How is life back home for the Lithuanians who left the UK after Brexit?Comments
"Have you packed your bags yet?"
It was a joke from a colleague on the morning of the Brexit vote in 2016, but it left Julius Gunevičius wondering.
“I laughed at the time," he said. "But then I came home and thought: is that how they think? Should I pack my bags?
“Eventually we did.”
Julius, who is 33 and has worked in London as a chartered accountant for 14 years, is one of the 46,600 Lithuanians who have come home since the 2016 Brexit vote.
The number of Lithuanian returnees from the UK more than doubled between 2017 to 2020, according to figures published by Lithuania’s Migration Information Centre.
‘We cannot complain’
“I have never looked back,” said Julius who returned to Lithuania last year with his wife Vaida and seven-year-old son Benas.
“It has worked out much better than what we were expecting.”
Julius was “willing to take the economic hit” of losing more than half of his income back in Lithuania just to be with his loved ones.
“I am a big family man,” he said. “It is amazing for us to be together again. We are back on a social network that is really important to us.”
Watching other returnees enjoy a better quality of life back home encouraged Julius to make the “difficult decision.”
“We saw loads of people do the same and be very, very happy.
“It inspired us.”
His basketball team in London, which was made up of Eastern Europeans, changed the name of its Whatsapp group to ‘Evacuate the UK’ due to the high number of people who were leaving.
Still, there were many things Julius missed about the UK, particularly its multiculturalism.
“It’s the little things, the creature comforts. Near our house was a French bakery where we brought sourdough, Chinese restaurants with proper Peking duck and of course, fish and chips.
“We had a very good life.”
He could not find anything that “came close” in Lithuania, despite searching for more than six months.
‘Not the same Lithuania’
Yet others faced more serious challenges coming home.
“Alongside documents, pension and taxes, there were so many things to think about,” said Dovydas Petrošius, 35, a self-described “pioneer of the remigration to Lithuania".
“I really struggled to adapt to life back in Lithuania.”
Such were Dovydoas’s difficulties that he founded ‘Eks Emigrantai, an organisation helping Lithuanian emigres return home.
Now he says more than 70% of their enquiries are from Lithuanians who want to leave the UK, many of whom have lived there for decades.
One of the main problems for Lithuanians coming home Dvoydas found working at Eks Emigranti was that “a lot had changed” since they left.
“Many people have romantic notions of what Lithuania is like,” he said. “They have this idea in their minds that life will be fantastic, but often most of the people they knew have left to other countries or now have their own lives.
“Life moves on,” he added.
‘Our thinking and appreciation of the world is different’
Another difficulty for returnees was that British culture had left its mark on them.
“People come home, but soon realise they have created a new life and new feelings back in the UK, '' says Dovydas. “They miss a culture which was more acceptable for them than Lithuania’s.”
He added: “If you lived in London, where there’s a lot of action, you can come back to Lithuania and feel that big difference, there’s not much going on here.
“It’s a massive shock.”
Dovydas knew several returnees from the UK who were not happy with their lives back in Lithuania and had already left for countries like Spain.
“You tend to miss your country, but these feelings last only for a short time,” he said.
‘Those coming home have their feet under the table’
And these returnees are having an “overwhelmingly positive” impact on Lithuania.
“Many returned Lithuanians are establishing new businesses and implementing ideas they have seen in the UK,” says Arminas Jurgaits of the International Organisation for Migration in Vilnius. “Returnees are more open-minded and tolerant.
“They slowly but surely change the general attitude in society,” he added.
But, Jurgaits believed this exodus from the UK ultimately reflects the changing fortunes of Lithuania.
“People want access to housing, education, health, jobs, a safe environment, the ability to express themselves and do what they like,” he said.
“Nowadays, returnees can find all these things in Lithuania and the quality of life has improved significantly,” he added.
Dovydas seconded this: “There is no reason to go for the better life when you can have the same conditions here.”