Baltic migration experts: Coronavirus crisis changing cross-border movement

Tallink ship departing from Tallinn.
Tallink ship departing from Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Migration trends in the Baltics are changing and that the coronavirus crisis is changing cross-border movement, researchers from the Nordic and Baltic countries said at a conference on Friday.

The experts said migration has calmed down in the Baltics in recent years and that there has been a turnaround in Estonia -- the number of people arriving exceeds the number of emigrants. Most people are leaving Estonia for Finland, but already last year, fewer Estonian-speaking people moved to the northern neighbors than came back from Finland.

University of Tartu professor Tiit Tammaru said a decrease in return migration is also expected in the coming years, but Estonia has now become a destination country for migration, both with the help of immigration from the European Union and third countries as well as due to return migration.

In the case of Finland, Tammaru pointed out that those moving there are at present rather settling in the vicinity of the Helsinki in Uusimaa, where it is easier to visit Estonia. "We call this phenomenon Uusimaalization -- three out of four people moving from Estonia to Finland settle in this region," said Tammaru, explaining that the readiness for a permanent return is mainly due to personal reasons and not the economic cycle.

Results from studies carried out 10 years apart show the same number of people plan to return to Estonia. "Altogether 28 percent of Estonians living in Finland plan to return, 31 percent do not plan to do so and the rest do not have a clear plan," Tammaru said.

Tiit Tammaru Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The plan to move back home is supported by a higher age and the fact that the person or family has real estate in Estonia.

The situation in Latvia and Lithuania is still more difficult. Lithuania is on the verge of a migration turnaround, while in Latvia, it is expected to take years. Lithuania is the country most affected by emigration in the entire European Union. An estimated 500,000 people have left.

Vilnius University Professor Donatas Burneika said large-scale emigration has been partly inevitable, as a third of jobs have been lost in Lithuania in recent decades, in some regions as much as half.

In the case of Latvia, increased return migration can also be seen. According to Zaiga Krisjane, a professor at the University of Latvia, more than 40 percent of those coming to Latvia are returnees.

An increase of study migration is also helping to improve the migration balance in Latvia as people are coming to study from the European Union, the countries of the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia. The number of students coming to Latvia from the Nordic countries has also increased.

Affect of coronavirus on migration

The migration conference also discussed the abrupt changes brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, which, for many people, severely limit their usual day-to-day cross-border activities.

There is not enough political will in the Nordic countries to make full use of the potential of transnationals, that is people who often cross state borders, it was found in a panel touching upon the situation in the Nordic countries.

Experts also noted that there was too little knowledge about the practices of such people, who constantly cross borders, and that a more in-depth study of everyday migration would help to make better use of the resulting economic opportunities.

There was concern in the air about the cloudiness of the long-term vision. However, according to the panelists, the prevailing understanding in the Nordic countries is that everyone will benefit from cooperation between countries and the promotion of the free movement of people and companies.

The migration conference is organized by the Nordic Council of Ministers' representation in Estonia, the University of Tartu and the Estonian Ministry of the Interior along with cooperation partners.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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