In an interview with Marciana Logu, an immigrant born and raised in Albania but has built a home in the United States, the interviewee relates that she “honestly cannot picture… [her]self living anywhere but America. [She does] want to live in Albania for a year or so because [she doesn’t] remember as much as [she’d] like to as a kid and [she] wants to experience living in Albania. However, [she has] become accustomed to America and cannot see [her]self being as comfortable anywhere else.” She explains that she “has a strong connection with Albania but America has been [her] home for most of my life.” This statement on her life and feelings makes Marciana part of the largest emigration movement in Europe since the population movements after World War II. Officially known as the Republic of Albania, this country in Southeastern Europe has had, since the 1990, an exodus due partially to the collapse of the communist regime in 1991 and the ensuing economic crisis. The Balkan country of Albania has, unfortunately. been traveling a bumpy road from totalitarianism to democracy, with sharp twists and turns in migration flows along the way. Brain drain, human trafficking and smuggling, remittance flows, are some of the major migration issues confronting the Albanian public.
The Albanian diaspora encompasses Albanians outside of Albania, Kosovo, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, with the greatest concentrations found in nearby countries of Italy, Greece, Germany and Turkey. When choosing these destinations, among others, key factors for Albanian migrants have been geographical, cultural, and linguistic immediacy, as well as legal accessibility. Before 1944, the U.S. and some Latin American states were the main destination countries. Yet, during 1992-1995, Greece, Italy, and other European countries became the main stops, however, opportunities to obtain better jobs and legal status soon lured more Albanians farther away. In 1995, due to the original countries’ trends towards increasingly restrictive migration policies, the first wave of emigration of Albanians has given way to the second wave in which immigrants began once again favoring Canada and the United States. In total, at least one third of Albanians live outside the borders of their home countries in Southeastern Europe. According to UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs data, Albania currently has one of the world’s highest emigration rates, relative to its population, at -3.3 migrants per 1,000 people, and a total emigrant population of more than 1.25 million in 2014.
The West was, then, the ideal region for Albanian due to many reasons. In Albania, emigration dates back to the 15th century when many Albanians immigrated to Calabria in Southern Italy after the defeat of the country by Ottoman forces. Yet, the most striking of immigration movement takes place much more recently, post-1990, and offers a more in depth outlook of the state of the Republic of Albania and its population abroad and locally. The impressive surge behind this number of Albanian asylum seekers is rooted in the people’s economic motivations, which clearly points to the country’s ongoing, and partially failed, struggle to increase economic growth and job creation. As one of the poorest countries in Europe, and one which suffered greatly from complete isolation under a communist regime, Albania has driven most of its migrants in this period to leave because of political factors, as well as disagreements with the country’s communist regime and the political pressure they expected to be placed on them. Validating survey results further indicate that many migrants see abandoning their home as the only way to escape the country’s chaotic economic and political situation. The post-1990’s constant immigration increase, under the national unrest that it existed under, was caused also by a combination of unemployment, poverty, and various hardships, where hundreds of thousands Albanians moved to countries that appeared to offer more opportunities and freedom. And, since 1998, a gradual improvement in economic, political, and social conditions and favorable immigration policies in Greece and Italy led to another increase in legal migration.
These factors, combined with economic and political transformations in Eastern and Central Europe, easily encouraged migration, resulting in Albania quickly becoming the country with the highest migration outflow in Europe. For Albanians, countries like Italy combined the attractions of a culturally preferred and geographically accessible country, while countries like Greece are comparatively easy geographical reach for Albanians, which does not require a large financial investment. In other words, Albania has been given, by their government, almost no reason in which to decide to live their entire lives in Albania. This means that the Albanian diaspora is diverse and includes labor migrants, family members, students, refugees and asylum seekers; there is almost no clear distinction on who decides to migrate. The largest of these group, however, are communities of workers, family members, and students. This is a slightly great news for the host and receiving countries, but a terrible situation for the Republic of Albania.
As a result of about 45 percent of professors and researchers at universities and institutions emigrated, as well as 65 percent of the scholars who received PhDs in the West in the period 1980-1990, the specter of brain drain looms large over Albanian migration. While a few well-educated and high-skilled emigrants have succeeded in finding a local job that matches their expertise, in general, Albania’s “brain drain” is emerging as “brain waste” as well. In the countries where they currently live and work, many migrant Albania have achieved levels of professional and economic success that would not have been possible at home; this is also a drain of those who would otherwise likely become leaders and domestic investors, promoting Albania’s stability and development. It also does not help that unemployment remains at a high level: as of the start of 2015, the unemployment rate was 17.3 percent. Therefore, if the country’s economic and social situation does not improve, Albania’s brain drain will continue to be a concern, as Albanian legislation currently poses little to no obstacles to migration and pull factors look likely to continue to draw the educated.
Yet, it would seem that despite the serious and ongoing problem of political corruption, along with weak economic situation with high unemployment rate, as an EU-candidate country, Albania has put much effort into aligning its policies on migration and asylum to international standards. In 2006, a “brain gain” program compiled by Albanian authorities and the UNDP was put into action to encourage the skilled diaspora to contribute to the country’s development, though its success remains to be seen. On December 05, 2015, an article was published by the website Balkan Insight, which states that “Albania in January will start what is being called a “patriotic contract” – the registration of all Albanians who live outside the country.” This is a program which the government hopes will aims to use the information to create more facilities for them in relation to legal aid, health and education, as well as establish the number of Albanians living abroad. Since the current population of Albania is only 2.7 million, the former director of the National Albanian-American Council, Avni Mustafaj, expressed his concern that “Albania and Kosovo have been extremely negligent in utilizing and including the diaspora,” and that it was time to use this human asset better and so enable the country to benefit from the achievements of Albanians outside the country’s borders, who have a lot to give.
With over one-third of Albanians living outside of their home country, migration plays a critical role in economic and social change in Albania. In March, the Diaspora Program conducted online surveying that confirmed that Albanian-Americans’ high levels of human and economic capital could be better leveraged to spur inclusive growth within Albania.” An article in Harvard University’s website further emphasized the significance of the Albanian Diaspora, and found, through a detailed survey, that the diaspora is actually willing, able and committed to engage in the development of Albania through education, professional exchange, humanitarian aid, business development, trade, and investment. However, even though Albania has placed great focus and made strides in migration management since the fall of the communist regime, the government’s ability to successfully design and implement policy for migrants to aid Albania’s development still remains to be seen.