WB2EU: Bulgaria is Failing in the Integration of Emigrants returning from Abroad

Society | November 9, 2022, Wednesday // 09:33|  views


Immigration of returning citizens has been strategically identified as one of the most effective solutions to the depopulation problem facing Bulgaria. But much more needs to be done to translate these strategic commitments into concrete policies, the implementation of which would help to attract the desire to return and for successful integration. This is stated in the short political overview "Returning migrants in Bulgaria: Political context of missed opportunities", published within the Vienna network "WB2EU".

According to the review, the discourse on migration in Bulgaria usually focuses on its negative aspects, such as the "brain drain", without paying much attention to its positive aspects. The growing concern about migration is due to the demographic crisis that almost all the countries of the Balkans find themselves in, and which is fueled by population decline.

"Very little is said about the possible positive aspects of the situation and what are the possible benefits for Bulgaria arising from the communities living outside the national territory. The emphasis is actually placed exclusively on the relationship between the demographic crisis in the country and emigration," is said in the report, quoted by "European Western Balkans'.

Statistics show that the number of immigrants in Bulgaria is increasing, but the number of people who come to live in Bulgaria is still far less than the number of emigrants. The only exception is in 2020, when the return of Bulgarian citizens is fueled by the Covid crisis. But as the study points out, these returns could not be seen as the result of effective government policies, but rather as a consequence of a major crisis affecting the countries of settlement, citing similar effects that previous crises such as the economic crisis of 2008 or Brexit of 2015 have had on migration.

Gap between strategic and political commitment

Another problem is the inadequate framework for facilitating returns, which means that return policies are usually "bundled into other policies". In the Bulgarian case, this is the migration policy, whose "main goal is to improve the demographic balance, increase the supply of labor force and the national human capital".

Since the creation of the Agency for Bulgarians Abroad in 1992, four national migration strategies have been adopted. As the Policy Brief states, they can rather be seen as "intended to respond primarily to national and ethnic ideals rather than identifiable labor market needs".

The current National Migration Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria (2021-2025) prioritizes the return of Bulgarian migrants and defines two policy directions to promote return: programs aimed at assisting Bulgarian citizens who have returned or intend to return, aimed at utilizing their potential; and "targeted campaigns and intensive discussions, including at the political level, by engaging the efforts of the general public to promote the return of Bulgarian citizens and their establishment in the Republic of Bulgaria".

This strategic commitment has not led to many tangible results, as the specific policies aimed at achieving these strategic goals remain inadequate to adapt to modern migration. The return cannot be seen as a "final act" in the way it is perceived now.

"This trend does not correspond either to global migration dynamics or to empirical observations that show that the dynamic migration pattern dominates much more often," the paper states.

Main points for improving the Bulgarian approach to migration

The document divides return policies into three categories: "policies aimed at attracting returnees; policies aimed at facilitating return by targeting potential repatriates; and policies aimed at ensuring integration".

The policies that could attract a Bulgarian citizen to return can also play a key role in his reintegration. As for information policies, they are needed at every stage of the process.

The Policy Brief recommends "better implementation of national migration policies and strategies", concluding that current policies remain "in the realm of strategy and limited to the level of return campaigns persons". In addition, more needs to be done in the area of ​​"identifying and managing the main obstacles to return" to overcome the challenges that may prevent Bulgarian citizens from returning. The settlement of Bulgarian citizens coming from abroad cannot proceed smoothly without appropriate integration policies.

The hypothesis that the "new" Bulgarian citizens of Bulgarian origin will fit into society more easily and will not need specific help, does not always correspond to reality. It turns out that these citizens, like other immigrants, also need support for their successful integration, and it is also clear that very few of them actually stay in the country. In most cases, Bulgarian citizenship is used for the purposes of onward migration to other countries, most often to the EU, as explained by the Policy Brief.

Therefore, it is recommended, "to ensure a better relationship between the 'diaspora' and return migration policies to facilitate return and reintegration".

Finally, migration should be considered not only from the point of view of the demographic crisis, but also through the prism of the opportunities it can provide to Bulgarian citizens who may eventually return from abroad and use their knowledge, experience and contacts to promote the development of the country. As the authors point out, “both return and residual immigration to Bulgaria are much more closely related to 'circular migration' trends, which is why it is recommended that Bulgaria develop a comprehensive package of measures addressing both emigration decisions and to return decisions.”

The Policy Brief is published within the WB2EU project. The project aims to create a network of well-known think tanks, universities, higher education institutions and policy centers in the Balkans, in the neighboring countries and in the EU member states, which will be most decisive for the process of enlargement and Europeanization of the region through the following years. The WB2EU project is co-financed by the European Commission within the Erasmus+ Jean Monnet program.

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Tags: emigrants, Integration, WB2EU, Bulgaria


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