Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Real Migration Problem - Brain Drain

Germany is a country of immigrants. In the 1950s and '60s, Italians, Turks, Portuguese and Greeks came to Germany as "guest workers." The description included the explicit expectation that those workers would return to their countries of origin at some point. Instead, they stayed and had children, and their children had children. And yet the broader German society never fully accepted many of them — in part because few political leaders ever gave a clear signal that these people were a part of the country and, therefore, welcome to stay. That culture war continues. The nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has taken on the role of the xenophobe. Reports of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic violence serve as a strong deterrent for potential immigrants.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has long expressed her conviction that the country cannot maintain its prosperity without bringing in more labor from abroad. It seems that the majority of people in Germany have finally been persuaded by the indisputable facts — whatever the AfD and its ilk may say. 

As large numbers of displaced people arrived in 2015 and 2016, German politicians created more restrictive asylum policy. But refugees, too, have helped fill vacant positions. Over the past four years, almost half a million people who received some form of asylum protection have found jobs in Germany. 

The German government is currently preparing a large-scale plan to recruit non-EU workers and speed up visa procedures, making it likely that the migration wave will continue.

Western Europe needs highly skilled migrants, particularly doctors and other healthcare workers. While they are eagerly awaited in rich EU states with aging populations, young professionals are also driven from their homes by dismal conditions in North Macedonia and the entire Balkan region. Buses full of migrants leave North Macedonia's town of Tetovo almost every night. They are heading to Italy, Germany, Switzerland — all prime destinations for aspiring foreign workers. Hundreds of thousands of them have already left the small Balkan state.
"I paid for my entire education, and then the starting salary in Macedonian hospitals was lower than the salary I received while working as a waiter," Gjakov says.
Western Balkans natives face job stagnation, social insecurity, financial dependency, a system of political patronage, sub-par healthcare systems, as well as discrimination towards vulnerable groups, including women and LGBT people. These are the key reasons that push them to emigrate, says Zhivka Deleva, an independent researcher at Berlin's Interkulturanstalten Westend.

The consequences are glaringly obvious in North Macedonia — according to World Bank statistics, almost half a million Macedonians already live abroad. This equates to nearly one quarter of the country's remaining population. 
The situation is just as grim in neighboring Kosovo. According to the EU's Eurostat statistics agency, EU member states issued some 245,000 work residence permits to Kosovo citizens between 2008 and 2018. In Albania, the demand for German lessons has skyrocketed in recent years. Serbia is the most populous non-EU Balkan state with its current population of over 7 million people. Almost 655,000 have left since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, according to OSCE data. The country loses around 50,000 — a mid-sized town — every year. The smallest non-EU state in the region, Montenegro, has a population of roughly 625,000 inhabitants. It is also troubled by high emigration rates, with almost 17,350 receiving EU working permits between 2008 and 2018, according to Eurostat. A recent survey  in Montenegro found that about 70% of young people are considering leaving the country. 
Doctor Vigan Roka left Kosovo in 2013 to pursue his specialization in ophthalmology. He says the conditions for medical specialists were simply much better in Germany.

"My dream to become an eye surgeon was impossible in Kosovo, so I had to leave, heartbroken but very motivated," he said. 
Emigration is nothing new for eastern European countries.  The future of the Balkans is at stake because the people who are leaving are mostly young. Many of them will end up having children outside their native countries, speeding up the already rapid population decline. The latest wave is depleting the top segment of the workforce, experts say.

"The most qualified people are leaving the country and brain drain is a major problem for Albania," says Eda Gemi, a migration and integration policy expert. "We have currently a brainless country; what future can we imagine for it?"
The fate of Romania, which joined the block in 2007, gives a glimpse into the region's future. World Bank numbers indicate that some 3.6 million Romanians, or 18.2% of the country's population, now live elsewhere. Around 27% of them are highly skilled workers. The mass emigration has impacted the country's domestic labor market, creating shortages in areas such as science and technology.
Some Balkan states now seem to be hitting back. The government in Serbia has raised salaries for doctors and nurses in an attempt to slow down their migration. Authorities in Belgrade also formed a new Ministry for Demographic Policies and significantly boosted child benefits. Couples are now entitled to receive a one-time €800 payment after having their first child. After the second child, the state is also obliged to pay €80 per month over two years. The couples who decide to have a third child would get another €100 each month over the next 10 years, which is a significant sum in the impoverished country.

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