During the past one hundred years Romania was predominantly a country of emigration, with a rather impressive record regarding the number of persons involved, the outcomes and the varieties of migratory arrangements. It is noticeable that in the 20th century a considerable part of the migratory flows was directly or indirectly connected with ethnic minorities, a type of migration largely characteristic for other countries of Central and South Eastern Europe. These minorities were not simply refugees: they moved to states to which they had historical ties (e.g. Germany, Hungary), both in reaction to general and ethnic- based discrimination in Romania, and because they hoped for a safer and better life in those states. Political violence and deprivation generated by a largely ineffective and authoritarian administration represented another cause for flight and emigration for a large number of Romanians during and immediately after the demise of the Communist era.
The slow and socially burdensome transition from a centrally planned economy to an effectively functioning market economy (over the past one and a half decades) has provided another impetus for Romanians to search for employment abroad. The economic transition precipitated a rather drastic and lasting decline in the number of jobs available in the domestic labour market, and at least two million Romanians moved abroad as a result.
The population loss caused by these waves of emigration has started to negatively impact the further development of the Romanian economy. Emigration, combined with an ageing population, will likely make Romania turn to labour immigration in the future. Soon the country will face considerable challenges, from finding a way of managing – and perhaps reversing – the outflow of workers to developing policies for managing the
reception and integration of large numbers of immigrants, an area in which it has little experience.
In the first three years after the fall of Communism 170,000 persons legally emigrated from Romania. In 1990, emigration reached its peak, with 96,929 Romanians moving abroad. This emigration was the result of the liberalization of travel as well as the turbulent economic and political environment in the country.
Ethnic minorities (especially Germans and Hungarians) where over-represented in the legal emigrant population; for example, 60,000 out of a total of 97,000 emigrants registered in 1990 were Germans. In the case of ethnic Germans, this emigration was encouraged by the assistance offered by the Federal Republic of Germany. Nevertheless, the main motivation for emigrating during this time was economic. At the beginning of the 1990s, highly qualified, young emigrants obtained long-term, legal residence in various European countries, the USA and Canada. Thereafter, more and more unskilled or poorly qualified persons from rural areas began seeking (mostly temporary) migratory arrangements.
During the process of transition and the restructuring of the Romanian economy (which took place roughly from 1990 to 2002), the employed population declined by 44%. More than 3.5 million jobs vanished, with the most dramatic decreases being registered in industry, where the number of jobs declined by half. In this context, a considerable number of Romanians left to seek economic gains abroad. In the last 17 years, the main countries of destination for Romanian labour migration have changed considerably, but three rather distinct phases can be outlined. In the first phase (roughly between 1990 and 1995), when entry to various Western European countries was severely limited, Romanian workers headed mainly to Israel, Turkey, Hungary (mostly ethnic Hungarians) and Germany. In the second period (1996-2002), westward migration prevailed, with large numbers of workers going to Italy and, increasingly, Spain. The third phase of labour migration was symbolically inaugurated on 1st January 2002 when countries included in the Schengen space removed visa requirements for Romanian citizens, making a valid passport sufficient for entry. Major destinations since then have included Italy, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom but also SUA and Canada.
After Romania’s accession to the EU (on 1st January 2007) the target countries for Romanian labour emigrants remained mainly Italy (23%), Spain (20%) and Great Britain (18%). Germany is not anymore a target country for Romanians; only 12% are still attracted by this destination.
According to ANBCC (Asociaţia Naţională a Birourilor de Consiliere pentru Cetăţeni - National Association of Counselling Offices for Citizens) statistics, those who intend to leave towards the three destinations are between 23-40 years old – with specificity that Great Britain attract young people (44% of them have ages between 23-30 years old) and Italy is preferred by persons over 50 years old.
Those who manifest their interested in immigrating into Spain are mainly from the south regions of Romania (Muntenia) (38%), Italy is preferred by the east part of the country (Moldova) (28%) and Great Britain is the favourite country for the people from the North-east of Romania.
The main reason for which Italy and Spain remained the favourite countries to migrate is due to the important Romanian communities and it is easier for them to be integrated into the new host society.
It is estimated that 3.4 million Romanians were working abroad in mid-2007, approximately 1.2 million of them legally (ANBCC statistics).
Even after the fall of Communism, labour migration from Romania was overwhelmingly irregular, as the majority of the Western European countries imposed entrance visas for Romanian citizens, making legal access to these countries rather difficult. This has since changed, and regularization programs, like those in Italy, have given many labour migrants with Romanian citizenship legal residence status and access to employment in some countries of destination. Nevertheless, it is estimated that a considerable number of the Romanian labour migrants were still irregulars in 2006, perhaps encouraged by the prospects of periodic regularization campaigns.
For example, it estimates place the number of irregular Romanian residents in Italy at 600,000, which is in addition to the 400,000 legal Romanian residents, as at Romanian Labour Migration into EU Conference the representative of Italian Embassy in Bucharest (beginning of 2007).
In 2006, 120.000 Romanians emigrated in Spain. In present, they represent the 2nd minority community in Spain, after Moroccan Community. The Romanian Community after 1 January 2007 didn’t t decrease, and it exist the possibility that during 2007, the Romanian Community become the first foreign minority in Spain.
In 1990-1995, for most of the Romanian employees abroad was requested only a medium and elementary qualification. The majority of the emigrants were retired persons. Now, it appears a new kind of Romanian emigrant – young as age, with a good level of education, with a good income in his origin country. If at the beginning the main reason for leaving it was to obtain a good salary, now the main reason became o good career.
An important attribute with regard of individual's capacity of being reintegrated by labour migration is knowledge of a foreign language. The proportion of those who worked abroad and declare that speak a foreign language at a good or very good level is surprisingly low, 19%. Some of them are probably speaking a language that was not helpful in the country they worked (e.g. German in Italy). So, more than 80% work abroad without speaking the local language.
The economic impact of labour migration on Romania has not yet been assessed in comprehensive terms. It is only certain that the volume of remittances increased continuously until 2006. In 2002, the volume of remittances was estimated to be approximately USD 1.5-2 billion, and Romania placed 23rd in the list of the top 30 developing countries with the highest volume of remittances received in that period. Recent reports show that, since then, the volume of remittances has almost tripled: the National Bank of Romania reported the record amount of EUR 4.8-5.3 billion for 2006. It seems that a large part of this money goes toward increasing the overall living standards of migrant households, and only a small part is invested in entrepreneurial activities. (Focus migration, Country Profile-Romania, No.9, September 2007)
Beyond the positive economic aspects for households, widespread engagement of Romanians in labour migration has several negative consequences, particularly on the lives of affected families. The most problematic issue is the temporary abandonment of minors by their labour migrant parents.
At the beginning of the 1990s, only one member of the household tended to migrate, meaning that only one family member (usually the father) was absent. Since then the number of women engaged in labour migration has increased. Now it is common for couples to migrate, leaving minor children behind without direct parental supervision. These children are not necessarily abandoned; relatives, neighbours or friends assume parental roles. However, the lack of direct parental supervision has led to a rise in social problems among children and adolescents, and the authorities in charge of child protection have been forced to formulate policies to monitor the situation.
At the end of 2006, the National Authority for the Protection of Children’s Rights identified approximately 60,000 children as being at risk because one or both parents were working abroad; in one third (21,400) of these cases, children had been deprived of both their parents.
If in the 1990s, Romanian authorities tolerated labour emigration because it functioned as a safety valve, defusing the increasing social tensions generated by the collapse of Communism and the rather difficult transition to a market economy, it seems that this flow has become self-perpetuating and, even if the causes behind the massive labour migration have disappeared, a future continuation cannot be ruled The authorities are interested in present not only in containing this flow, but in creating the domestic conditions necessary to encourage Romanians working abroad to return to Romania. This is a challenging policy issue indeed: considerable economic adjustments (e.g. wage increases) would need to be made and programmes for the (re-) integration of returnees created. In early 2007 a special interdepartmental committee of the central administration, headed by the Prime Minister, was set up with the purpose of drafting a set of measures to encourage the return of Romanian labour migrants abroad.