Four waves of emigration from Lithuania have resulted in a rather impressive community of Lithuanian-Americans, whose size, according to some estimates, may be up to 1 million people.
While descendants of Lithuanian emigrants lead lives as full-fledged Americans, Brazilians, Australians, etc, their Lithuanian roots now allow many of them to obtain dual citizenship. In this way, not only do they get the additional benefits of an EU passport holder, but also maintain the connection with their historical roots.
The First wave of emigration from Lithuania to the USA
The period between 1865 and 1915 marked the beginning of the first wave of migration. At the time, the Russian Empire, which had discriminating policies, was economically backward, and purposefully left Lithuania undeveloped.
In addition, the Lithuanians in the Russian Empire were often discriminated against and assimilated. The Lithuanian language was banned, Lithuanian youths could be drafted into the army for 12 years, and colonists from Russia were brought to Lithuania in order to faster assimilate the local population. Russians were also given priority when it came to hiring, and most large enterprises did not belong to Lithuanians.
Thus, during that period Lithuanians emigrated in significant numbers; some 700 000 left, and the majority went to the United States where American Lithuanians would work in the industries and mines to avoid discrimination at home and seek better economic prospects.
Unfortunately, the descendants of the first wave of emigrants (those who left before 1918) are not eligible for Lithuanian citizenship since their ancestors left from the Russian empire and never had Lithuanian citizenship.
The Second Wave – Lithuanian emigration between the First and the Second World Wars
At the time of gaining its independence from the Russian Empire (February 16, 1918), the economy of Lithuania was very weak. This was mainly due to the consequences of the First World War and the destructive activities of both the Russian Empire and Germany.
Therefore even though Lithuania finally gained independence, it was the worsening economy that forced its citizens to emigrate to the country where they could earn money for their families.
In addition, a new phenomenon arose that helped drive the second wave of emigration as Lithuanians were provided with full support for the emigration process and actively advertised new opportunities in the new country.
The change of government in 1926, when a nationalist dictatorship took over the government was an additional factor that forced some people to emigrate. This was especially true for the Litvaks.
As a result, emigration again became a mass phenomenon after a temporary slowdown after independence. During the second wave of emigration, about 100,000 citizens left Lithuania.
Almost 30,000 of emigrants went to the US. More than 40,000 people emigrated to South America – mainly to Brazil, but also to places like Argentina and Uruguay. And up to 10,000 emigrated to Canada during the second wave of emigration from Lithuania.
By 1930, mass emigration from Lithuania to the countries of America had slowed down as a result of the Great Depression of 1929 in the USA.
The good news is that most of the descendants of the second wave of Lithuanian emigrants have the opportunity to restore their Lithuanian citizenship and pass it on to their children. At the same time, they do not have to renounce their currently-held citizenship. This is truly a great opportunity that is not to be missed!
The Exiles – The Third Wave of emigration
The beginning of the Second World War for Lithuania was marked by a short-term occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940, followed by the occupation by Germany, and then again by the Soviet Union in 1944.
Although the first occupation by the Soviet Union was short-lived, it was very brutal. Thousands of Lithuanians were exiled, and many were tortured and brutally murdered.
The occupation by Germany led to the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian Jews. While ethnic Lithuanians suffered less from the German occupiers than from the Soviet ones, thousands of them were deported to concentration camps and forced labor in Germany.
Hence, when the Soviets were returning to Lithuania in 1944, the Lithuanians knew what to expect. And those who could, left the country. Up to 100,000 Lithuanians left their homeland to escape the Soviets.
Tens of thousands of Lithuanians were killed during the Soviet occupation. A lot of people were deported. At least 350,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia and other harsh regions of the Soviet Union. 200,000 Lithuanian Poles were expelled to Poland, and over 150,000 Lithuanian Germans were expelled or fled to Germany. Some of these exiles subsequently made their way to the United States.
In total, during the period from the beginning of the Soviet occupation until the death of Stalin, Lithuania lost close to a million inhabitants – that’s a third of its population!
During the Soviet occupation the borders of the Soviet Union were closed. As such, there was no mass emigration (but rather mass deportation, especially during the first decade of the occupation).
The descendants of the generation of exiles, in most cases, also have the opportunity to regain their Lithuanian citizenship, retain their connection with their roots, and pass it on to their children.
The Fourth Wave of emigration
The Fourth or Modern wave started approximately in the 1990s and is still continuing, even though it is gradually slowing down.
This wave is considered to be the largest wave of Lithuanian emigration. As European Union membership allowed free emigration to Western Europe almost a million Lithuanians left their homeland looking for a job or to study abroad. However, only a relatively small number went to the US since 1990.
This fourth wave has another feature. This group, who grew up in the Soviet Union and witnessed the collapse of its economy, often did not see the prospects of Lithuania and wanted to leave for a more prosperous country. Even now in the comments on social networks you can see their opinion that Lithuania is a country without a future.
However, as Lithuania develops and becomes an advanced economy (and Lithuania is currently ranked 11th in the ease of doing business ranking), the flow of emigration from the country is steadily declining.
In 2019, the number of immigrants exceeded the number of emigrants. At the same time, one can note not only the influx of foreigners into the country but also the increase in the number of Lithuanians returning to their homeland.
Unfortunately, the current legislation does not provide allow for obtaining dual citizenship for emigrants of this wave. Perhaps they will have such an opportunity if the vote in the referendum in 2024 is successful.
The renewal of Lithuanian passport in the USA
The renewal of a Lithuanian passport in the USA is firstly a question of freedom of choice. The underlying motivation for renewing a passport is not for traveling but first and foremost – for an opportunity to reconnect with the homeland of ancestors. The opportunity to pass on European citizenship to one’s children also plays a big part in making this choice. The second motivation is to live and work in Europe. The Lithuanian passport provides visa-free access to 185 countries. Thus, the renewal of it has a great number of advantages.
Each interested person is able to renew the Lithuanian passport in the USA. For the renewal or issuance of a dual Lithuanian passport, each applicant must collect the required package of documents and translate them into Lithuanian. If any documents are missing, they must be searched in the archives.
We thank Ari Kleit for providing the photo of his father and grandfather