Professor Audra I. Mockaitis

Home » Uncategorized » Lithuanians are leaving their country in droves but the government panders to expatriate elites

Lithuanians are leaving their country in droves but the government panders to expatriate elites

exit door

A 2018 OECD report has found that net migration for Lithuania will remain negative for at least the next few decades. This is worrying in a country that is already the European leader in emigration rates[1]. Lithuania has been labelled by some authors as possessing a “culture of migration”[2].  By 2030 it is estimated that the working-age population will decrease by 30%[3]. Yet the Lithuanian government invests millions in programs focused on the Lithuanian diaspora, long-settled communities of Lithuanians abroad, mostly comprised of people with little intention of returning, as well as “elite” emigrants, who are mostly either highly educated and/or skilled professionals.

The government depends on non-representative surveys of these elites to inform policy, and has spent almost 19 million euros over the last six years on its “Global Lithuania” program[4].  According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website[5], the two key goals of the Global Lithuania program are to strengthen ties with specific individuals, who have been recognized in their countries as leaders in their professions (in other words, a select few elites), and to strengthen ties with established official Lithuanian organizations abroad (in other words, diaspora organizations that do not attract recent emigrants and whose members have little intention of “returning” to Lithuania). It also maintains a Facebook page that has just under 13,000 followers (out of 1.3 million emigrants). Thus, 19 million euros have been dedicated to a handful of individuals to pursue special interests, instead of directly addressing the migration crisis in Lithuania. In addition, the Lithuanian parliament has dedicated 2019 as a year for world Lithuanians; thus we may expect to see more funding targeted at these elite groups.

Meanwhile, within Lithuania’s borders we see a dramatic brain drain, a decrease in numbers of university graduates by almost half over an 8 year period to 2015 to only 13,000 university graduates, few and ineffective initiatives to attract non-elite emigrants back home (a government-sponsored repatriation website received only 400 official queries in two years[6]), and a marked inability of returnees to find suitable employment. Although the unemployment rate in 2017 was 7%[7], only 31.5% of repatriates found work within 12 months of return (2015 data), as many local employers prefer not to hire those with international experience[8]. This mass emigration and decline in working-age population, an outward focus by the government on emigrant elites and diaspora organizations, and a reluctance by local firms (and lack of incentives) to hire repatriates are disconcerting and puzzling.


[1] Eurostat (2007). Statistical office of the European Union Eurostat.

[2] Kumpickaitė-Valiūnienė, V., & Žičkutė, I. (2017). Emigration after the socialist regime in Lithuania: Why the west is still the best. Baltic Journal of Management, 12 (1): 86-110.

[3] OECD (2018). OECD Reviews of Labour Market and Social Policies: Lithuania. OECD Publishing, Paris.



[6] OECD (2018).


[8] OECD (2018).

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