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News 17 Oct 16

EU Sucks Educated Youngsters out of Macedonia

About 100,000 Macedonians have obtained EU passports and left the country in the past ten years, data show, and the trend shows no signs of subsiding.

Aleksandar Janev
Photo:Tatu Kosonen/ Wikimedia Commons.

Over 100,000 mainly young, educated Macedonians have acquired EU passports in the past ten years, searching for employment and a better life abroad, European statistical data show.

The preferred way for Macedonians to obtain the right to work in the EU is by getting a passport from neighbouring Bulgaria.

Between 2005, when Macedonia won EU candidate country status, and 2015, 57,637 Macedonians successfully applied for Bulgarian passports, the Bulgarian Justice Ministry told BIRN.

Data from the EU statistics body Eurostat shows that over the same period, another 48,589 Macedonians got passports from other EU or Schengen zone countries. Apart from Bulgaria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Austria top the list.

The total number of Macedonians who obtained EU passports in the last decade thus comes to 106,216, which roughly equals the entire population of the country’s second largest town of Bitola, plus the town of Strumica, which is among the ten largest towns.

The numbers are impossible to translate into an exact percentage of the population since the country has not held a headcount since 2002.

While Macedonia's population in 2002 stood at 2.1 million, many unofficial estimates suggest this number has since dwindled to only 1.7 million.

Some people who acquired EU passports told BIRN they view them mainly as an “EU working visas” that will save them from poverty back home, where the unemployment rate stands at 30 per cent and where most workers earn less than the average monthly wage of just over 300 euros.

“You are not less patriotic and it does not mean that you don’t love your country if you acquire a Bulgarian passport, like I did, because your belly was empty,” said Gjurica Gosheva, aged 28, from the small town of Valandovo.

After becoming a Bulgarian citizen she moved to and found work in Dortmund, Germany. Back in Macedonia she says she “knocked on many doors and sent millions of CVs but did not find employment”.

While the Bulgarian Justice Ministry says the number of Bulgarian passports issued to Macedonians peaked in 2012, the number and trends this year are unknown.

However, people who act as middlemen for Macedonian applicants before the Bulgarian authorities told BIRN on condition of anonymity that the number of applications this year has continued to rise.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki insists that “shopping” for EU passports is part of a global phenomenon and will stop only when Macedonia becomes part of the EU. Its membership has long been stalled by a dispute with Greece over its name.

“In some areas, the best people on a global scale are concentrated in one place. If you are an IT expert, no matter where you’re from, it is highly probable that you’ll find employment in the Silicon Valley [in California]. It is a natural development,” Poposki told BIRN.

He added that in the past ten years the government had successfully tried to curb the outflow of young people by creating some 180,000 new jobs. However, the figure is much disputed by the opposition and some economic experts.

Judging by the recent statistical report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, published few days ago, the emigration from Macedonia is increasing.

OECD has calculated that only in 2014, 21,002 people left Macedonia, which is the record in the last 15 years. More than 90 per cent of these people moved to Germany.

The World Bank in its own reports on South Eastern Europe marks that the region is losing a large part of its young and educated population trough emigration which seeks better chance mainly in the countries of Western Europe.

While this trend largely benefits the developed countries who get educated workers, it has a negative effect for the economic growth of the countries of South Eastern Europe.

Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia are the countries noted in the reports as the most concerned by this trend. The World Bank estimates that one quarter of citizens from these countries already live and work abroad.

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