Key Migration Trends in Macedonia

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 14:54 By Sanja Stamenkovic, Jefferson Institute


The State Statistical Office of the Republic of Macedonia defines migration as one of the main trends affecting the natural growth of the country's population, because it significantly changes the demographics of age and sex. According to the European statistic agency (Eurostat), around 230,000 people left Macedonia to live abroad legally in the period between 1998 and 2011. In these 14 years, more than 10 percent of the country's population has been drained by emigration. The real number of emigrated citizens is probably much higher when counting Macedonians who fled the country illegally.

        Macedonian emigration can be roughly classified into two groups: permanent family emigration, followed by ”brain-drain" and temporary economic emigration. In addition to these two groups, a considerable number of Macedonian citizens are leaving the country illegally and seeking asylum. After the 2010 visa-liberalization, the number of Macedonians seeking refuge and protection in EU countries has increased more than 600%. The majority of these asylum seekers are ethnic Albanians. A similar trend is noticed in asylum seekers from Serbia, where Kosovars seeking refuge constitute around 50% of the country's total number of citizens seeking asylum. As a result, The German Ministry of Interior questioned visa exemptions for Macedonia and Serbia.

        The Macedonian Diaspora consists of emigrated ethnic Macedonians, who found their new home in more developed countries like Australia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States. Most analysis point to six big waves of emigration - from late 19th century to the present day. Some estimates from 1964 speculated that more than 500,000 ethnic Macedonian live abroad. The most recent migration wave began along with the breakup of Yugoslavia. In the period from 1970's to 1990's the share of family members in the total number of emigrants increased from 3.6% to 49.5%, indicating that temporary migrations are evolving into the permanent ones.

        In the 1990s, the country began rebuilding its social and economic system to meet the requirements of a more free market economy. This reconstructing and the process of accession to the European Union took longer than expected, and the economy suffered. The unemployment rate reached its peak in 2003-2005 with the record high 37%. In 2010, Macedonia was ranked by the internet economic portal 24/7 Wall St as the only country in the world with over 30% unemployment.

        To understand Macedonian migration trends, we must first know the basic demographic composition of the population. During the NATO intervention of 1999 a large number of Kosovar Albanians found refuge in Macedonia. A few years later, Macedonia came close to its own civil war and tensions around Kosovo independence continue to elevate the likelihood of ethnic conflict. As a result of the mix of economic and political turmoil in the country, the number of emigrants is increasing.

        The nationality of the emigrants is also showing significant changes in trend. Although ethnic Macedonians are predominant, the number of emigrating ethnic Albanians is constantly rising. The traditionally ethnic Albanian regions of Polog and Southwestern Macedonia have registered the highest number of emigrants for years. Meanwhile, the Romani population is increasing amongst those seeking asylum.

        The share of women emigrating abroad is also increasing. The main reason for this tendency is the increased demand for female workers in the labor markets of Western Europe. After WWII, males in the migrating workforce were predominant. Europe needed to be rebuilt, and physical labor was the main source of employment. During the post-war decades, the gender structure of emigrants to industrialized Europe began to equalize. According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 49% of all those emigrating to the EU in 2010 were women. This trend was due to increased demand for jobs related to domestic care - housekeeping and care for children and the elderly. 

         Despite the large scale of Macedonians emigrating from the country, domestic migration indicators show relatively low internal mobility of the population. According to the State Statistical Office of the Republic of the Macedonia, the internal migration rate in 2010 was 0.4%.

        The impact of migration abroad is not only on population demography. According to the State Statistical Office of the Republic of Macedonia, the educational level of emigrants is increasing during the last several decades. Some estimations show that in the period 1997-2005, the emigration rate among the tertiary educated persons reached 29.4%. This so-called "brain drain" and the emigration of high-skilled workers did not help to reduce unemployment. In fact, as a consequence of the numerous Macedonian diaspora, almost 20% of the population is economically remittances-dependent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

        Until 2008, there was no official policy on the migratory movements of the population. The Resolution on Migration Policy of the Republic of Macedonia and the National Action Plan for Asylum and Migration mainly concern the legal obligation of disclosing the country of residence. In those policies, circular migration is encouraged, and the final goal is not to stop the emigrating population, but to support their (re)integration when returned to their homeland.

        Sources of data on migration within the Republic of Macedonia are derived from the forms registering or notifying resettlement of removal, which are completed by competent clerks in the Ministry of Interior. Since 2009, the State Statistical Office monitors the movement and residence of foreigners in the Republic of Macedonia by electronically obtaining data from the records of the Ministry of Interior.

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