The Croatian Emigration Crisis Continues

Katarina Anđelković

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August 15, 2023 – Croatia has been facing the problem of emigration of its citizens to other EU countries for over a decade. While the numbers seemed to support the start of a new, more positive trend last year, analyses have shown that it was due to the refugee crisis in Ukraine. The Croatian emigration crisis unfortunately continues.

As Jutarnji writes, 2022 was the first in the last 15 years in which, according to official statistics, the number of people who came to live in Croatia was higher than the number of those who left Croatia. According to preliminary data from the Croatian Bureau of Statistics (CBS) published at the end of June, the difference was significant – 57,972 people immigrated to Croatia, while 46,287 moved out.

However, the analysis of detailed data on migration, published by CBS recently, shows that the positive migration balance was primarily the result of the flight of Ukrainian citizens in the face of Russian aggression and that the Croatian emigration crisis is not over, on the contrary: the number of Croatian citizens who moved away in 2022 from Croatia is 26 percent higher than the previous year, in 2021, and the emigration trend has returned to the pre-pandemic level of 2019.

Economic Reasons for the Croatian Emigration Crisis

In concrete numbers, 32,739 Croatian citizens officially emigrated from Croatia in 2022, while in 2021, that number was 25,950. As expected, the majority emigrated to other European Union countries, primarily to Germany, where almost half of all Croatian emigrants went (14,148). The difference in people moving to EU countries compared to 2021 was about 25 percent.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the number of emigrant Croatian citizens was even lower and fell to the level of 2014 – the year after Croatia’s entry into the European Union. The economic crisis in Croatia was still strongly felt at that time, unemployment was high, and purchasing power was weak. The opening of the borders stimulated a wave of emigration to wealthier countries, and the number of emigrants with Croatian citizenship grew dramatically from year to year.

The record was set in 2017 when 45,367 of its citizens left Croatia. And that is the official number according to the official statistics data, which means it only concerns those who immediately registered their residence with the authorities and reported their relocation. Statistical data on the emigration of Croatian citizens to other countries, primarily Germany, Austria, and Ireland, showed that the actual number of emigrants was many times higher.

After that, the number of emigrants, according to data from the Ministry of Interior and the CBS, began to decrease, only to drop drastically with the arrival of the pandemic: during 2020, it fell to 20,886 people.

During the pandemic, uncertainty was high everywhere, and a significantly smaller part of families decided to move. Experts believed that such a lower emigration trend would continue even after the pandemic because the economic situation in Croatia today is significantly better than in 2014. There is a chronic labor shortage, the number of unemployed is at record low levels, and average wages are rising. However, the first year after the pandemic, the number of emigrants from Croatia returned to the old level.

Foreign Workers

The total number of immigrants to Croatia is the highest in the last 25 years: official statistics recorded 57,972, which is 20,000 more than the previous record. However, at least 11,171 of them did not choose Croatia as their new homeland of their own free will: they were refugees from Ukraine who ended up in Croatia fleeing the war.

If that number were subtracted from the total number of immigrants, the official number of immigrants to Croatia and those who emigrated from Croatia would be equal. And that is good news in light of the 15-year negative migration balance (more people left than moved in).

Namely, even without refugees from Ukraine, the number of immigrants is high. This is primarily the result of the immigration of foreign workers who, after the liberalization of the issuance of work permits, have been coming in significant numbers for the past five years to replace the labor force that went to wealthier EU countries. It is estimated that around 180,000 of them work and live in Croatia.

That includes workers from countries in the region in the first place, while the share of workers from Asia is also increasing. Last year, according to data from CBS, 11,869 people immigrated, which is more than the total number of immigrants from that continent in 30 years – the period from 1998 to 2018.


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