Young, tertiary-educated emigrants see themselves, and are seen by their home country's government, as agents of economic and social change, especially if they can be incentivized to return home. In this paper we examine the barriers that prevent this positive impact from being fully realized, taking the case of Latvia, formerly part of the Soviet Union but since 2004 a member state of the European Union. We build our analysis on data from an online questionnaire (N = 307) and from narrative interviews (N = 30) with foreign-educated Latvian students and graduates. In moving beyond remittances, we examine knowledge transfer to the home country as a form of “social remittance” and break down knowledge into two types—that which can be transferred fully and that which can be transferred only partially. We find that students and graduates do indeed see themselves as agents of change in their home country, but that the changes they want to make, and the broader imaginaries of development that they may have, are constrained by the limited scale of the market, ethnic privileging of “Latvianness,” and the often nontransparent recruitment practices in Latvia. Policy should recognize and respond to various barriers that exist to knowledge transfer and return migration.
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