Estimating the Size of Latvia’s Diaspora and the Number of Returnees: Methodological Approaches and Main Findings


A number of previous studies have looked at different aspects of emigration from Latvia and return migration to Latvia. However, this paper is the first attempt to provide a comprehensive assessment of the size and demographic structure of Latvia’s diaspora worldwide, as well as of the population of returnees in Latvia. The Diaspora Law states that Latvia’s diaspora includes Latvia’s citizens, ethnic Latvians and others who are in some way linked to Latvia but permanently live elsewhere, as well as their family members. From the data perspective, one has to distinguish the «old» diaspora (postwar refugees who in 1940s–1950s settled in Germany, Sweden, the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, etc. and their descendants, as well as a smaller group of Soviet era emigrants and their descendants) and the «new» diaspora including post-1990 emigrants (mainly but not only to the EU and OECD countries) and their descendants. This calls for a multichannel approach to identifying Latvia’s diaspora members in population statistics and other data provided by Eurostat, OECD and national statistical offices worldwide.


We have combined population statistics by citizenship, by country of birth and (when available) by ethnic ancestry or country background, as well as statistics on acquisition of citizenship by country of previous citizenship. In addition, we used tabulations based on destination countries Census or Microcensus data when available. The Latvian Population registry data on Latvia’s nationals residing abroad were used to complement other sources.

Our results suggest that in 2018–2019 about 300 thousand Latvian nationals and former nationals lived outside Latvia, including about 280 thousand in the EU and OECD countries. When also other persons born in Latvia are accounted for, the size of diaspora reaches 390 thousand, including 295 thousand in the EU and OECD countries. Members of wider diaspora can be identified by self-reported ethnic ancestry (single or one of several) being Latvian or by country of birth of at least one parent (or, if data allow, grandparent) being Latvian. The size of this wider diaspora exceeds half a million worldwide and 400 thousand – in the EU and OECD countries.

Estimates of the stock or returnees vary strongly with the reference period and the minimum duration of a period spent abroad. Analysis based on EU–SILC microdata suggests that over 2008–2018, 117 thousand unique persons returned to Latvia with some foreign work experience acquired during the previous four years; however, estimated stock of such returnees living in Latvia in 2018 is just 34 thousand. On the other hand, in early 2020, at least 145 thousand Latvia’s residents aged 18–74 during the last ten years (i.e., over 2010–2019) have done some paid work in another country for a period of 6 months or more, according to European Social Survey data.