Immigration is causing quite serious issues in countries across Europe, but there is no such problem in Bulgaria. The country suffers more from its own people leaving their country than from others coming in: a handful of Chinese and another few refugees from Armenia or Afghanistan. The process of mass emigration out of Bulgaria started in the early 1990s and continues in the present days. However, as time goes by, fewer and fewer people are prepared to completely change their lives just to move to another country.
Most of the workforce who wanted to leave Bulgaria did not wait for the country to join the EU. A first major outward flow was born when the socialist regime collapsed in 1989. This wave of emigrants mainly consisted of entire families. They settled down in the United States, France or European countries to start a new life, never to come back to Bulgaria again.
`Bulgaria is waiting for emigrated students to come back home`
An economic crisis broke out in the mid 1990s, which caused a second wave of immigration, mostly consisting of middle-aged men. Many of them temporarily settles down in Isra?l, Germany, The Netherlands and Spain from where they would send part of their salaries back home to Bulgaria. At the time, every Bulgarian family had one of their members out in Europe to support them financially and to make sure they could keep buying food and clothes. Leaving abroad was a purpose in itself, which in some cases led to people taking of advantage of the situation. `Girls who were told they would work in a bar in Italy would potentially be recruited to work as prostitutes without knowing`, Penka (20) tells, adding that such occasions are very rare nowadays: `Emigrants who are still giving Bulgaria a bad reputation in Western Europe are most probably gypsies, not the Bulgarians themselves.`
Since 1998, the economy has been on the rise. Increasing salaries have allowed expatriated workers to return to their families and to leave their host countries. At the same time, another part of the population started to think about leaving: young, ambitious and skilled Bulgarians. This group of youngsters has a hard time negotiating reasonable salaries in Bulgaria, but can easily find jobs in Europe and the United States. They only need to overcome to potential obstacles: a strong likelihood of being treated like second-class citizens and the surety that they will have to miss their families. As a result, only very few people nowadays spend their days thinking about permanent emigration. Those who really wanted to leave did not await the moment Bulgaria joined the EU, while those remaining will see opportunities abroad but mostly temporarily. Working experience abroad makes good money and is a good asset to include in a CV.
Leaving a gap
Dimo (23, photo) regrets the decision of many people of his age still prefer to leave. `A complete age layer is missing, and the people who are leaving are getting younger and younger. Let`s hope the ones who leave Bulgaria to study abroad will eventually come back to serve their own country. So far, there are very few expatriates from other countries who come to Bulgaria to fill up the gap. `
Veselina (16) agrees. She has plans to leave Bulgaria and study architecture in Germany, but is quite sure about coming back afterwards. She has a hard time understanding people who intend to stay away forever. `People should understand that the country they are born in is the most important to them`, she says.
Language education is a major tool for young people to travel abroad and German seems to be among the favourite languages beside English. Ani (18) wants to leave to Germany to study economics. In order to prepare herself, she is graduating from secondary school with a major in German and recently passed a language test at the German embassy. `I have many friends who are already studying in Germany and they are enjoying it. I am not specifically going there to join them and I might opt for a different city than where they are, but anyway, I think studying in Germany will give me a good experience, a good diploma and a good starting point for working in Bulgaria.`
Exchanges with USA
Despite being unemployed at the moment, George (22) has no ideas to leave Bulgaria to look for a job abroad. `I like my country. I like traveling to other countries, but I wouldn`t want to work there.` George tells me about one of his friends who, during recent years, has spent all of his summer holidays working in the USA: `That`s something universities offer. If you complete all your exams for the year, you can apply for a working holiday. The university will find you a place to work, usually for up to three months. The jobs are not always very inspiring. Most people end up as swimming pool instructors, bar staff or behind the counter of a fast food restaurant. But it`s good enough for them to pay for the next year of their studies and many people seem to enjoy the opportunity.`
University work projects in the United States have existed for more than a decade, well before Bulgaria joined the European Union. Specialised recruitment agencies match students with US employers, even though most of the jobs are not very closely related to the study domain of the Bulgarian applicant. Most of the jobs available are life guards in swimming pools, bar or kitchen staff, or cashiers of fast food restaurants. Obtaining a USA visa seems to be a matter of luck, and first- and last year students may have difficulties successfully applying for visa. The USA tends to only accept students that are likely to return at the end of their employment. First year students may be risky because they could have inscribed to university just to get to the USA, while last year students may stay in the USA instead of returning to Bulgaria to complete their studies.
Dimitr (20) tells me that many of the young people making it to the USA will preferably find a second job on the side once they get there: `They will use the opportunity to make as much money as they can. I myself am not to tempted to permanently move to another country. Visiting to look around: yes. Living abroad: no need to.`
Staying in Bulgaria
Sisa (22) also prefers not to make use of the opportunity to escape Bulgaria. `Many of my friends have left to other countries. My best friend is about to move to England. Her brother has been living there for a while now, and she`s joining him there. It makes me sad to see so many people leaving, but I just want to stay here. I was in Italy one time for holidays, and I for sure liked it, but it didn`t make me feel like living there or anything.`
Iliana (24) has traveled all across Europe for her previous job as a magician. She now works in an insurance company and will not consider leaving her country to change jobs, for a simple reason: `I love my country and I like my job. So I won`t leave, even though many of the people I know now live in other countries: Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, UK.. My best friend is working in Spain, she`s a movie producer there and another ex-classmate will soon leave to the United Kingdom. But I insist on staying here.`
Milen (24) does not think of Bulgaria as a nice place. He is unemployed and would leave the country if somebody `invited him to`. He would not be the first of his family to leave Bulgaria if he did: `My sister left four years ago. She has been working in a bar in Palma de Mallorca ever since. For me, I don`t know where the future will take me. I am looking for a job, but it`s not easy. I would work as anything, as long as it pays good money. A bodyguard, maybe. Or a truck driver, but not a taxi driver, that`s for sure.`
Ivo (28) wouldn`t be picky about finding somewhere else to work. `I am now earning 400 euros as a financial accountant, but I want to earn 2000. I don`t see that happen in Bulgaria, so if I have a chance, I would go somewhere else. Anywhere else even. Also, in Western European countries, banks are willing to give better credits, so it`s easier to buy a house, which is almost impossible in Bulgaria.`
According to Dimo (23, photo), the Bulgarian economy is suffering greatly from the loss of manpower. `All the smart people are moving away, while we desperately need them to change things here. Those who are most likely to stay behind in Bulgaria are those who took advantage of either the socialist regime by having an important position at the time, or the ones who made money out of the change to capitalism, or the ones who are simple workers who can only execute the tasks they are given. There are few people left to make a change, to push the country forward, to properly analyse and address problems and to get in new ideas. We are waiting for our compatriots to come back and help us improve the situation in their own country.`
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