Asoc. prof. Inta Mieriòa.

Migration researcher Inta Mieriņa outlines aim of new research survey

The Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Latvia (LU FSI) has launched a new survey, funded by the Fundamental and Applied Research Programme (FLPP). Aimed at Latvian nationals and emigrés living outside Latvia, as well as those who have returned or moved to Latvia. The project, titled “Well-being and Integration in the Context of Migration” is the second wave of a survey that was conducted by the Institute 5 years ago, titled “The Emigrant Communities of Latvia”.

The survey is available at Migracija ⇄ LV in three languages – Latvian, English and Russian. There are two options – a short (20 min.) or long (30 min.) version.

This interview with lead researcher of this project, Director of the Diaspora and Migration Research Centre (LU DMPC), Dr. Inta Mieriņa will reveal more about the research.

How does this study differ from previous LU FSI and LU DMPC research?

This study is the continuation of research in the form of a survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Latvia in 2014, with participation by over 14 000 people living in 118 countries. This time we would like to invite those who previously responded to take part, as well as those who didn’t, or only emigrated later.

We are most interested in finding out how the lives and views of people from Latvia living abroad have changed in the past five years. During this time Latvia has experienced changes – both wage growth and a change of government as well as the adoption of a Diaspora Law and a number of major upheavals have rocked the world in general.

The study is unique in that it is the first longitudinal study of its kind in Latvia, following the lives of emigrants – for instance, who has returned, who has remained, whether their life circumstances and life satisfaction have changed, their relationships with their loved ones, their ties with Latvia.

A longitudinal study is the most effective way of researching this as it allows researchers to gain evidence of the influence of different factors on the life course of a person. This is of great value not only in the context of Latvia but is also a rarity in the European context.

Will this study be aimed at a particular target group?

This study will differ from others as it is not only aimed at emigrants but also those who have returned to Latvia. This year’s research will also help us to gain better insight into the number of Latvian nationals who live outside Latvia and those who have returned to Latvia. Currently there are different versions and calculations but there is no precise data. But this should be the foundation for our research! We especially need data on the emigre (trimda) Latvians, and so this time around we sincerely hope that many members from this group will take part, which would give our colleague, Prof. Hazans the opportunity to be able to make a more precise evaluation of the situation.

We are also particularly interested in a group called the transnationals – people who define their home to be in a number of countries, who are in constant movement between Latvia and another country, maintaining close ties with a number of countries. Our 2014 data shows that 17% of our respondents fall into this category. Migration processes are no longer the same as they were previously – a person makes a decision to leave, packs his bags and goes. Nowadays these processes are much more flowing and dynamic, often a person may live in one country, he may have another job or his family in another country. This category is steadily on the rise, and for this reason our research will focus also on this group.

What is the aim of the research?

The central issue is the wellbeing of emigrants and return migrants. Our aim is to find out how Latvian nationals feel living outside Latvia, analysing this in depth from various aspects – those that are most important to migrants, including psychological wellbeing, the availability of health services, their inclusion into the labour market and the value of their skills and contribution outside as well as in Latvia. We will also be looking at the integration of emigrant and return migrant children into the school system and other questions that influence the wellbeing of migrants, with the aim to understand what support would be required to help solve these problem situations. From a scientific point of view, the plan is to find out the factors that allow people to integrate into their new host country most seamlessly, and why some people decide to return.

From theories we know that by emigrating, one improves one’s economic situation, career prospects, gains new skills and knowledge and improves one’s financial and material situation in various ways. Yet we know much less about the way that emigration influences other facets of life: relationships with one’s peers and friends, family, how one integrates in society as a whole, the extent to which one gets involved in social and political life, the availability of health care, how children integrate into schools, other details that are no less important than the material side of things. We would like to find out if, by improving one’s material situation, we end up paying for it in other areas – do our ties with loved ones and an overall sense of belonging weaken, do we have to live with psychological tension and stress in a foreign environment, with difficulties in the labour market, the education of our children.

What questions would you like to get answers to in this study?

We will cover a number of different themes. One of the most recent questions – how we can look at questions of integration in the context of flowing, transnational migration, bearing in mind that up till now, the politics of integration has been directed at people who have moved to live in a particular country permanently? What does integration mean to those migrants who have not fully integrated into a society, and maybe don’t even wish to integrate, feel quite satisfied with the situation that they are in. What does being well-integrated mean? Does this mean it is mandatory to learn the official language? Does it necessarily mean you should establish close ties with the local community? Or can you be a good resident without all these things?

In the literature, these questions are usually answered from an epistemological point of view, also a philosophically theoretical sense, yet in this study we plan to ask the people to answer this themselves.  Do they feel well-integrated or a sense of belonging to the society in the host country? Do they even want to fit in? If not, why not? If they do – in what way? This could help to understand the new reality that the increasingly mobile Europeans are faced with. Maybe we try to force unnatural models of integration onto people, who feel very different?

Our previous research clearly illustrated the subjective status of migration – what does leaving or returning mean? For this reason we will also ask how people see themselves – as emigrants, as Latvian nationals living abroad, as exile representatives, as members of the diaspora?

Many of these terms are foreign to our people living outside Latvia. For instance, we know that many don’t identify themselves as members of the diaspora, even though this is the most frequently used term in political documents. And the term emigrant doesn’t sit well with the old emigre community, who don’t see themselves as emigrants, as this word has a negative connotation. Those who have left recently also frequently don’t want to see themselves as emigrants or migrants either, as there is generally a prejudice towards the word migrant. Therefore we will find out how people identify themselves.

It is important that among our researchers are people who live or have lived outside Latvia; that also contributes to a better understanding of the views of people living outside Latvia.

Why should people take part in this research?

In the past five years, significant changes have occurred in diaspora and remigration policy. We are pleased that our scientific research has provided the inspiration and informative base for various policy initiatives and have made a significant contribution to the development of diaspora policy. Because those of you living outside Latvia have trusted us with your opinions, we have been able to lobby for the changes required in certain areas. Among these are support for return migrant children, or changes to taxation regulations and social benefits, the establishing of support mechanisms in Latvia.

Our research has also promoted the development of various private and social initiatives regarding job opportunities. The research findings have been widely publicised in the media in both Latvia and outside, they are utilised in the academic teaching sector and have been published in international journals and monographs, helping to better understand the views of those who have left, their motivation and life stories. If I am asked – is it worth taking part in the research, then today I can proudly show quantifiable results that have been achieved because of our previous research efforts.

In addition to academic interest, policy makers are also interested in the findings of this research. In the realm of diaspora politics, our research is taken into account very seriously and serves as an information and knowledge base for the developing of support measures for the diaspora and return migrants. It is not just research like any other research. It is being conducted by Latvia’s leading emigration researchers and it has a unique knowledge base that will ensure that the results will be voiced loudly and have far-reaching influence. We are also convinced that we as researchers should work with the diaspora – collaborating with diaspora organisations and groups, tackling the most pressing problems that the diaspora and return migrants face and helping to highlight and solve them.

If you would like to take part, please complete the survey by 31st October at Migracija ⇄ LV.

The original version of this interview, in Latvian, is available at Migracija ⇄ LV

Laura Bužinska ir ieguvusi bakalaura grādu Latvijas Universitātē Āzijas studiju programmā un maģistra grādu izglītības zinātnē programmā Dažādības pedagoģiskie risinājumi. Latvijas Universitātes Diasporas Migrācijas Pētījumu Centra pētniece.

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