Where have all our migrants gone? Eastern Europe wants them back.
Much ado was made in Paris several years ago about the symbolic "Polish plumber" who was coming to steal jobs from les français. Now, it's Eastern Europeans who are lamenting the loss of not only plumbers, but all service workers.
"If you want some repairs in your apartment, you can't find anyone," says Rita Stankeviciute, a sportswriter in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital. "It's ridiculous. Lines in the grocery stores are longer. When I used to need a taxi, it was always three minutes. Now it's 'In an hour.'"
As Western Europeans fret about a new wave of Eastern Europeans flooding their countries – this time from Romania and Bulgaria, the EU's newest members – those nations have an opposite concern: how to bring those immigrants home.
For a small country like Lithuania, with a low birthrate but high rates of immigration, alcoholism, and suicide, the situation is particularly urgent. The former communist nation of 4 million has seen at least 400,000 people migrate west, whether to work construction in Dublin, pick strawberries in southern Spain, or conduct research in Scandinavia.
"We must invite them back," says Zilvinas Beliauskas, director of the government- supported Returning Lithuanian Information Center. "We should consider them an integral part of the nation."
Agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have also joined the repatriation movement. IOM's Vilnius branch recently unveiled its Lithuanian-language "Independent Migration Information Center" website to separate fact from fiction for both Lithuanians contemplating migration abroad and those mulling a return home.
It's the first such IOM site among new EU members, says Audra Sipaviciene, who heads the Vilnius office.
"If a migrant's been gone for five years, sometimes they're very pessimistic about the job situation back home, that 'Oh, nothing's changed,' " says Ms. Sipaviciene. "But it is very different. So if there's good information, all in one place, perhaps they'll return."