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Bulgaria - Country Study on International Skilled Migration

Beleva, Iskra and Kotzeva, Mariana (2001): Bulgaria - Country Study on International Skilled Migration.


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The paper adduces recent existing evidence on the scope and dimensions of “brain-drain “ from Bulgaria. The analysis started with the clarification of the concepts and definitions for brain drain. The authors based the analysis on the common accepted understanding of brain drain as tertiary educated highly skilled emigrants. The data scarcity and the lack of rigorous evaluations of the impact of skilled emigration on the labour market and economic development of the country impeded the presentation of a deep and comprehensiveness analysis on the actual brain drain from Bulgaria. Meanwhile, it has to be pointed that the emigration and skilled emigration, in particular is relatively new event for the country. Because of this most of the existing studies in this area are concentrated mainly on the intentions for emigration. Bearing in mind that the intentions for emigration are not the most reliable indicator because of their subjective character and the probability for change the authors presented their evolution as one of the available indicator for the expected dynamic of skilled emigration from the country. Based on the actual and potential skilled emigration the analysis of this study drawn several interesting conclusions. 1. Estimates of the “brain-drain” scale points out that within an increasing emigration outflows brain drain consists of about 10%.Over the period from 1989 to 2001 about 700 000 persons have left the country. In the first two-three years of transition the main part of the emigration flow included mainly ethnic minority, who were led by political motives. Among them the share of highly skilled emigrants was insignificant. Since 1993 the share of young and skilled professionals have been steadily increasing in the total labour outflow from the country. The economic considerations and opportunities for carrier advancement started to play major role in the decision to emigrate. Although the scale of Bulgarian brain drain may be considered as “not exorbitant by any means” (August Gachter, Bulgarian Emigration and Immigration, June 2001) compared to that in other countries, its increasing dynamic in the last years rises public debated and political concern. 2. The study analysis the emigration among Bulgarian scientists as one of the components of brain drain. It points out that over the period 1989-1996 more than the half ( 6000 persons in number) employed in the research and academic institutions separated from their jobs. About 10% of them emigrated, moving mainly to countries providing better conditions for research activities and employment promotion such as USA, Canada, Germany. The natural and technical sciences were most adversely affected by the “brain-drain”. The emigrants attained the most favourable professional and demographic characteristics, being in the productive age, well recognised in the world by their publications in international journals. An obvious link between education abroad and the subsequent work abroad was found. 3. The sizeable outflow of qualified professionals stems from dissatisfaction with current economical, living and working conditions and inadequate scientific support in Bulgaria. Opportunities for professional interaction and access to new ideas and achievements prove to be important for the decision to emigrate. Immigration policies of destination countries, the attitude of the society to immigrants also seem to be influential determinants of skilled emigration. Widespread unemployment appears as one of the main factors, pushing youths to search for a job outside the country. At the same time family relations and breakdown of social ties have been substantial impediments to the international mobility of skilled labour. 4. Despite of the lack of quantitative estimates of the loss of human capital, generated by the “brain drain” there have been clear indications that the process has had severe economic and social implications for Bulgaria. The negative impacts are expected in medium and long run, since together with demographic change the migration has been the most important contributor to the change in long-run supply curve. The lack of skilled professionals and well-educated people eventually limits the possibilities for economic development, economic growth and poverty reduction. The “brain-drain” has affected those fields where the training of skilled professionals is the most expensive (such as medicine, biology, IT technologies). Preparation of “scarce-skills“ specialists is bigger effort for the developing countries where the society has faced hardship of limited financial resources and widespread poverty than for the developed ones. Scarce-skilled emigration generates not only the problem of “sunk costs” but also of depriving the country of the opportunity for further development of some strategic and prosperous scientific fields. A further cause of concern is the detrimental influence of “brain-drain” on the network of institutions and in particular on their capacity for further development. R&D institutions have been most adversely affected in Bulgaria in this respect. 5. Together with the negative impact the “brain-drain” has some positive consequences for the country related to potential return of emigrants and using their professional, organizational and managerial experience accumulated while staying abroad in the home country. The international skilled emigration contributed to the opening of Bulgarian science towards latest achievements and ideas and to its integration in the international market. 6. Although emigration is a relatively new phenomena for Bulgaria the discussion on the topic has expanded in recent years. Bulgarian government launched a number of measures aimed at developing a balanced migration policy concentrated in the field of improvement of migration legislature and promoting short-term employment of Bulgarian citizens abroad. Improvement of legal framework of immigration and strengthening the control on the illegal inflow into the labour market have been major policy targets.

Empirical findings and derived conclusions from the analysis clearly suggest that there is a need to assess more closely the costs and benefits of “brain-drain” with a view of finding solutions to mitigate the adverse impact. While no common perception of the set of measures that might be taken to prevent the “brain-drain” exist a number of general recommendations are outlined related to the legal basis of the free movement of people; the impact of economic development on brain drain emigration, including incentives for return, remittances and technology transfer; improving migration statistics, etc.

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