Romania’s emigrant population is the fifth largest in the world and growing, OECD report finds

Anca Alexe 16/07/2019 | 14:38

Romania had the fifth largest emigrant population in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2015/2016, according to the “Talent Abroad: A Review of Romanian Emigrants” report, published by the OECD and commissioned by the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The study finds that from 2001/2002 to 2015/2016, Romania’s emigrant population in OECD countries increased by 2.3 million, reaching a total of 3.6 million people, or at least 17 percent of people who were born in Romania.

EU accession – turning point for Romanian emigration

“There have been significant changes to Romanian emigration patterns since the early 2000s. Romanians had increasing access to mobility opportunities as Romania sought closer ties with the European Union. The accession of Romanian to the EU in 2007 represented a turning point,” the OECD research says, noting that 2007 was a peak year for Romanian emigration, with the number more than doubling compared to 2006, but falling back by 40 percent in 2008.

“Evidence points to the onset and persistence of the global economic crisis as the cause of the sharp decrease in Romanian emigration after 2007,” the report shows, but adds that migration flows have recently resumed a gradual upward trend, rising by almost 60 percent between 2009 and 2016.

As more Romanians moved to EU countries, the country’s population fell from 22.4 million in 2000 to 19.5 million in 2018, with outward migration responsible for more than 75 percent of the decline, turning emigration into a major social and economic phenomenon for Romania, according to the OECD.

Romania also had the highest emigration rate among the ten main origin countries of emigrants living in one of the 36 OECD countries.

Almost two thirds of all Romanian emigrants live in just three countries

Only less than 3 percent (under 70,000) of Romanian emigrants live in non-OECD countries, of which two-thirds are in EU countries who are not members of the OECD, according to estimates.

Of the Romanian emigrants living in OECD countries in 2015/2016, about 93 percent lived in just ten countries and 90 percent were in a European country.

Three European countries accounted for 62 percent of all Romanian emigrants: Italy had almost a third (over 1 million), followed by Germany (680,000) and Spain (573,000). The next countries with the largest number of Romanian residents were the UK, the US, Hungary, France, and Canada.

Israel is the only OECD country where the number of Romanians decreased between 2001/2002 and 2015/2016. The UK-based Romanian population grew 33 times in the same period, while the numbers in Italy and Spain increased 13-fold and tenfold, respectively, according to the OECD report.

Reasons for migration

Employment was the main reason for emigration among Romanians, according to the report, but only one in seven Romanian emigrants in the EU said they had a job offer prior to departure.

Less than 2 percent of Romanians who moved to other EU countries reported education as their main reason for migration, although the UK and Belgium had slightly higher shares (6 and 5 percent, respectively).

On the issue of education levels, the OECD report finds that Romanian migrants’ education level has remained stable over time, with 30 percent having a low education level across the examined 15-year period, and the share of highly educated Romanians having decreased slightly from 26 percent in 2000/2001 to 23 percent in 2015/2016.

“In European countries, population aging and the shortage of labour in sectors that cannot be delocalized (construction, agriculture, health, elderly care, tourism) made immigration an essential component of labour supply and offered new opportunities for low-educated Romanians,” the OECD writes.

Romanians continue to have high emigration intentions

The OECD report shows that there are still high emigration intentions among Romanians, especially for young people in the country.

“Between 2009 and 2018, more than a fouth (26 percent) of Romanians living in Romania expressed a desire to permanently settle abroad if they had the opportunity,” OECD writes. This is one of the highest percentages in the region, exceeded only by Moldova.

The desire to emigrate is especially high for young Romanians, with nearly half of people aged 15-24 saying they intended to leave the country.

“These high percentages are likely related to poor job prospects for young people, especially those with high education. The employment situation in Romania is thus one of the main causes of the high level of emigration intentions observable in the population,” researchers explain.

Chances of return?

However, there is also a high interest in returning home among Romanians living abroad, but the intentions vary across countries and over time. Between 2009 and 2018, about 26 percent of migrants said they wanted to either return to Romania or move to another country.

The 2014 EU Labour Force Survey, cited by the OECD, found that 390,000 Romanians aged 15-64 had worked and lived abroad in the past 10 years before returning to Romania. But it is noted that the actual number of those who returned may be higher, as the EU survey did not include people who had returned without having been employed in other countries.

The OECD estimates that in the recent period, the yearly number of Romanian emigrants returning from European OECD countries has ranged between at least 160,000 and 200,000.


Photo: Alexey Novikov |

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