Immigration to change Croatia’s ethnic structure, demographers say

NEWS 04.12.202214:41 0 komentara
STR / AFP, Ilustracija

Foreign nationals have been increasingly settling in Croatia in recent years to make up for the labour shortage, and could, in combination with the falling birth rate and further emigration, change the country's ethnic structure over the next few decades, demographers say.

The migration balance in Croatia remains in negative territory, but has been reduced compared to years after the country joined the European Union, Dubravka Rogić-Hadžalić, Head of Demographic and Social Statistics at the Croatian Bureau of Statistics (DZS), told Hina.

DZS data show a slight decrease in emigration and increase in immigration after 2017. The migration balance was minus 4,512 persons in 2021, compared with as many as 31,799 persons at the peak of the emigration wave in 2017.

In 2017, a total of 15,533 people settled in Croatia and 47,352 emigrated. The negative emigration balance has been on the decline since, with the exception of 2021 when emigration increased compared with the pandemic year 2020. In 2020, the emigration balance was at a record low of minus 632 persons because of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Last year, 35,912 persons settled in Croatia, 70% of whom were foreign nationals, while 40,424 emigrated, including 64% of Croatian nationals.

Rogić-Hadžalić noted that the estimate of the negative emigration balance is only partly true because the total number of immigrants includes a considerable number of foreign nationals with work and residence permits.

“Five years ago we could not even imagine that so many Filipinos, Nepalese and Indians would be working in this country,” she said.

It is estimated that the increased number of foreigners with work permits will affect the demographic picture, but not considerably, because those people go where they can have better working conditions.

Statistics show that 815 Chinese, 429 Nepalese, 275 Indians, 350 Filipinos, 141 Brazilians, 25 nationals of Kyrgyzstan, 31 Kazakhs and 25 Kenyans are currently registered in Croatia.

This year the emigration balance can also be expected to be affected by the influx of refugees from Ukraine, but they will be listed as displaced persons.

Last year, the largest number of immigrants came from Germany, presumably Croatians who have decided to spend their retirement in Croatia. 22.4% of immigrants came from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and those are often Croats using Croatia as a transit stop on their way to other countries, Rogić-Hadžalić said.

Eurostat projections indicate that Croatia’s population would shrink from the present 3,871,833 to 3,392,559 in 2050 and 2,775,929 in 2100.

Dražen Živić from the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences warns that if the present trends continue, Croatia will experience “a total demographic collapse” by the middle or end of the century.

“Whether this will actually happen depends on us, on our readiness to build the Croatian society patiently, thoughtfully, responsibly and fairly, and to restore the faith of Croatian citizens in the benefits of living in their own country,” Živić said.

Although more and more foreign nationals are settling in Croatia because of labour shortages, Croatia is still not an attractive immigration country, such as Germany or Switzerland. This might change if the standard of living increases, and there are also more and more vacant areas as a result of emigration, Živić said.

Tado Jurić, a demographer from the Croatian Catholic University, said that as regards the demographic transition and the resulting change of the ethnic structure Croatia will be in a similar, yet more difficult position than Germany or Austria, where every fourth resident is a foreign national, because apart from the labour shortage it also faces illegal migration at the periphery of the EU.

Citing the German Office for Migration, he said that emigration from Croatia to Germany is continuing at pre-pandemic rates as Germany is attracting young people. “The EU’s core countries are dealing with their demographic problems at the expense of the periphery by taking in select people,” Jurić said.

He said that in addition to foreign workers and illegal migrants, wealthy pensioners are also coming to Croatia. In the last two years, seven in 10 residential properties sold in Zagreb and on the Adriatic coast were purchased by foreign nationals.

“With the present trends, foreigners will account for 30-40% of Croatia’s population by the middle of the century. Continental Croatia will be increasingly deserted, and every other Croat will live in Zagreb,” Jurić said.

Stjepan Šterc, Head of the Department for Demography and Croatian Diaspora at the Faculty of Croatian Studies, emphasised the need to take key decisions on demography and migration-related issues by taking into account scientific projections and solutions in the interests of Croatia’s future.

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