased, may constnict reality, and reflect both authentic migrant experiences as well as the perception of these experiences in the society. This is advantageous for the purposes of our research, as both the individual story of the returnees and the reception by the society are two sides of the same coin; this may explain the ‘return of innovation’ versus ‘bitter’ return (see e.g. Cassarino, 2004; Cerase, 1974; Coniglio & Brzozowski, 2016).

The research presented in this chapter shows some evidence of positive selection of the Lithuanian returnees: according to the LFS data, the recent returnees are younger than the general labour force; fewer among them have low education; more of them have medium-level education. The recent returnees are significantly less likely to work and much more likely to be self-employed. We used the news poxtals to consider the further career paths of returnees. The narratives vary, but if we tiy to single out the most prominent topics (based on the LDA algorithm and other techniques), it seems to suggest that returnees’ work and skills are being accepted in the labour market. Our findings point towards a likely positive effect of return migration on labour productivity, although the effect on labour utilisation is less clear and may be negative during the initial stages of remm (especially if labour utilisation is understood in quantitative terms of the number of hours worked). Further, our data does not show that labour market institutions play a significant role in positive selection or quick integration of the returnees. Rather this is associated with broader factors, such as the economic environment in the country and actions of the central government institutions.

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