The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on migrants’ decision to return home to Latvia

New SSE Riga/BICEPS occasional paper by Zane Varpina (SSE Riga, BICEPS) and Kata Fredheim (SSE Riga, BICEPS).

This work was supported by the National Research Program Project grant number VPP-IZM-2018/1-0015 and by the Latvian Council of Science, project No. lzp-2018/1-0486.


The Covid-19 pandemic restricted people’s movement but also changed their course of life. For some migrants, this meant re-evaluating opportunities abroad and back home. This paper uses findings from interviews with those who returned to Latvia during the pandemic to gain insight into the ways the pandemic influenced their decision to return. We find that the pandemic impacted how people think of return. It was both a reason and a catalyst, accelerating life events and leading to decisions to return. For some who contemplated return the pandemic accelerated decision, motivated by missing people, loneliness, and missing community. The pandemic and its immediate consequences also directly affected migrants; livelihood and work; some returned quickly. For some of
these migrants, the pandemic also acted as a barrier to leaving again soon after a return. Circular migration journeys of coming back and leaving again feed into the narrative that for many migrants returning is more a stop in their journey than the destination itself. The much anticipated great wave of return, it seems was more like a tide. People
moved back and forth between borders, seeking safety and community in times of uncertainty while trying to maintain their work and studies.

Keywords: Latvia, return migration, Covid-19, reasons for return, decision to return