Survey examines labour market situation of migrants

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee has published a report on the rights and labour market position of migrants in Bulgaria, based on a survey carried out in 2006. Their employment rate (73.8%) is considerably higher than the national average. Some 52.5% of working migrants hold employment contracts, while 23.6% are self-employed and 22.2% have no formal contract. Up to 10% of working migrants report discrimination regarding access to the labour market.

About the research

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee – an independent non-governmental organisation for the protection of human rights – carried out a survey of migrants’ rights in 2006. The survey report, published later that year, outlines the legislation in force and the current labour market situation of migrants. The research methodology combined both qualitative and quantitative methods in order to seek a high degree of precision and representativeness across various ethnic, social and age groups. The quantitative survey was conducted using a standardised questionnaire by BBSS Gallup International among 385 immigrants from various migrant communities. In-depth non-standardised interviews with community leaders and representatives of migrant communities were also carried out.

The study adopted a gender-focused approach to migration, as the researchers wanted to avoid what they saw as seemingly gender-neutral models of migration which implicitly employ models based on male immigrant experiences.

Main findings

Gender and age structure

The gender and age structure of immigrant communities in Bulgaria does not diverge significantly from global migration trends in which the typical migrant worker is young and male. Some 62% of immigrants surveyed were men. An exception is the Russian community: women represented 80% of this migrant group. A total of 93.4% of survey respondents were of working age and most of these were aged between 26 and 45 years.

Educational attainment

The average immigrant is well-educated: the majority of migrants surveyed (54%) had completed secondary education, 37.1% held a university degree, 2.1% held a higher academic degree and the same percentage had only primary education.

Motivation for migration

The dominant reason for migration identified by the research was employment – cited by 33.5% of respondents (Figure 1).

Motivation for migration (%)

Motivation for migration

Source: Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2006

However, gender differences emerge in the ‘pull’ factors bringing migrant workers to Bulgaria. While the dominant factor for male migrants was employment (44.2%), the most common reasons cited by women were marriage or family reunion (37.9%). This difference is significant because it indicates that women often arrive in the host country as dependants, which tends to have an adverse effect on their future position in the labour market and in society, according to the report.

Employment levels and employment conditions

The employment rate of migrants (73.8%) found by the survey was considerably higher than the national average in Bulgaria, which stood at 63.3% for men and 55% for women in the second quarter of 2006. Among migrants, the rate was found to be particularly high among permanent residents (83.3%) and naturalised immigrants (83.9%). Some 63.5% of refugees and people with ‘humanitarian status’ were employed. Only 12.7% of respondents had never applied for employment or worked in Bulgaria. Moreover, 68% of the respondents’ spouses were also employed.

The majority of respondents (52.5%) had permanent or temporary employment contracts (Figure 2). Many more women than men (66% compared with 45.5%) sought to formalise and secure their employment with a contract – probably, the report suggests, in the light of legitimate concerns about maternity or other social security benefits.

Employment status of migrants

Employment status of migrants

Source: Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2006

The self-employed respondents (23.6% of the total) were mostly male. A fifth of immigrants (22.2%) worked without any employment contract or were uncertain about their contractual relationship with the employer.

The respondents tended to work overtime on a regular basis, which is thought to be influenced by the fact that some migrants are small entrepreneurs. Of those surveyed, 25.7% worked more than eight hours a day and 16.4% – mostly men – worked seven days a week without taking weekends off. Moreover, 11.2% stated that they were not allowed or did not take paid annual leave and 28% did not even know that they were entitled to it.

Social security cover

A third of migrants surveyed (31.7%) were not covered by social security while 6.8% were unaware if they were. Employers insured 30.6% of migrants, most of them women, while 29.4% of migrants paid their social security contributions as self-employed persons. Approximately 23% had no health insurance, while 66.4% either covered their health insurance contributions as self-employed or were insured by their employers.

Discrimination in the labour market

Some 6.2% of working migrants reported racial discrimination regarding their access to the labour market. The reported level of discrimination based on ethnicity or nationality was higher, at 10.2%. The forms of discrimination cited by women were more varied: from rejecting applicants on the grounds of ethnicity or nationality, to giving them only menial work, paying them less than Bulgarian nationals for the same type and amount of work, or constraining their promotion.


The actual number of migrants in Bulgaria is not very large. In the context of accession to the EU, which took place on 1 January 2007, it is expected that the country will change from being a ‘sending’ to a ‘receiving’ country in migration terms (BG0610029I). A promising step towards the improvement of migrants’ situation is a new migration strategy that was adopted by the government and social partners in 2007 (BG0711029I).

Nadezhda Daskalova, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research

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