Photographer: Peter Kollanyi

Even Brexit Can’t Dim Exodus From EU’s Fastest-Shrinking Nation

Lithuanians are still flocking to the U.K.

If Brexit has diminished Lithuanians’ attraction to the U.K. -- the No. 1 European destination for the Baltic nation’s migrants -- they’re hiding it well.

Outflows of the country’s workers to Britain accelerated in 2016, even after the summer decision to quit the European Union cast a cloud over their future rights, data released this month showed. Lithuania, whose population has plunged 16 percent to 2.85 million since it joined the EU in 2004, remained the bloc’s most rapidly shrinking state last year.

Lithuanians have been fleeing westward in search of higher-paying jobs, spurred on by a deep recession in 2009 and austerity in its aftermath. But their homeland has performed better of late: the economy has grown for 28 straight quarters, unemployment has halved in the past six years and wage growth was the EU’s third-fastest last year.

The reason for the continued exodus may be that years of emigration have created overseas communities that simplify the process for their compatriots to follow suit. There are more than 170,000 Lithuanians in Britain, more than four times as many as in Germany, the second-most popular destination for migrants.

“We now already have quite established migrant communities in the U.K., Ireland and also the Nordic countries,” Zygimantas Mauricas, chief Baltic economist at Nordea Bank AB’s Lithuanian unit, said by phone. “This makes migration quite an easy task.”

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