Emigration loses its appeal for young Bulgarians

A survey conducted in late 2008 on migration attitudes in Bulgaria revealed that in the last nine years the proportion of young people intending to emigrate on a permanent basis has decreased from 64% to 38%. The number of persons considering working abroad for a short time has also declined. The profile of young Bulgarian migrants is changing. Mainly young people with primary and secondary-level education express a higher interest in emigrating.

In 2008, the government undertook a series of initiatives aiming to better regulate migration, including the adoption of a migration strategy (BG0711029I). The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Министерство на труда и социалната политика, MLSP) hosted job fairs in Spain and Greece where the largest migrant populations of Bulgarians in the EU live (BG0807019I). The main aim of this move was to establish links between migrants and Bulgarian employers and to encourage return migration to Bulgaria.

Survey methodology

The survey entitled ‘Migration, emigration, wage and hidden payments’ was commissioned by MLSP and carried out by the Mediana agency (Медиана) in late 2008. The survey is representative of the population aged 18–35 years. In total, 1,502 young persons were interviewed face to face.

Main findings

Migration intentions decreased

The survey results show that the number of young Bulgarians expressing a desire to emigrate on a permanent basis has declined significantly in recent years (Figure 1). While in 1999 about 64% of young people considered moving abroad, some 38% of them expressed such a desire in 2008.

People who would live abroad if given an opportunity (%)

People who would live abroad if given an opportunity (%)

The number of young people planning to emigrate permanently within two to three years is significantly lower and decreased twice in 2008 compared with 2006 (from 16% to 8%) (Figure 2). Of this proportion, in 2008 only about 4% of people had a concrete plan about what they would do in the foreign country.

People with plans to emigrate permanently in the next two to three years (%)

People with plans to emigrate permanently in the next two to three years (%)

Short-term migration more appealing

While in recent years Bulgarian citizens have gradually become increasingly less inclined to leave their country and start a new life abroad, for 22.3% of young people short-term emigration is still a preferable option. However, according to the survey, the number of young people expressing a desire for short-term migration follows the overall downward trend. Thus, the proportion of people intending to migrate for a short time in 2008 decreased by more than 10 percentage points compared to 2006 (Figure 3).

People with plans to emigrate for work within the next two to three years (%)

People with plans to emigrate for work within the next two to three years (%)

Motivation for emigration

Motives for emigrating are changing, the Mediana survey shows. According to the researchers, despite the fact that one in two of the respondents (48%) pointed to economic reasons for emigration, a growing number of young people are motivated by social (27%) or mixed (social and economic) reasons for their decision to emigrate. Many of them are still attracted by the idealised notion of exploring ‘another world’. In response to the question ‘Do you think everyone in western Europe has a nice dwelling and beautiful car?’, almost 60% of young people answered affirmatively. One third of the respondents also believed that there are not a lot of poor people in western European countries.

Interestingly, the survey also highlighted another significant factor influencing an individual’s potential decision to migrate as the search for independence from the family.

Thus, 45% of young people living with their parents are prepared to emigrate compared with just 30% of those who live independently.

Changing educational profile of potential migrants

The educational structure of the potential migration flow has changed largely over the years. Among potential migrants, people with secondary education make up the highest proportion in this group, representing about 60% of all potential migrants in 2008. However, according to the survey, lower educated young people are more willing to migrate. While in 2002 the proportion of potential migrants with primary and lower educational levels amounted to 18%, in 2008 the share of people in this group increased to 32%. The reverse trend is found for university graduates with their share in the potential emigration flow twice as low in 2008 (9%) as in 2006 (20%) (Figure 4).

Changes in educational structure of youth emigration flow (%)

Changes in educational structure of youth emigration flow (%)

Recession deters emigration 

Experts argue that the main cause underlying the trends outlined above most probably relates to the current economic situation. The recession has already led to a substantial reduction of jobs available in the EU, and many Bulgarians working abroad have returned home. However, the continuing and aggravating economic crisis in the country may reverse this trend.

Nadezhda Daskalova, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)

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