What a manager wants: how return migrants’ experiences are valued by managers in the Baltics

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.


In the past two decades, the three Baltic countries lost a significant portion of their population. A combination of low birth rates, aging population, and emigration contributed to the decline. In the Baltics, similarly to other Central and Eastern European countries, return migration is often portrayed as the magic solution to improve the countries’ demographic trends, to reverse brain drain, and a way to turn migration into a source of net human capital gains. Policymakers and businesses may be responding to demographic shifts based on hunches. The lack of recent research contributes to the myths around returnees, entrepreneurs, and employers’ attitudes. Finding and staying in employment is key in attracting and retaining return migrants. Yet, how experience from abroad is valued in the labour market is a missing piece in the puzzle.

This paper explores if and which foreign experiences are valued by managers in the Baltics. We present some of the first results of a large-scale, three-year Pan-Baltic study on return migration and brain gain. Using granular data from 67 interviews with managers and entrepreneurs in the three Baltic countries highlights manager’s views on the value of experiences of return migrants. Thus, the study fills a gap in the existing literature and looks beyond statistics to explore narratives and experiences. The data about the now and plans for the future could help policymakers and the business community. Through this research, we learn about the experiences of employers and business owners; to help respond to today’s opportunities and challenges.

Keywords: Return migration, Human capital, Baltics