Following the systemic changes in the beginning of the 1990’s, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) generated emigration. Bulgaria was no exception. For the years between the two most recent censuses of 1992 and 2001, Bulgaria’s population declined by about 6%. More than 1/3 of this decline is due to the international mobility of Bulgarian citizens. The gross emigration for the period is estimated at 196 thousand persons, i.e. on average 22 thousand people emigrate each year. Despite the actual ban on free movement during the Cold War years, emigration is not a new phenomenon in Bulgaria. According to different estimations, more than 900 thousand individuals migrated from Bulgaria before 1945 and economic emigration between World War I and II was about 125,000 individuals. At the same time Bulgaria accepted more than 800 thousand persons. After 1945, based on bilateral agreements between Bulgaria and Turkey about 680 thousand ethnic Turks migrated from Bulgaria. Pursuant to different bilateral agreements, Bulgarian workers were employed in Central Europe, the Komi Republic in the former USSR, in North Africa, etc.
Destination of Bulgarian emigrants
Leading destinations for the potential settlers are the European Union Member States (including the 10 newly admitted members in 2004) and Switzerland; as well as the USA and Canada. About ¾ of potential permanent emigrants from Bulgaria are oriented towards these two destinations. The share of those willing to settle in Western and Central Europe is growing – respectively, from 53,9% to 70,1%, while those willing to do the same in the USA and Canada decline by about 10% in 2003. A more careful look into the information shows that in addition to attractive immigrant destinations, such as Germany (28% of potential settlers) and the USA (22%), a certain preference towards the Mediterranean countries – Spain (12%) and Greece (9%), is to be observed. At the same time Turkey is not among the main destinations.
Bulgaria, due to its direct and lengthy border with Greece, unlike other Balkan countries, also finds this geographic advantage to be advantageous when assessing emigration intentions among its own citizens. There can be no doubt that numerous Bulgarians stay in Greece illegally, but conveniently, while sending home remittances.
The International Labour Office in Geneva offers further confirmation of these tendencies:
The Greek authorities, between 1989 and 1998, issued about 33 000 residence permits to Bulgarian nationals. Nearly two-thirds of them were issued between 1994 and 1998. Between 1995 and 1998, slightly more than two-thirds of the residence permits were issued to women. Residence permits are valid for one year but may be renewed annually for a period of up to five years. After five years of legal residence and employment, a foreigner can request authorisation for family members to enter Greece. There is some double counting. How many of the Bulgarian nationals that were issued residence permits in Greece still reside there and how many went back to Bulgaria is unknown.
The geographic advantage for Bulgarians regarding the Greek border is massive when this statistic is considered. Many women, it is impossible to be precise, take the Greek service sector jobs their husbands will not. Therefore, well-trained male Bulgarians have more high-skilled positions available for them in Bulgaria.
According to the ILO Geneva report:
three-quarters were female, four-fifths were over age 30 (and usually under 50), and one-fifth had education exceeding completed secondary school. 34 per cent were married but few spouses were in Greece. Fourfifths had last worked in the Bulgarian public sector; only five per cent had never been employed before. A majority, it seems, had last worked as skilled crafts or trades people or in such skilled service occupations as accountant or social worker.