UNFPA research shows “unexpected opportunities for the depopulating countries of South-East Europe” due to COVID-19 triggered migration
A new brief by Alida Vračić & Tim Judah conducted for the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) shows that COVID-19 triggered migration may have resuscitating effects and create unexpected opportunities for SEE countries that have been struggling with depopulation. A study published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in November 2020 stated that 558,000 Bulgarian citizens entered the country during the March-May lockdown period. More importantly the study showed that 10% of those who have returned to Bulgaria during the COVID crisis intend to stay, and 25% being uncertain about whether they want to go abroad again.
“A lot of people who are well into their careers and have one or a few kids, are already back in Bulgaria or plan on it”
The other part of the migration wave, however, is represented by young talented people who have chosen Bulgaria as their professional development destination. One of them being Gabriela Radeva, who upon graduating from a top 5 university in the UK, returned back home to Plovdiv – and is now a Junior Expert at the Business Development and European Policies Department of the Municipality of Plovdiv.
The pandemic offered opportunities that would not have been available in different circumstances – most importantly the ability to work from home for a local or even international company. The returnees that were interviewed for the UNFPA brief share that this is only the beginning of an already established trend and the current situation is only accelerating it. While some may return to their jobs abroad – mostly in agriculture and manual labour, young professionals have all the necessary foundations to stay and develop their careers from and in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria’s position in the EU and its constant development are providing its citizens with well-paid jobs and opportunities for growth. As Judah and Vračić point out, for those coming from places like California to Bulgaria with its 10-per-cent flat tax, fiscal advantages are definitely among the incentives to move, especially if returnees keep their previous foreign salaries.
Moreover, it is not only the big cities that are seeing the ‘benefits’ of the pandemic migration. The villages and small towns close to Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas (as well as others) are beginning to see a revival, due to the flocking of people who seek access to open space, but still want to live close to the city and enjoy its amenities.
“It is taking time for the message to spread in the diaspora that there is a huge demand for labour in Bulgaria, especially in more specialized sectors.”
Sava Savov, who returned from London in March 2020 with his family, after leaving in the 90s, shares that the initial idea was to go back for a year or two and see whether life in Bulgaria has changed from the “poor, corrupt, dangerous in a way, and bleak” image it had before. Now, he works for an international law firm, while his wife works for an US tech company – both doing it from their home in Sofia.
However, it is taking time for the Bulgarians abroad to see Bulgaria’s potential and is making them reluctant to come back – which is the case with the two other interviewees whose return home was entirely driven by the pandemic.
Paskal Zhelezov, returned to Bulgaria from San Francisco in May 2020, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. He is currently in Burgas, and initially was still working for a Californian company. A couple of months in he was hired by a start-up based in the UK. He sees Burgas as the best of both worlds – close to Aytos where his relatives live, but with all the amenities of a big city.
Gabriela Radeva’s return from the United Kingdom after obtaining a BA was also caused by the global pandemic. However, after completing two summer internships at the Municipality of Plovdiv, they offered her an opportunity to develop her professional skills and portfolio, and she seized it – proving that there is demand and need for young talent on the Bulgarian job market.
Bulgaria is blossoming and there is no doubt about it, and with her talented and skilled youth coming back, her economic revival might happen even earlier than expected.
UNFPA is the United Nations Population Fund, whose mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. UNFPA EECA is the UNFPA’s Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Source: unfpa.org
The full brief by Alida Vračić and Tim Judah is available here:https://eeca.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/140_return_migration_brief_r8.pdf
The full BalkanInsight article is available here:https://balkaninsight.com/2021/03/17/bulgarias-exiled-young-professionals-mull-new-life-back-home/
This article uses information and data from the following sources: BalkanInsight and UNFPA