Employment experiences of Bulgarian migrant workers

A survey of Bulgarian return migrants – people who had left Bulgaria to work abroad and later returned home – sheds light on their sociodemographic profile and employment experience abroad. It finds that most return migrants are men and under the age of 45 years, with at least a secondary education. Most leave Bulgaria with a job already arranged in the host country, typically in economic sectors such as agriculture, transport, tourism or construction.

About the survey

A report entitled ‘Return migration’s profile and experience: Empirical evidence from Bulgaria (353Kb PDF)’ was published in July 2006 in the framework of a project conducted in partnership by the Global Development Network Southeast Europe (GDN-SEE) and the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (Wiener Institut für Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche, wiiw). The document reports the findings of a survey of a representative sample of 1,052 households in Bulgaria. The research examined the sociodemographic profile and employment experience of ‘return migrants’ – Bulgarians who have moved abroad and later returned to Bulgaria.

The survey finds that about 15% of Bulgarian households (over 400,000) participated in international migration processes in the period over 2001–2005. The number of return migrants was estimated at over 400,000 persons and the number of Bulgarians currently abroad was thought to be over 200,000 persons.

Sociodemographic profile of return migrants

The survey found that young and middle-aged people predominated among return migrants, with those under the age of 45 years comprising about two thirds of the total (Figure 1). Among female return migrants, more than half were under 35 years old (51.6%), compared with around four out of 10 men (39.8%). Men represented over two thirds of all return migrants, and the majority of migrants (60%) were married.

Return migrants, by sex and age (%)

Return migrants, by sex and age (%)

Source: GDN-SEE, July 2006

Return migrants, by sex and age (%)

Over 80% of return migrants had at least a secondary education, while more than a fifth (22.6%) had a higher education (Figure 2). The largest single group among male return migrants (47.9%) had a professional (vocational) secondary education, while the largest single group among women (33.3%) had a general secondary education.

Educational level of return migrants, by sex (%)

Educational level of return migrants, by sex (%)

Source: GDN-SEE, 2006

Educational level of return migrants, by sex (%)

Employment and living conditions

The survey findings reveal that a significant share of migration occurs through family and acquaintance networks assisting in finding jobs and offering temporary housing. These informal institutions are complemented by formal job placement services.

Availability of accommodation

About 80% of respondents stated that they had arranged their accommodation in the host country prior to leaving Bulgaria. In more than one third of cases (36.4%), the housing was provided by compatriots who had already settled in the host country; in the remaining cases, the intermediary company arranging employment (19.1%) or the employer (24.6%) supplied housing for the migrants. However, a fifth of migrants had left Bulgaria without having arranged accommodation in advance.

Availability of jobs

A similar situation is observed regarding the prior arrangement of a job – over 70% of return migrants reported that they had arranged a job in the host country before leaving home (Figure 3). They relied mainly on contracts with employers or assistance from acquaintances residing in the country concerned. However, some gender differences exist in this respect. About a third of female migrants did not have any job arranged on departure, whereas this proportion among men was about a quarter.

Job availability in host country on departure (%)

Job availability in host country on departure (%)

Job availability in host country on departure (%)

Source: GDN-SEE, 2006

Migration destination

Germany, Italy and Spain were the most attractive countries for migrants, particularly among men (over 50%), while Greece (20.6%) and other central European countries (26.5%) attracted more women.

It is noteworthy that the Mediterranean EU Member States, such as Greece, Italy and Spain, attracted over 40% of the Bulgarian migrants (see table below). If Cyprus, Malta and Portugal are added to this country group, it was found that almost half of the respondents had preferred south European destinations. These may be considered as ‘new’ immigration countries.

Migration destination (%)
Region Men Women Total
Southern EU countries 48.6 43.8 47.1
Other EU countries, including western and central European countries 33.3 40.6 35.6
Turkey and non-EU countries 18.1 15.6 17.3

Note: Southern EU countries includes Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain, and non-EU countries comprises Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and the US.

Source: GDN-SEE, 2006

Sectoral distribution of employment

Almost a quarter of respondents had found jobs in agriculture (22.3%), while 17% worked in transport and 13.7% worked in construction (Figure 4). Some 13.1% of the migrants surveyed found jobs in other economic sectors than those specified in Figure 4, particularly in tourism. In terms of gender distribution, women were mainly employed in household activities and social care (36%) and in tourist services (27%), while men mainly found jobs in agriculture (26.8%), transport (23.9%) and construction (19.7%).

Sectoral distribution of employment, by sex (%)

Sectoral distribution of employment, by sex (%)

Source: GDN-SEE, 2006

Sectoral distribution of employment, by sex (%)

Assessment of employment

Although many Bulgarian migrants work in so-called ‘3-d’ jobs – namely, dirty, dangerous and difficult – which are unattractive for local workers, more than half of the respondents categorised their job abroad as requiring a qualification (Figure 5).

The vast majority of return migrants (83.4%) stated that they had been employed full time, while 45.8% of them reported that they had an official employment contract with their employer. However, almost half of return migrants did not have an employment contract and had probably been working in the informal economy.

Job assessment (%)

Job assessment (%)

Source: GDN-SEE, 2006

Job assessment (%)

Satisfaction with work abroad

It is noteworthy that over 80% of return migrants responded that they were either fully or to a certain degree satisfied with their job abroad. Full satisfaction was most commonly reported by those who had held a qualified job (51.9%) or a job with an official employment contract (44.7%). The most satisfied migrants were those who had held jobs in industry, transport and tourism. Significant proportions (25%–40%) of those respondents who had worked in agriculture, care for elderly people and household activities reported that they had definitely not been satisfied with their stay abroad.

Commentary

The survey provides valuable insights into emigrants’ working and living conditions and migration patterns. It also highlights the existence of a persistent orientation of short-term migration outflows to the new immigration countries. The findings suggest that migration policy should take greater account of existing migration practices and attitudes.

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

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