Home » EU’s Hunger for Talent Precipitate Serious Brain Dain in the Western Balkan Countries
Balkans European Union Featured News

EU’s Hunger for Talent Precipitate Serious Brain Dain in the Western Balkan Countries

The six Western Balkan countries are witnessing their skilled workers and youngster leaving to find better life and work conditions in the European countries. This phenomenon is leaving Balkan states very vulnerable to brain drain and lack of skilled workers in different fields, causing serious damage to national economies and, eventually, the whole demographic environment, SchengenVisaInfo.com explains.

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that focuses on Labour migration in the Western Balkans revealed that the emigration rate from this region has increased by ten per cent in the last decade, while currently it is estimated that more than one in five people born in the region lives abroad.

Immigration of Western Balkan nationals to the European Economic Area (EAA) has increasingly surged prior to the COVID-19 pandemic – up by 120 per cent between 2011 and 2019, totalling 226,000, while Croatia and Slovenia have, to some extent, become two new destinations for migration.

In addition to the migration of skilled workers to the EU, the six Western Balkan countries are also dealing with student mobility to OECD member countries as the number of international students to these destinations has surged by 150 per cent between 2013 and 2018, with the main destination countries being Austria, the United States, Italy and Turkey.

Low Wages, Socio-Political Concerns & Lack of Professional Advancement Behind Brain Drain Across WB6

Capital fluctuations can be one of the leading causes of brain drain to be developed across the six Balkan countries, but better quality of life, security and employment opportunities in other countries are also some push factors.

A study focused on the economic dimension of migration in Kosovo reveals that apart from EU integration, brain drain in the Western Balkan countries can be impacted by a surplus of skilled workers in professions that aren’t common to the labour market of the home country. This is linked to the lack of coordination between the labour market as well as the private sector, causing educated and qualified workers to be valued for their quantity rather than quality.

The lack of coordination further deepens the imbalance between the supply of qualified workers in the countries and labour market demand, causing too many graduates in one field, for example, economics and law and too few in IT.

Balkan Countries’ ‘Repeated’ History With Migration

The study by OECD reveals that there are historical causes of migration from the Western Balkan countries to the EU, with the Former Yugoslavia playing a role in encouraging labour migration. Due to the high demand for labour to support industrial development in Western European countries, the emigration of Balkan citizens was prominent in the 1960s and 1970s.

Germany and Austria specifically signed agreements to attract workers from the former Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1960s, with these migration policies being dimmed down in 1974 – 1980s due to the shift, while many of those that migrated to the European countries during this period remained in the destination countries.

Another wave of migration occurred in the late 80s in this region due to the wars that led to mass resettlement. About half of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was displaced during the war in 1992, with some 320,000 refugees settling in Germany. During this time, there were common cases of Bosnian refugees refusing to return to their home countries in fear of being “ethnically cleansed”. Germany had promoted voluntary return, but only one-third of the Bosnian refugee population to Germany returned to their home country.

However, that wasn’t the case for Kosovar nationals, who, after the Kosovo war in 1998-1999, witnessed some 850,000 people leaving the country; however, a majority of those – 600,000 chose to return, marking the fastest mass return in modern history.

In the 2000s, migration from this region quieted down due to the high costs and difficulties in obtaining visas, while in 2005, when the European Union concluded visa facilitation and readmission agreements with five Western Balkan countries, excluding Kosovo, migration was up once again for a whole decade.

The EU enlargement plan to include two countries of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia and Croatia, has also impacted the migration of Balkan citizens. Increased migration from Croatia to the EU has caused labour shortages in the country, which is being addressed with workers from the WB6, more specifically, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia.

Bojan Blazhevski from Meta News Agency which operates in North Macedonia, also confirms this pattern of migration in the country, as it is very common for Macedonian workers to be seasonally hired in Croatia during summer.

“This year Croatia is a very popular destination for summer work. Practically, for summer work, there are going people with different jobs or different backgrounds. I even know people that take their holiday or unpaid three months in order to work for the summer. This is something that happens every summer. It is simple, countries like Croatia, Greece, Malta, and Spain are summer destinations that are giving much bigger salaries, and it is worth working for three months,” Blazhevski told SchengenVisaInfo.com.

According to him, the amount of money that Macedonian workers receive is equal to half a year or even more wage worth of pay in North Macedonia for the same job, highlighting the fact that low salaries are the main reason workers head to Croatia for summer jobs.

Political Developments & Corruption Considered Leading Causes for Migration of Population in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Jasmin Hasić, Legal Advisor at GIZ BiH, reveals that the growing trend of youth migration is driven by several indicators, such as the destabilising political developments in the country, systematic corruption and the inability of institutions to fight the social and political shocks.

In an interview for SchengenVisaInfo.com, Hasić points out that a lack of functioning and time-bound government support measures that don’t properly address the youth needs is also among the main factors why people are leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Visa liberalisation has also had an impact on migration from this Balkan country, and a typical person that wants to leave has had a previous migratory experience or developed a network of people with migratory backgrounds, such as having connections with family members or friends that live abroad.

Research conducted by UNFPA has revealed that a typical person who wants to Bosnia and Herzegovina is someone that believes the following statements:

– the formal education system in BiH cannot provide young people with enough skills and competencies to tackle the challenges of living in the 21st century;

– has been unemployed for a shorter period of time and is more willing to be involved in activities related to solving problems in the local community and society,

– finds it difficult to gain any kind of work experience, including student jobs and internships, and prioritises net income over job stability.

Socio-Political Situation Key Reason for Montenegrins’ Emigration

Similarly to BiH, Montenegrins often cite the social-political situation as the main reason for emigration, followed by other causes such as the public administration system, the rule of law, health care and education.

Andrea Mićanović from RYCO says that migration of the Montenegrin population isn’t necessarily linked to financial reasons but rather to the socio-political situation in the country.

“Indeed, it is out of the question that low standard of living and financial instability very often force individuals with high degrees to leave, but the research shows that they primarily escape from the socio-political situation in the country – highly qualified people in Montenegro are too tired of constant political friction, very often conditioned by the past conflicts and unsurpassed divisions, as well as of the growth of nationalism and the right-wing politics in the country,” Mićanović told SchengenVisaInfo.com.

A study by the Organisation of Montenegrins Studying Abroad (OMSA) called Reality Check (Out) From Montenegro: Roadmap to Brain Gain reveals that migration drivers are also the limited access to the labour market and weak work culture, in addition to a lack of access to the labour market for certain professions or a lack of opportunities for further professional advancement.

The study, which included 132 respondents who were highly qualified young Montenegrins around the world in the age group of 24 to 40, shows that low living standard and income is stated as the third or fourth reason for emigration.

Complaints for Life Quality Are Pushing Serbs Towards Emigration

The push factors identified for the emigration of the Serbian population include seeking better employment opportunities, including better salary, working conditions and professional advancement.

According to research conducted by the University of Belgrade in six towns of the country, the second most common responses were related to the perception of the respondents that other countries offer a more comfortable, peaceful and healthier environment – a better quality of life, in general.

The same research reveals that the education of Serbian students has also become a growing reason for emigration.

OECD research findings show that student mobility from the Western Balkan is on the rise, with the number of international students from these countries increasing by 150 per cent between 2013 and 2018, while the main countries of origin were Austria, the United States, Italy and Turkey. More specifically, the number of international students from the Balkan countries rose from 13,600 tertiary students in 2013 to 34,500 in 2018.

The number of international students from Serbia to Austria, which is one of the top destinations for study, stood at 2,295 in 2018, dropping to 1,679 in 2019. However, 22 per cent of all international students in Serbia are pursuing their academic studies in Austria.

Other recipients countries of Serbian international students include Hungary, with 1,944 students in 2019, representing 26 per cent of all international students abroad, followed by Germany (931 students in 2019, 12 per cent of the total), Slovakia (834, 11 per cent) and Turkey (789, ten per cent).

From Socio-Economic Factors to Educational Purposes, Kosovars’ Migration Reasons Are Shifting

The main reasons for Kosovo’s population emigration boil down to high poverty rates and human rights violations, as research by Labinot Hajdari and Judita Krasniqi reveals.

However, the reasons for migration have changed. In the past, socio-economic factors were the leading causes of emigration, with financially vulnerable families seeing individuals “responsible for cost returns” migrate to higher-income countries.

This trend has shifted slightly over the last two decades, with young people having begun to migrate for educational reasons. Although the 2009 World Bank migration survey stated that the number of educational migrants was less than ten per cent, visa applications for study increased from 367 to 994 between 2013 and 2018.

An article by Balkan Insight also reveals that the main factors for migration in Kosovo are considered unemployment, lack of job security, long working hours and low salaries.

On the other hand, demographer Bsim Gallopeni told BIRN that migration’s consequences are felt in the imbalances in the demographic structures of society, as it impacts for the population to get older and the birth rating decreasing.

“The labour force will decrease, which will cause an increase in demand for workers, the cost of labour will be higher, and this will cause an economic imbalance too,” he added.

Some believe that visa liberalisation could have a negative impact on the country’s migration rates. A preliminary study from SchengenVisaInfo.com reveals that 76.1 per cent of respondents believe that visa liberalisation will have a positive impact on Kosovars’ freedom but 95.7 per cent say that it will greatly impact the labour market.

Unemployment Rates Are the Leading Causes of Increased Migration Among Macedonians

The country profile for 2021, conducted by the IOM UN Migration, reveals that high unemployment rates and lack of long-term employment are the main drivers of migration from North Macedonia. The same source reveals that there is an imbalance in the number of workers within the country as Skopje, the capital city is more populated and more work opportunities are concentrated there.

Higher salaries and better living conditions in the capital, as well as the European countries, are other reasons for the economic migration from the Balkan country to occur, while some are also concerned with limited opportunities for career development, which results in intellectual migration.

Blazhevski confirms that bigger salaries that attract youngsters to work in neighbouring countries, such as Croatia, are a common cause for seasonal migration, while the main reason for brain drain, according to him, is the corruption in the country and lack of the rule of law.

“Here, we are talking about high-professional and very skilled persons with high education from the IT sector or medicine. They are not going for the low salaries but the corruption in the country and general problems with the rule of law. People are furious because of this, and they simply want to live in a better society which respects them. So, not only bigger salaries or appreciation of their work, but a better environment to live in,” Blazhevski pointed out.

World Bank data reveals that net migration in North Macedonia was -1,000 in 2022, up from -486 in the previous year. This is the second-highest rate of migration since 2017 when the rate stood at -1,018.

High Poverty Is the Main Driver of Albanian Immigration 

Albania has a long history of migration waves, which could be related to different causes; socio-political and economic crises, but the most recent one is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a massive impact on people’s welfare.

According to the World Bank estimations, about 22 per cent of Albania’s population was below the poverty line during the pandemic, and it can further deepen to 30 per cent as rising costs and inflation are anticipated to impact the whole region.

A very common migration pattern encountered among Albanians is that men leave first, and once they improve their financial status, they bring their patterns and children to join them.

Eurostat data reveals that between 2008 and 2020, around 700,000 Albanians were immigrants to the EU countries and obtained EU citizenship.

How Is Brain Drain Affecting Western Balkan Countries Individually?

While the outcome of the emigration of skilled workers can be positive for the receiving country, as well as the migrants themselves, it leaves behind a drain on the number of skilled workers in developing countries.

According to an analysis conducted by LinkedIn and the World Bank, net migration that occurred between 2015 and 2019 across the Western Balkan countries has led to skill losses, especially in businesses and tech skills. In addition, skills loss was noticed in specific industry skills such as ICT, engineering and medical skills.

The same source shows that the five main skills lost during this time were dentistry, genetic engineering, development tools, medicine and rehabilitation, as well as web development. Losses in these fields are particularly prominent in North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania.

Serbia’s Dependency on Immigration & North Macedonia’s Concerns for Brain Drain in Main Professions

The medical sector is particularly impacted by emigration, as data on the emigration of Western Balkan Six health workers reveals that more than 2,700 Serbian doctors trained in their home country and 1,500 others in Macedonia were found working in OECD countries, accounting for eight per cent and 22 per cent emigration rate, respectively.

While emigration remains a serious concern for the Serbian government, the country is also dealing with an “incoming demographic disaster”, as it is set to lose a quarter of its population by 2050 due to the youngsters and skilled workers leaving the country in search of work and incredibly low-birth rates, as Serbian women give birth to an average of 1.48 children – below the 2.1 needed to maintain the country’s population.

An article from BIRN also reveals that the Serbian population is expected to decline by 23.81 per cent from 1989 to 2050, while the life expectancy stands at 75.45 years.

The country also has a median age of 43 years, which is below the 46.2 years median age of the European countries. And, on top of everything, In 2021, according to the Statistical Office, Serbia will have more pensioners than working-age people.

Due to these developments, it is believed that immigration is perhaps the most important factor for the Serbian economy to survive.

“As long as Serbia remains an unattractive country for potential immigrants, its population will continue to age and decline,” Vladimir Nikitovic, a demographer at Belgrade’s Institute for Social Sciences, says for BIRN.

The labour shortages in the country have started causing problems even for the ever-older population caught in the pension system.

Blazhevski also says that there are two patterns of migration in the country; those that travel abroad for summer jobs and those that leave the country permanently.

The sector of medicine is the most affected by brain drain, as Blazhevski points out, with the government investing large sums of time and knowledge for the preparation of medical workers, who, a few years after contributing to the country and collecting necessary experience, leave to other countries.

“I think that the sector of Medicine is the most affected by brain drain. The problem here is the biggest because the medical workers, but also the country, invest a lot of money, time and knowledge for acquiring the knowledge and skills. And simply, when medical workers are ready to start their work, they stay in the hospital for a couple of years and then simply apply for a job in Germany or other countries. Then, it is very hard for the Macedonian health officials to find replacements for them, especially in smaller cities or rural communities.”Blazhevski told SchengenVisaInfo.com, also pointing out that Macedonians are ultimately seeking a better environment to live in.

Albania’s Medical Workers at Higher Stake for Emigration

The country has lower absolute levels of home-trained doctors, about 800, but the emigration rate of them already stands at 18 per cent. This indicates that the impact of brain drain is evident, as increasingly, doctors, among other professions, are leaving the country, leading to a shortage of labour market.

Albania has the highest number of home-trained nurses – about 1,042, as well as the highest rate of emigration of nurses to other countries in the region, with nine per cent of these workers heading to OECD countries. The country is ranked third in comparison to OECD countries, falling behind Romania and Poland, which have an emigration rate of nurses of 15 per cent and nine per cent, respectively.

The same data reveals that Albania has 1.2 doctors for 1,000 people and Bosnia Herzegovina about two per thousand inhabitants, while developed countries like Germany and Sweden have 4.2 and 5.4 doctors per 1,000 citizens, respectively.

In comparison with other Western Balkan countries, Albania remains the most affected country by migration, as the Economist places the country first with a 29 per cent rate of migration.

Migration, in general, is causing the country to deal with population decreases; more than 53 per cent of residents in Kukës, a northern city in Albania, have left the country in addition to cities like Shkodra, Fieri, Durrës and Vlorë, have lost more than 15 per cent of their population in the last decade, respectively.

Kosovo’s Skilled Workers Migration Lead to Closing Medical Centres

Toska Maxhuni, a graduate of the University of Prishtina in Kosovo, is now offering her expertise as a medical assistant at Klinikum Bayreuth in Germany after finishing her studies of seven years. Toska says she decided to leave Kosovo after continuous failed attempts to be hired in her field of expertise for a whole year after graduation, despite having one of the highest GPAs in her generation.

“I have applied for about ten job vacancies in different cities across the country, and I didn’t get in. Then, I started German language courses and gave up searching for jobs in Kosovo,” Toska says for SchengenVisaInfo.com.

When sharing why she left Kosovo, she notes that lack of professional advancement was the leading factor in why she never plans to return. Toska is one of the thousands of workers in the medical field that are headed towards the EU, with the phenomenon leading Kosovo to a brain drain and impacting the country’s health sector severely.

According to the Chamber of Doctors and the Chamber of Nurses, one doctor emigrates every two days from Kosovo, in addition to two nurses emigrating every day. These figures are particularly alarming as Kosovo already has a low count of doctors in the country – 3,555, which is about 2.5 doctors for 1,000 citizens.

The medical brain drain in the country has caused several medical centres in Peja and Gjakova to shut down, while medical staff emigration is a concerning matter across all Western Balkan countries.

Youngsters ‘Don’t See’ a Future in Montenegro

The migration situation in this country is quite concerning, as Mićanović represents. According to her, there are four aspects of how Montenegro is being affected by emigration, with the most concerning being the migration of the young population.

“If, on the one hand, we consider young people to be the future of our society, and on the other hand, we witness their purchase of one-way tickets on a daily basis, it is no wonder that even those who at first wanted to stay lose hope that it can get any better and decide to migrate,” she says.

She also points out that the emigration of a highly skilled population is particularly evident among Montenegrins, causing a deficit in occupations, which naturally affects the country’s economy. The migration of families with children is also another concerning factor for migration from Montenegro, as it directly affects population growth.

Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Draining Labour Market Severely Impacted by Migration

Migration rates are particularly impacting the Bosnian labour market, as the labour market participation of youth is exceptionally low, exceeding the country’s overall average unemployment rate.

According to Hasic, the quality of education and training doesn’t prepare young people for favourable job search outcomes, and youth are still at high risk of long-term unemployment or listing basic sources of income.

“Educational system and job market’s supply and demand needs are out of sync. Young people do not perceive the effectiveness of the policies and believe not enough has been done to remedy the current situation,” Hasic points out.

The lack of comparatively effective and concrete actions to address the negative social footprints of human capital loss and damages to the economy is also an issue. Ultimately, the migration of resourceful young people can result in a generation gap, leaving the country demographically imbalanced.

How Are Western Balkan Governments Addressing the Migration Situation in Respective Countries?

OECD data reveals that all Balkan countries have started working to address the migration situation, all at different stages.

For example, the Albanian government is monitoring indicators of irregular migration at the border and within the country, promoting and protecting migrants’ rights and integration, improving conditions of socio-economic and cultural development and ensuring an effective labour migration policy framework for market needs.

However, there are no reducing push factors uncovered by the Albanian government, and neither is from the Bosnian government, Kosovo or Montenegro.

North Macedonian government is doing the most committed work in such matters as it has also reduced push factors, which include the reduced intensity of permanent emigration abroad, especially of people with high levels of education.

The same government also has concluded all monitoring indicators of migration in the country.

On the other hand, Blazhevski points out that the Macedonian government is rather seeking other ideas, such as importing the workforce from abroad, instead of addressing the issues.

“First foreign workers from India, Pakistan have already arrived in the country. Also, workers from Turkey are already working in the construction sector, and we also have workers from China in the construction sector. So, this is the newest idea supported by the government but also supported by managers of Macedonian companies. But, I don’t know that this is a smart decision,” he says, pointing out that in some sectors, like medicine, it doesn’t make sense to import high-skilled workers.

Similarly, Andrea Mićanović believes that the Montenegrin government isn’t doing enough to halt the emigration of skilled workers. The first step that the government should take is to establish a database of those that have migrated in order to know the numbers so far precisely.

Another pre-condition for adequately targeting this issue is to, based on the principle of multi-sector cooperation, which is required considering the complexity of the migration phenomenon, form a team with a mandate to target the question of the demographic crisis in Montenegro exclusively, as Micanovic pointed out.

Regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina, which according to data from OECD, isn’t working to attract skilled immigration nor reducing push factors, Jasmin Hasic says that the competencies of the BiH government are scattered, and this is what makes things more complicated and probably irreversible.

Instead, he advocates the promotion of migration patterns and other co-option forms of migration.

“We have already lost them, and there isn’t much we can do now since we are no longer fighting our own passive or indolent attitudes toward outward migrations, but we are fighting the competing pull factors of other countries who have direct interests in attracting our young and resourceful migrants to their markets. And this is a fight we cannot win,” Hasic says.

He points out that there aren’t any policies that can make Germany, Switzerland, or other Western European countries less attractive to young Bosnians.

On the other hand, Fiorella Belciu, a European Commission spokesperson, points out that the EU is counting on attracting third-country nationals in order to meet labour market needs, while the size of the European working-age population is expected to decline to 56 per cent by 2070.

“Additionally, in the Skills and Talent package, the Commission specifically committed to avoiding as much as possible any risk of brain drain. It notably promotes mutually beneficial Talent Partnerships with third countries. The sectors targeted by these partnerships depend on the areas of interest of both Member States and third countries,” she said for SchengenVisaInfo.com.

According to her, Talent Partnerships might even lead to brain gain for some third countries, particularly through circular migration or training opportunities. They should benefit all partners, including the persons involved, as they access renewed training opportunities and professional experiences developed either in the EU or in their countries of origin.

The Impact of Diaspora on WB6 Economies

The migration of Western Balkan countries’ citizens hasn’t been all negative. Diaspora often sends millions of euros in remittances to these countries, and this phenomenon is particularly popular among Balkan countries.

According to Eurostat data, Kosovo had the highest rates of inflows of personal transfers and compensation of employees in 2021, representing 18 per cent of the country’s GDP, while the lowest was recorded in North Macedonia (3.5 per cent).

“Generally speaking, skilled workers who migrate for work often send remittances back to their home countries, having a positive impact on the economy by increasing household income and stimulating consumption. When returning, they may bring with them new knowledge, skills, and expertise gained abroad. This can contribute to the development of local industries, innovation, and the overall advancement of the labour market,” Belciu points out.

In conclusion, brain drain is a phenomenon that does threaten the population in all six Balkan countries and governments should tackle the issue immediately while promoting and applying circular migration forms can be one of the alternatives to prevent the young population or the migrated population from fully vanishing from the Balkans.

Source: Schengen Visa News