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Our New Migrants: Single, Young and Female

The Observer April 2004

A report by the European Commission has predicted that the typical immigrant to be expected from seven of the eight former communist countries in eastern Europe will be a single 24-year-old woman who is still studying, or is educated to degree level. The report, 'Migration Trends In An Enlarged Europe', pours cold water on the idea that a tide of immigrants will arrive in the UK after the 10 new countries join the EU.

I don't care about money. I just want to learn English and see the world. I was teaching scuba-diving in Tenerife'.
Sitting in a bar in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, Giedre Jatuzyte is a long way from the stereotype of the poor male immigrant, escaping persecution or in search of unskilled work. However, in the countries of eastern Europe, apart from Poland, she will be the norm.'I have already spent several months studying English and working in Ireland and I was also in Tenerife for five months. In Ireland I was working legally at first - working under 24 hours a week to supplement my study - but they always asked me to work more.

'I was working illegally in Tenerife, but it was good because I could speak English there and it was warm, although I had to pretend I was Irish. After 1 May, I will be able to go to Scotland, which is really where I want to live for a while.'It is typical of this new breed of immigrant that she does not give work as her primary reason for migration. 'I don't care about money. I just want to learn English and see the world. I was teaching scuba-diving in Tenerife as well as working in a restaurant,' she says.

Surprisingly, according to the report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, women from eastern Europe - unlike their male compatriots - are almost as likely to become immigrants through personal or family factors as they are for financial or employment reasons, although money is still their dominant concern.Jurate Valanciute, who at the age of 24 has her own legal practice in addition to lecturing in law at Vilnius University, says that the impending exodus of educated women will hold back her country. 'I only graduated two years ago, but the difference between my year and the years I teach is really big,' she says.

'In the summer we looked for work as legal assistants in law firms in Lithuania. I see young female students now going to work in bars in Spain or as au pairs in Denmark. It's not just true of law; it's true of business and medicine as well. They aren't thinking of their careers. Some of them are just taking a trip round Europe in search of a nice rich boyfriend.' Oksana Tocitskaya is eagerly awaiting the accession of her native Lithuania to the EU. She intends to go to the UK to work, having broken her studies with six months in Ireland. Her motivation is her career, however.

'I want to do a computer course there, but I am also looking at business ideas to bring back to Lithuania. We don't have places to buy coffee to take out here. I really miss that. I think it would work really well here.' Don't expect a tidal wave of intelligent single eastern European women to flood into Britain on 1 May, however. The report says that even if the citizens of accession countries were granted full freedom of movement throughout Europe rather than just Ireland and the UK, as is the situation currently, only 220,000 per year would leave.

This is a drop in the ocean compared to a union of 450 million people. However, the impact of the predicted 3 per cent of 18-24s leaving could have a damaging impact on the small populations of the accession countries themselves, especially given their background. The UK may benefit from the brightest women of a whole generation turning their back on their home countries for casual work abroad, but they will be missed at home.