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New wave of emigration from Lithuania?

  • 2000-05-25
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Lithuania's media have been sounding the alarm saying the
Lithuanian nation is experiencing a new wave of emigration to the
United States and other Western countries with higher wages. The
official statistics disprove this, but they do not represent the real
picture as many people go to live and work abroad illegally.

According to the Immigration Department, 10,000 Lithuanians have left
to live in other countries since 1992. However, this doesn't reflect
the numbers of illegal immigrants making it several times higher, says
Audra Sipaviciene, head of the Vilnius Bureau of the International
Migration Organization. It will be possible to calculate the real
figure in 2001 when a general census of the population will be
undertaken.

For now, the number of emigres can be deduced only from circumstancial
evidence. This year so far, 1004 Lithuanians have been deported from
Western countries, mostly for illegal work.

"Almost half of them were deported from Great Britain. Germany and
Sweden are second and third. These three countries are the major
European destinations of Lithuanian illegal immigrants and workers, "
said Rokas Pukinskas, spokesman for Lithuania's border police
department, adding that deportations from other countries are rather
rare.

With a few exceptions for highly qualified workers, non-citizens of the
European Union have no right to work in EU countries.

Lithuania's border police say most of the deported are young people
from Kaunas (35 percent of deportees), Siauliai (18 percent), as well
as from small towns and villages. They usually have limited education
and are desperate given their social situation here. Residents of the
more wealthy Lithuanian capital and seaport are not eager to go to work
abroad - Klaipeda residents make up only 3 percent of those deported
from the West this year, Vilnius residents only 4 percent.

"We are questioning deported persons. We pay especially close attention
to deportees from the United Kingdom that are the major group of
deportees. Some 80 percent of them are under 30 years old. The number
of men is twice that of woman. Some 20 percent are deported for
residing illegally. Some 70 percent are deported for working illegally.
For example, some of them were repairing cars and selling them to other
Lithuanians who go to buy cars in the UK. Others are deported for petty
crimes such as hooliganism and theft," Pukinskas said.

The main destination for most Lithuanian emigres during the 20th
century was the United States. According to the American Embassy in
Vilnius, each week some 600 Lithuanians apply for an American visa. One
third of the applicants are rejected. Unofficial sources suggest that
30 percent of those who get a visa stay in the United States longer
than their visa allows, Michael Boyle, American embassy press and
culture attache, told daily newspaper Lietuvos rytas.
Usually this means illegal work there. So simple calculations tell one
that this year some 5,000 - 6,000 Lithuanians will emigrate to America.

Lithuanians have always had a taste in travel and emigration and can be
found in all five of the world's continents. Some 1 million people of
Lithuanian origin live abroad now. More than 800,000 of them are in the
United States. Lithuanians are tolerant toward those who decide to
emigrate and especially to those who decide to work abroad, states
survey of the International Migration Organization.

"I think it is everybody's right to go wherever he or she wants to go.
Emigration minimizes social tension in Lithuania. Many emigrants send
money to their families and relatives in Lithuania. Many of those
working abroad return to Lithuania after some time anyway," historian
Arturas Dubonis said.

He added that current emigration is not of the same scale of that from
1900 - 1914 when more than 225,000 Lithuanians immigrated to the United
States.

According to Veidas magazine, Lithuania had the second
highest rate of emigration in the world during the 20th century - 47
emigrants for every 10,000 inhabitants. Only Ireland with 101 emigrants
for every 10,000 was higher in the 20th century. Comparatively, in
Estonia this figure was only 22 and in Germany 10 for every 10,000.