Survival strategy once again?

Unfortunately, those positive developments stopped with the outbreak of the economic crisis, which initiated a new unprecedented wave of emigration, turning migration once again from an expression of “free choice/freedom of movement” to a desperate search for economic opportunities abroad and a “survival strategy”. In 2010 there was an unprecedented peak - 83 500 Lithuanian inhabitants registered their departure from Lithuania. Such a significant increase in the number of registered emigrants is in all likelihood attributable mainly to the introduction of a statutory duty for all permanent residents of the country to pay compulsory health insurance, a circumstance which may well have also encouraged emigrants who had failed to register their departure from Lithuania earlier, to do so now. Nevertheless, 2011 and 2012 witness continuous high emigration outflows, which may prove to reflect a new, real wave of emigration (rather than an artefact due to improved reporting, as had unrealistically been hoped).

In the absence of in-depth research, it is difficult to establish the determinants of emigration with any certainty. A preliminary analysis of changes in economic development and emigration indicators, however, show an evident correlation between emigration trends and unemployment, and between net migration and GDP dynamics (Figure 3.3). The younger generations in general - and those entering the labour market for the first time in particular - were hit hardest by the economic recession. The level of unemployment among young Lithuanians surpassed 30% (Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.3. Migration and economic indicators in Lithuania, 2000-10

Source: Statistics Lithuania.

Figure 3.4. Total unemployment and youth unemployment, 2005-11

Source: Statistics Lithuania.

Better employment opportunities, higher salaries (three to four times higher, even when purchasing power is taken into account) and better social security benefits, etc., are major economic reasons for Lithuanians to move abroad. In the context of the crisis, in addition to macro-economic factors, new push factors emerged at the micro-economic level, such as the inability to pay back bank loans and other financial commitments (even with a job in Lithuania), mass bankruptcy of small and medium businesses, etc. In many cases, emigration became the only economic survival strategy (Stankuniene et al., 2012). New phenomena, such as moving abroad due to “personal bankruptcy” (a very complicated procedure in Lithuania) have been documented. The above push factors, coupled with frustration and disillusion with government economic policy, imbue emigration with the features of desertion.

In addition to economics, other reasons, such as social insecurity, social injustice (“social serfdom”) or family-related reasons (e.g., family reunion) contribute to

increasing emigration flows (Sipaviciene and Stankuniene, 2011).

On the other hand, factors related to past migrations, such as the existence of wellfunctioning informal migration networks as well as established support mechanisms at the destination can be identified. These act as pull factors that facilitate the realisation of migration intentions. Two recent studies commissioned by the IOM Vilnius office and carried out in Lithuania (2008 and 2010) reveal that the Lithuanian migration network in destination countries is quite extensive - 30% of Lithuanian residents have someone from their family/household working/studying/living abroad and 80% have migrants in their close social environment (friends, relatives, etc.) (Sipaviciene, 2011). An effective migrant support mechanism exists, as can be deduced from the fact that as many as 80% of emigrants find a job abroad through this channel.

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