Remigration and brain gain in Latvia (2018 – 2022)

Fundamental and Applied Research Project “Remigration and brain gain in Latvia (BRAIN)”

Duration: September 2018 – September 2022.

Project is funded by the Latvian Science Council.

Core team: Kata Fredheim, Marija Krumina, Anders Paalzow,  Zane Varpina.

Affiliated researchers: Anna Elizabete Grike, Kalev Aasmäe, Rūta Dapkūnaitė, Aivars Timofejevs, Anna Pluta, Nellija Titova.

The research team at BICEPS and SSE Riga worked on a four-year project on the ‘brain drain – brain gain’ process for the Baltics, in particular Latvia, by studying human capital gain and loss resulting from mobility.

Latvia has exhibited the fastest depopulation rate in the world; since 2000, the Latvian population has shrunk by 18% to around 1.9 million people due to a combination of low birth rates and emigration. With an estimated 259 000 people who emigrated from 2000-2013 and have not returned, it should be no surprise that remigration has emerged as a topic of national interest – in particular in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Lithuania is experiencing similar trends, while Estonia only recently reversed the trend to positive net migration.

The increased focus on remigration is not unique to the Baltics. After Central and Eastern European countries’ accession to the EU and the financial crisis that motivated people to leave their countries for work or educational reasons, their return has been identified as a way to reverse brain drain and turn migration into a source of brain gain.

When migrants return, the skills, experiences and networks they bring back constitute net human capital gains, often described as brain gain. The assets that return migrants carry include work and study experience in a different environment, languages, innovations, advanced technology skills, foreign contacts, entrepreneurial aspirations, and financial resources to be invested in business ventures.

Aim of the research

This project aims to estimate the migration ‘brain drain – brain gain’ process for Latvia by studying mobility of Latvian nationals from two perspectives. BEFORE: a forward-looking approach with respect to migration, a study of the youth population after secondary education. The ‘before’ approach seeks answer to question “What are secondary school leavers’ aspirations and plans for work and studies abroad?” The study is based on quantitative survey and qualitative interviews of school graduates. AFTER: returnees are studied to find out “What skills and competencies do return migrants bring back to Latvia from their work or studies abroad?”, “What is the effect of foreign experience on entrepreneurial activity and success?” A pan-Baltic survey and in-depth interviews are used to explore business owners and managers perceptions of return migrants. Annual survey of the Latvian adult population combined with in-depth interviews is used to analyse and compare the activity level, ambitions and attitudes towards entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship between return migrants and the ones stayed in Latvia.

Main results of the project

The project’s main outputs are seven research papers and broad data collected on different aspects of migration. Data includes: the unique School graduate survey data (2200+400 respondents); extended Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey data capturing return migrants and their involvement in entrepreneurship (8000 respondents); extended SSE Riga annual survey data on business owners and managers in the Baltics, providing their attitudes towards return migrants (3000 respondents); the in-depths interviews (162) with graduates return migrants and business owners in three Baltic countries. International workshops, 14 conference presentations, mini-lectures, a podcast, expert interviews, a series of professional short videos with the main project results, and the final conference with panel discussions on remigration, entrepreneurship, experience, and education organized in June, 2022, were among other outcomes of the project.

Research papers

  1. Mobility intentions of Latvian high-schools graduates amid Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, by Zane Varpina and Kata Fredheim.
  2. Implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on high school graduates plans and education path, by Zane Varpina, Kata Fredheim and Marija Krumina.
  3. The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on migrants’ decision to return home to Latvia, by Zane Varpina and Kata Fredheim.
  4. Who is more eager to leave? Differences in emigration intentions among Latvian and Russian speaking school graduates in Latvia, by Zane Varpina, Kata Fredheim and Marija Krumina.
  5. What a manager wants: how return migrants’ experiences are valued by managers in the Baltics, by Zane Varpina and Kata Fredheim.
  6. Back for business: the link between foreign experience and entrepreneurial activity in Latvia, by Zane Varpina, Marija Krumina, Kata Fredheim and Anders Paalzow.
  7. Ukrainian asylum seekers in Latvia: the circumstances of destination choice, by Zane Varpina and Kata Fredheim.

Remigration and brain gain – why it matters and what we found

Why do migrants return? How do employers think about the skills they bring back? Are they more likely to start an enterprise? We also looked into the future: what are high school graduates’ plans about leaving? These are some of the questions we sought insight about and explore in this four-part video series.

Returning on a jet plane: Why do Baltic migrants return?

Why do migrants in the Baltics choose to return home? Is it for money, lifestyle, or was it planned all along? We explore return migrants’ narratives of return to find out. We also discuss how those who returned during the Covid-19 pandemic made the decision to come back.

Should I stay or should I go? Why and where do Latvian students want to migrate?

As many as 60% of Latvian students consider migration. We discuss why they want to move and find that economic reasons are not the main driving force behind youth migration! Where do they want to go, and why are some of the main questions the research team explores in this research. This matters because migration intentions are a powerful predictor of future migration.

Let’s get started: Entrepreneurship among returnees.

Returnees are more likely to become entrepreneurs than those who did not migrate. Why is that? Is it about funding, ideas, skills or an appetite for risk? The research team discusses the reasons and the benefits:

Conference: Remigration and Brain Gain in the Baltics

Read more about the conference. The video record of the conference is available here.