Nearly 177,000 Lithuanians have applied for the settled status in the UK, one of the biggest national groups and more numerous than French or Germans citizens.
While migration to the UK has been on the decrease in recent years, the figure highlights the sheer size of the population that Lithuania has lost over the last decades.
The UK government has recently released data, showing that 3.5 million EU citizens have applied for the settled status, a prerequisite for staying in the country after Brexit.
The Poles and Romanians are by far the biggest groups, followed by Italians, Portuguese and Spanish. Lithuanians are the sixth-biggest group, ahead of countries like France, Germany or the Netherlands.
Natalija Bacevičienė, the spokeswoman for the Lithuanian Embassy in the UK, notes that the deadline for applying for the EU Settlement Scheme is June 2021. Once the post-Brexit transitional period ends, EU nationals without the settled status in the UK will be considered illegal residents.
Audra Sipavičienė, the Vilnius bureau head of the International Organization for Migration, says the large number of Lithuanian applicants is not surprising – the UK has long been the most popular destination for Lithuanian migrants after the country’s 2004 accession to the EU.
“The figure only shows a formalisation of the migrant status, not growth in migration,” she says. “It is not today’s issues, it’s just something that Brexit made more clear.”
There were 215,000 Lithuanians living in Britain in 2018, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics. The number went down to 211,000 in 2019.
Most of the Lithuanians who got the settled status are likely to stay in the UK for at least a couple of years, Sipavičienė says, but it doesn’t mean none of them plan to return to their home country.
Settled status is different from the British citizenship, notes Gintarė Budriūnaitė, the president of the Lithuanian City of London Club (LCLC), and implies pragmatic considerations rather than life-long plans to stay in the UK.
“The big number of applicants is a good sign, it means that people take care of their welfare and know their rights,” she says.
While some hoped that Brexit would encourage more Lithuanians to return from the UK, Budriūtė says that professionals in the LCLC have other considerations. Some of them did, however, return to Lithuania to work remotely during the coronavirus lockdown.
Others may return to raise family, to take up good job offers or to set up their own businesses.
“Lithuania is attractive to its citizens for the quality of life they can have here, flexible work and good conditions for raising family,” according to Budriūtė.
Recent years have seen a sharp decrease of Lithuanian migration to the UK. Last year, a little over 10,000 Lithuanian moved to Britain, according to data from the International Organization for Migration, compared to 21,600 in 2017.
Meanwhile repatriation has been on the increase: 5,000 in 2017 and 9,500 in 2019.