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Croatia Counts Costs of Emigration

Official figures drastically understate the scale of migration to the EU, according to a new study.

10 January 2019

About 63,000 foreign workers are expected to take jobs in Croatia this year as the government seeks to remedy a growing labor shortage.


Falling unemployment and rising wages are promising indicators for the health of the Croatian economy. Another reason behind the shortage, however, is labor migration, Total Croatia News writes.


A new study suggesting official statistics undercount the number of migrants since the country joined the European Union in 2013 sparked debate on the long-term effects of emigration.


Officially, 61,000 Croatians emigrated to other EU countries from 2013 to 2016, and total emigration for the period was 102,000.


The true figure for the wealthiest 11 EU countries alone may be in the region of 230,000 people, write Marina Kunovac and Dominik Pripuzic of the Croatian National Bank and Prague-based researcher Ivana Drazenovic in a paper published by the Institute of Public Finance in Zagreb.


Worryingly for Croatia and other recent EU members, the average age of migrants is getting younger, and entire Croatian families are starting to leave for Western Europe, Balkan Insight says.


“Generally, the young, economically active population is moving abroad,” typically for better pay and working conditions, demographer Kresimir Ivanda of Zagreb University said.


The average age of Croatian migrants fell from 41.5 in the 2000-2013 period to 33.6 in 2016, according to the study.


Croatians overwhelmingly make Germany their new country of choice, more so since Germany opened its labor market to citizens of the new EU country in 2015. Germany was the destination for 71 percent of migrants in 2016, followed by Austria and Ireland.


“Emigration of mostly young citizens is indisputably a human capital loss for origin countries. However, long-term overall effects of emigration flows on origin countries should be interpreted with caution,” the authors of the study write. “Emigration leads to improvement of knowledge and skills of emigrants, given that their skills increase due to exposure to international competition, instead of gradually deteriorating in the low capacity domestic labour market. In the case of reverse migration, this can result in a brain-gain for origin economies.”


Ivan Cipin, a demographer from the Zagreb School of Economics, expects the migration wave to slow in coming years, assuming no major economic shocks, Total Croatia News reports.


"Emigration and population aging are generating labor shortages” in Croatia, the IMF cautioned last month, according to the Dubrovnik Times.


“They also challenge the long-term sustainability of the pension and the healthcare systems. This calls for a smartly focused transformation to a more dynamic economy, and a more efficient state," the lending institution said.



  • Croatia’s estimated emigration to the EU of 230,000 in 2013-2016 is similar proportionally to emigration from Romania and Bulgaria following their entry to the union.



Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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