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Feature 17 Jan 17

Young Albanians Strike Gold in the Emirates

The Gulf states have turned into a dream destination for many young Albanians whose career paths were blocked back home.

Fatjona Mejdini
Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi.Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Artion Marra decided to emigrate to the United Arab Emirates, UAE, in search of a better life three years ago.

The 26-year-old Albanian knocked on the doors of several Albanian recruiting agencies that find people jobs in the UAE.

He has since gained a recruitment license and is on the way to opening his own jobs agency. Meanwhile he also works in Dubai as a manager of the American hospital.

“I have so many projects and opportunities right now, and they are going to keep me in the UAE for a long time. My experience here has been a blessing,” Marra told BIRN.

Before 2009, few Albanians worked in Arab countries, but today thousands of them work there, seeing it as a prime destination for youngsters wanting new professional and financial opportunities.

Marra left Albania with a diploma in finance but no work experience and told BIRN that his start in the Arab world had not been smooth.

“In November 2013, I departed for Bahrain after a recruitment agency promised me work as a waiter in the famous Ritz-Carlton Hotel. But what I got there was a job in a much more modest hotel with a salary of just 350 euros a month,” he recalled.

After three months, he went back to Albania feeling disappointed but also with clearer ideas.

“The experience I went through was very bad, but I learned one precious thing: The Arab countries are a gold mine for people like me who have difficulties in finding a job in Albania,” he said.

He immediately got in touch with another recruitment agency in Tirana, this time taking a more accurate contract.

In March 2014, he departed for Abu Dhabi to start a job as a receptionist in a hospital.

"This time everything went as planned. I worked for some months as receptionist in the hospital and was later promoted to manager.”

In December 2016, he got another offer to move to Dubai, this time as general manager in a small hospital, with double the salary that he was earning in Abu Dhabi.

Trend started in 2009:

Ermal Jauri, director of a recruiting agency and the Tirana Chamber of Commerce’s Representative in the UAE, told BIRN that Arab countries only started to seek workers in Albania in 2009, after which thousands of young people embraced the opportunity.

Jauri said that the first contracts came about as the result of the personal efforts of his own agency and had continued as result of Albanians' good performance, even though the Albanian state has yet to sign any agreement with any of Gulf countries when it comes to employment.

"We were skeptical in the beginning because we didn't know if young Albanians would fit into the luxury working environment of the UAE. But it turned out that Albanian job-seekers were very appropriate and requests for these workers increased,” he said.

He said the Gulf states have become a favourite choice, not only for Albanians living in Albania but also for Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro. His agency recently set up branches in all of these countries.

“Young Albanians generally take a university diploma without having any solid expertise in the field they graduated in or having chances to do internships,” he said.

“In Arab countries, big corporations employ them initially in humble positions but later they identify their special skills and abilities and train them up, giving them an opportunity to move up the company chain,” Jauri explained.

He says it is a different way of recruiting and promoting compared to most European countries.

"We get job offers from European countries but it is difficult to fulfill those from our market, since they want very specialized people, at a time when our education system is mainly generalist and when our jobs market is small, offering few chances of deep specialization,” he explained.

Arton Marra said that as result of EU politics, the European jobs market is almost hermetically sealed against Albanians and difficult to access.

“There is much discrimination against Albanians in the European job market, while in countries like the UAE nobody really wants to know where you come from; they are just interested in your skills and abilities,” he said.

The exact number of Albanians who have moved to work in Arab countries during the recent years is not knows, but, speaking for his agency, Jauri says that during 2016 it signed contracts for 280 youngsters from Albania and for 78 others from Kosovo to work in the UAE. “From 2009 until now we have sent around 1,200 Albanians to work in the UAE and the trend is increasing,” he said.

Parents felt dubious and worried:

When 22-year-old Besa Tejeci from Prizren in Kosovo told her parents that she wanted to go and work as a salesperson in Dubai, they were more than surprised.

“I caught them off guard, they couldn’t believe what I was going to do this, partly because I had never left Kosovo to travel abroad. However, after we discussed it, they approved of my leaving for Dubai,” she told BIRN.

Tejeci is one of the many Kosovars who left for the UAE in 2016 through a recruiting agency based in Tirana, Albania.

She says it was the best decision she ever made in her life.

“I arrived here on December 25 and work as a perfume saleswoman in the Marina Shopping Mall in Dubai. I share an apartment with two other Albanians girls and up to now I'm really satisfied,” she said.

While she has not had a chance to take a university diploma, she told BIRN that she is working to save money to do so and so fulfill her life goal, which is to run her own business.

Marra also faced some prejudice when he first told his parents that he wanted to move to the UAE for professional reasons.

“They were hesitant and confused. They thought my stay here could be dangerous because they heard that Arab countries are very conservative,” he recalled.

But when it comes to his every-day experience, Arion depicts a different reality.

“During my stay in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi or Dubai I have been free to pursue the lifestyle that I want,” he said.

“I have friendships with local people, and with Albanians, Europeans and Americans who live here, and our life is the same as those of young people everywhere else,” he said.

“We enjoy partying, excursions and spending time in the parks and each other’s houses. I'm not sure if I would have a better time in Albania,” he concluded.

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