With a population of roughly 20 million, Romania is located in South-Eastern Europe and has been a member of the European Union since 2007. Its diaspora consists of historical kin communities in neighbouring countries (e.g. Moldova, Hungary, Serbia) and of those who have left the country in recent decades.
Out-migration has had four distinct stages:
- 1980s and early 1990s: out-migration from Romania was mainly politically (anti-Communist asylum seekers) and ethnically (Germans and Hungarians from Transylvania) motivated.
- mid-1990s: significant labour migration starts, mostly to Turkey, Israel, and Greece;
- since 2002: elimination of Schengen visas sees labour migration becoming a mass phenomenon, most migrants going now to Italy and Spain;
- since 2007: with the EU accession, migration tends to have a more temporary/circular character, while a “brain drain” also occurred during the economic crisis, thus reflecting the diversified character of Romanian out-migration.
With the last official data going back to the 2011 national census, it is hard to have a precise figure of the Romanians currently living abroad, especially given the salience of circular migration. Nevertheless, in 2019 the Ministry of Romanians Abroad estimated that there are 5.6 million Romanian emigrants, roughly a quarter of the entire population. Indeed, according to the most recent public figures from Eurostat, Romanian citizens are “by far the largest national group among EU mobile citizens”. Also according to Eurostat, most of them live in Western European countries, with 1.2 million in Italy, 670,000 in Spain, 660,000 in Germany and 420,000 in the UK. For example, before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were regularly 186 flights between Romania and Italy every week. Such high level of mobility between the two countries reflects the degree of circular migration between Romania and Italy.
According to the 2011 census data, the North-East region, the poorest in Romania, is the main region of origin for Romanian out-migration. On a whole, however, there is no clear profile of the Romanian emigrant, although the more recent wave of migration has seen a greater proportion of people with higher education. At the same time, return migration has become prevalent in recent years, with an estimated number of 160,000 emigrants returning to Romania every year during the period 2015-2017. According to the 2014 Labour Force Survey, the North-East is also the region with the highest share of return migrants. As the new economic crisis will affect the main countries of destination for Romanian emigrants, we could see these numbers increase.
The MIGRADEMO project will investigate the political impact of Romanian emigration on three levels:
The impact of financial and social remittances on the political attitudes and behaviour of those that receive them back home: The Romanian diaspora is a significant contributor to the Romanian economy, with financial remittances amounting to over 3% of the GDP in 2019. The level of remittances has already decreased due to the economic impact of The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, will affect the level of remittances, which it is estimated to have already decreased by 60% in March 2020 alone (seeing instead an increase in money transfers from Romania to main destination countries in the EU). At the same time, the Romanian diaspora has had an increased and well-noted participation in previous presidential elections. Indeed, in 2009 the vote from the diaspora was decisive for the outcome of the second round of the presidential elections, while the 2019 elections witnessed a record turnout for the diaspora.
The impact of migration on the proliferation, orientation and activities of the civil society: Romanian civil society is relatively new, having emerged after the 1989 revolution, but relatively large. Preliminary research based on official register data indicates that there are over 3400 civil society organisations (CSOs) related to the topics of migration, democracy, and/or political mobilisation. There is anecdotical evidence of how returnees have been involved in the development of some of these CSOs. Indeed, the ongoing involvement of current members of the diaspora in the civil society at home has been best illustrated by the diaspora-led protest against corruption in August 2018.
The impact of migration on the outlook and engagement of political elites: Our preliminary research shows that over 10% of the 465 MPs from the two chambers have a migration background. Some of the new political parties, such as the Save Romania Union (USR) and Plus (currently united in an electoral alliance), are strongly linked and oriented to the diaspora. Indeed, that is not only reflected at national level, with 25 current members of the diaspora standing in the upcoming local elections of September 2020 on the lists of those parties.
By Vladimir Bortun
Last updated: 15/09/20