RIGA - Despite earlier assumptions that the declining economic situation in Ireland would bring back Latvian emigrants in droves, few have returned, prompting the government to launch a new campaign to bring them back.
On Nov. 3, President Valdis Zatlers said that the state needed to lure back emigrated Latvians. Zatlers, while on a state visit to Ireland, spoke to the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin about encouraging emigres to return.
"Our task is to work to make Latvia attractive enough so that they could return at any time and work... Nobody has been forced [to emigrate], and nobody can be forced to return," said the president.
The government has recently discussed a number of proposals aimed at bringing Latvian emigrants back to the country to help replenish a diminishing workforce and stymie negative population growth.
The president said, however, that ultimately it was a free choice made by people to emigrate and that it is their free choice to return.
"No country is happy to see citizens leaving, but we have to be patient," the president said.
Representatives of Latvian NGOs in Ireland also do not expect a mass return of Latvian workers in Ireland, in spite of the crisis.
Janis Kargins, the chairman of the Latvian Society in Ireland, told reporters that "a large number of Latvian guest workers in Ireland have lost their jobs, especially in construction sectors, where demand has dropped in the private sector."
Workers that have recently arrived in Ireland have the most to lose. They are the first ones on the list to be fired and they have not earned the kinds of social guarantees that those who have worked there for two or three years, and paid taxes, receive.
Imants Miezis, the owner of an Internet portal for Latvians in Ireland, said that the first ones to return to Latvia would be those who went to work to repay a loan, build a house or buy an apartment in Latvia 's many of them have achieved their goals and can return home.
"Most Latvians went to Ireland due to other reasons and they will not return at first difficulties," said Miezis.
"If they have paid taxes, then in two years they can earn back twice as much in a difficult situation," he said. Miezis also said that the most difficult situation is for the people working in construction.
A REASON TO STAY
The Latvian Ambassador to Ireland, Indulis Abelis, while speaking to the press, explained the situation further, adding that even though there are fewer jobs, the unemployed are not destitute.
"Quite many have lost their jobs and some of them consider returning to Latvia, some consider launching a business in Latvia, but the majority uses the opportunity to receive unemployment benefits in Ireland, which are rather big," the ambassador said.
The ambassador said that Ireland's unemployment rate is now hovering at about 6 percent in addition to having a budget deficit.
"There are problems in many national economy sectors and they mainly influence those who have just arrived and do not have stable workplaces," said the ambassador.
President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, told Zatlers that "Ireland will continue to ensure a policy of hospitality vis-a-vis Latvians who live in the country."
Nevertheless, emigrated Latvians who have lost their jobs are not planning to return to Latvia, but are looking for new jobs in Ireland or other countries. There is a new trend to go to Canada for work.
Currently there is no joint migration registration system, and it is nearly impossible to establish the exact figures of Latvians working in Ireland.
It has been estimated by Irish authorities that about 30,000-50,000 people might have gone to work to Ireland 's the figure given by the Irish Department of Social and Family Affairs is approximately 37,000. However, as the authorities do not have close records of workers having left, there are only vague estimations.
Latvians working in Ireland last year are still connected to Latvia and frequently send money back to relatives and family. In 2007, Latvians transferred 84 million euros to Latvia, and have already transferred 39 million euros this year alone.
Despite the lack of citizens returning to Latvia, there is a positive note 's fewer people are deciding to leave the country than in previous months.
Ambassador Abelis said that although there is still a constant flow of workers arriving in Ireland, the number has been reduced from 900 a month to 200.