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Back and forth and in-between: Albanian return-migrants from Greece and Italy

On the basis of findings from a sample of Albanian migrants who have returned to their country of origin from Greece and Italy, we highlight that Greece attracts less skilled and less well off categories of migrants compared to Italy. However, the integration patterns tell a different story. In spite of the fact that Greece does not represent the first choice of Albanians seeking to migrate, and although those who go to Greece are not among the most qualified, nevertheless, they tend to adjust better to their host society and labour market. Furthermore, returning migrants from Greece seem to be better equipped and more likely to utilize the skills and knowledge acquired through migration compared to those returning from Italy.

Migration flows from Albania to Greece and Italy are a major characteristic of the 1990s and have acquired a dynamic momentum ever since. Our paper examines the parallel trajectories of Albanians emigrating to Greece and Italy. On the basis of findings from a sample of Albanian migrants who have returned to their country of origin, we highlight similarities and differences in their pre- as well as post-migratory socio-economic and skills status.

The main thrust of our analysis is centred around four major questions:

  • How do returning migrants from Greece and Italy perform in their native society? What sort of employment status do they get and how do their living and earning conditions compare with their pre-migration circumstances?
  • How definitive is the decision to return? In other words, is return a “one-off” decision or is it one stage in a more complex mobility pattern?
  • What are the reasons accounting for the initial decision to migrate to a specific country? What is the relative importance of push and pull factors and what forces propel different distributions of Albanians in Greece and Italy?
  • And last, what conclusions could be drawn from the different integration patterns of Albanian migrants to Greece and Italy respectively?

This paper is organised as following: First we provide a brief overview of the literature on return migration as well as a summary of the available evidence. Then, section two offers a brief account of Albanian emigration as a background to the discussion of our findings presented in section three. Here we present our methodology, we outline the forces of attraction and then concentrate on the reasons for returning to Albania. We subsequently discuss the post-migration performance and examine similarities and differences between returning migrants from Greece and Italy. Finally, section four brings together the main findings and draws the relevant policy implications.

 1. The literature and the available evidence

The literature on return migration as a special aspect of migration is limited (it first became an issue in the 1960s), it is mainly empirical and has so far produced contradictory conclusions. As King (2000: 27) argues, theoretically migration might be proved an instrument (lever) for the development of the country of origin: migrants might acquire skills and capital that could subsequently be utilized productively for the development of their country.

Given the absence of any theoretical underpinning for the study of return migration (King, 2000; Ghosh, 2000), most attempts at generalisation propose a series of typologies, drawn from different cases of migration and return (Gmelch, 1980; King 1986; 2000). Some of the commonest typologies of return migration, which are relevant in our case, are constructed on the basis of the time factor, more precisely, on actual versus intended period of stay in the host country.

In this respect, Gmelch (1980) has proposed a typology related to the contradiction between actual and initially planned migration duration:

  • Migrants who intended to migrate temporarily and return after they had achieved their initial aims (although, the question of when exactly they return often depends on the changing conditions in the host or source country and on the course of the migrant’s own life);
  • Migrants who initially intended to return, but for certain reasons (usually positive factors, such as success, but also negative ones, i.e. failure), they settled permanently abroad;
  • Migrants who intended to stay permanently abroad, but for positive or negative reasons decided to return to their own country;
  • Migrants who left without any intention of returning and actually stayed abroad forever.

Another typology, which combines the actual migration duration with factors such as the reasons for return and economic integration back home, derives from Cerase (1974). In his study of Italians returning from the U.S. he distinguishes between the following cases:

  • Return because of failure (up to 5 years abroad): problems of integration, poverty, unemployment can lead the migrant to return prematurely after a few years abroad;
  • Return out of conservatism (5-15 years abroad): migrants return after they have satisfied their initial ambitions, such as saving enough money to buy their own home or to invest (e.g. start a business);
  • Return for innovation (15-30 years): this is the case of successful migrants who return in order to apply new ideas, to invest or generally to contribute to the development and social/political change of their country;
  • Return for retirement: migrants return after the end of a successful working life abroad to spend their last years in their place of birth, and finally,
  • No return.

Another typology has been proposed by King (1978). This is based on the reasons for return. Accordingly, return migration can be: a) forced, when the migrant has to leave the host country because of deportation or negative political or social conditions; b) planned, when the migrant has it in mind to return after achieving his initial aims; and c) spontaneous, when the migrant returns because of unanticipated developments, socio-economic, (unemployment) or psychological (homesickness).

The recent history of the main international migration movements reveals that migration is not a “no return” process. For example, out of the 16 million Europeans that immigrated to USA, 9%, according to Gmelch (1980, p. 135), had already returned by the beginning of the 20th century, while according to Ghosh (2000, p. 182), 30% returned in the 1908 - 1957 period. The trend towards return migration was even stronger in the post war inter European temporary migration, based on bilateral agreements by which the developed countries of western and northern Europe invited «guest workers» to be employed in specified work for a specified period of time. Böhning (1984), reports that 65% of migrants to Germany and 80% of migrants to Switzerland gradually returned to their country of origin. Klinthäll (1998) writes that 33% of migrants arriving in Sweden during the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s left the country within five years. Krane (1973) estimated that 27% of the 775,000 Turkish migrants to W. Germany in the 1961-1972 period had returned to their country by the end of 1972.

As for Greece, Patiniotis (1985, p. 87) estimated that, out of the 450,000 Greeks that emigrated in the period 1968 -1977, mainly to European countries, 53% returned home. Glitsos (1988) concluded that 85% of the 1 million Greeks that migrated to W. Germany between 1960 and 1984 returned home. Finally, Andrikopoulou et al. (1984) report that 50.6% of migrants from 9 villages in the prefecture of Evros returned to Greece.

It appears that in general, initial intentions are always adjusted according to the actual immigration experience. Ex ante, people almost always declare that they intend to come back after some years abroad (the time horizon obviously depending on the expectations concerning both the anticipated performance in the destination country and the future prospects of their native socio-economic environment). As Nicholson’s analysis points out “for most of those who leave migration is a temporary expedient, not a long-term life choice” (Nicholson, 2002, p. 436). This same attitude characterised Greek emigrants in the past. In view of the available evidence, an additional factor seems to play a crucial role in shaping intentions and expectations: the proximity/distance factor. In cases where people emigrate to neighbouring economies, their time horizons tend to be shorter as regards the intended period of stay abroad.

2. Albanian emigration: the evidence from the literature

The emigration of Albanians during the final decade of the last century is somewhat unique among massive population outflows. The Great Albanian Exodus is probably the most “celebrated” case from the new era of East-West mobility that developed in post-1989 Europe. Recent estimations (Germenji, 2002) put the number of Albanian migrants at up to 750,000 or between 20-25% of the total population of the country (3,069,300 according to the 2001 Census). This means that practically every family in Albania has at least one of its members working abroad. Such figures prove not only that migration became the principal survival strategy for many Albanian households, but also that it has emerged as an important feature of the Albanian economy as a whole. [1]

Albanian migration is a “unique” case for another reason too: it has been directed almost exclusively towards two neighbouring countries, namely Italy and Greece. The total number of Albanians in Greece is estimated to be 400-550 thousand, with another 150-200 thousand in Italy. While the proportion of Albanians in the total migrant population in Italy is about 10% (King & Mai, 2003), in Greece it rises up to about 60%. According to the Albanian Ministry of Labour (1999), Greece is the main destination country for Albanian emigrants (68% - Table 1.1).

Table 1.1                 Albanians’ desired migration destinations and their actual destination

Country

Desired destinations (%)

Actual destination

1995

1992

1998

a.n.

%

Germany

14

26

12,000

1.6

Italy

15

27

200,000

27.2

France

5

3

2,000

0.3

Greece

4

-

500,000

68.0

Canada

5

2

5,000

0.7

USA

20

17

12,000

1.6

Other

22

10

4,500

0.6

Don’t know/ do not respond

27

4

0

0

Total

100

100

735,500

100.0

Source:  ΙOM (1992 and 1995); Albanian Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (1999).

Italy was a major attraction for those intending to emigrate and this was due, to a significant extend, to the fact that during the 70s and 80s Italian TV was watched hugely in Albania and this operated as a major pull factor (Barjaba, 2000).  As King & Mai (2003, p. 6) argue, “what they saw presented them with very different models of wealth, lifestyle and personhood to those available in Albania… Particularly for young people, seeing a colourful universe in which people were free to express and enjoy themselves and in which leisure and wealth appeared to be the main tropes of life, turned them against their dull Albanian world where, both literally and figuratively, everything was in black and white”.

During the 1990-98 (Barjaba, 2000, p. 61) the emigration rends of Albanians were mainly clandestine. For example, in 1997-98 in Italy there was 1 illegal immigrant for every 2 legal ones; while before the legalisation Decree of 1997 in Greece there were 40 illegal immigrants for each legal one. As has been persuasively argued, for most people, emigration is a solution to a problem that exists now.  It is not a long-term life choice, and may be reversed at any time. Their first priority is usually to improve living conditions in Albania for themselves and, often, for their parents by building a new house or improving an old one. In the summer of 2000, it seemed that half of Albania was building itself a house.  Remittances have provided an important source of investment in building industry, agriculture etc. Emigrants release resources – land, houses and even household equipment such as refrigerators – which members of their extended families use for their own small-scale income generating activities (Nicholson, 2001, p. 39-40).

It is widely recognised that emigration constitutes one of the strongest generators of breath to the life of the Albanian people (Barjaba, 2000). The income from emigration is rather a matter of survival than a source of development. It has greatly improved the life of individuals and families, it has reinvigorated the life of the whole country, it has educated people with the sense of work, discipline and new cultures etc. Emigrant remittances, according to UNDP (2000, p. 43), have a very significant contribution to the economy. They represent approximately 20% of GDP, almost four times the value of FDI and around 60% more than the revenue generated by industrial production.

Push factors cannot be overstressed. No matter what obstacles policies attempt to establish, it seems that until more people can find a job and make a living in Albania (and other sending countries), whatever the obstacles put in their way, the young, enterprising, energetic, frustrated and, above all, desperate, will seek work elsewhere, whether they fit the criteria desired by Western governments or not (Nicholson, 2002, p. 443). Nevertheless, the decision to emigrate is far from uni-directional: it can be reversed at any time.  Many move back and forth, spending only short periods abroad.  From time to time, some former migrants find it necessary to go abroad again to earn money. Most aim to stay away just long enough to save money to establish themselves in Albania or until they find work back home; a fair number have already returned. Few at the outset actively seek to leave for good (Nicholson, 2002, p. 436-7 and 2001, p. 41).

The performance of migrants after their return is a controversial issue. Evidence is relatively scarce and generalisations are difficult at this stage. On the positive side there is evidence that a substantial number of emigrants use money earned abroad to create a means to make a living for themselves in Albania.  Commonly, the money provides start-up finance for micro-enterprise, or is used to buy equipment to improve the productivity and efficiency of the money-making activities in which they and their families are already engaged. It is undeniable from the qualitative evidence from south Albanian villages, that the benefit to the Albanian economy of investment in micro-enterprises by returned emigrants is considerable (Nicholson, 2001, p. 40)[2]. Work abroad provided not only the finance but also an opportunity to learn: some former emigrants have replicated the enterprise they worked in. Hence, Nicholson (2001, p. 41) concludes arguing that if return migrants potential micro-entrepreneurs were to be given a hand, still more might be achieved.

On the negative side, Barjaba argues that there is no strong indication that emigrants’ capital is put to “serious investment projects” (Barjaba, 2000, p. 63). The ideology of the return of Albanian émigrés has, until now, been considered as an ideology of failure. There have returned home those émigrés who have not been able to integrate in the receiving countries, or who have been forcibly returned by the police of the respective country  (Barjaba, 2000, p. 62). Obviously much depends on how “serious investment projects” are defined. Almost by definition large investment plans cannot be expected to materialise from the savings of returning migrants. The scale of their investment contribution is bound to be modest. It can, however, have an impact (a real positive impact, in fact) at the level of the community they return to.

It is important to note that there are differences to what emigrants face in terms of employment and social integration not only between countries but also even within countries (e.g. King and Mai, 2003). They have studied Albanian emigration in two Italian towns, one in the south: Lecce in the southern region of Apulia and one in the north: Modena, in the region of Emilia-Romagna one of the richest towns in Italy. The general picture is that Albanians tend to be employed in manual and relatively unskilled jobs and they are often subject to differential treatment. They are better off financially in the North where they work mainly in construction and manufacturing, but they are to a greater extent excluded from social life and they face more discrimination. Employment of Albanian migrants in the Italian North is also characterised by higher wages and social insurance, as well as by greater upward socio-economic mobility. In the South they have better opportunities for social participation and interaction but much less access to registered and well-paid employment, mainly in construction, agriculture and small-scale manufacture.

3. Our findings

3.1. The sample and methodology

The empirical analysis is based on a recently concluded Research Project with much wider objectives than the issues discussed in this paper[3]. In particular, the project concerned the identification of gaps in supply and demand of labour in Albania and the formulation of policy guidelines for the reintroduction of returning migrants into Albanian society (Labrianidis et al., 2002). 324 questionnaires[4] were filled in by migrants who had returned to Albania at least one year previously after staying in Greece or Italy. We ended up with a sample of 300 men and 24 women who had lived as migrants in Greece (239 respondents) and Italy (85 respondents) for at least one year. In addition 15 interviews[5] were conducted with Key–informants in Albania (Ministers, Presidents of Chambers, entrepreneurs etc.).

This is, to our knowledge, the first study on return migration in Albania and its impact on the economy of the country. This gap, concerning a phenomenon of extreme importance for the Albanian economy, reflects and at the same time, maybe explains, the lack of a discourse regarding the consequences of immigration on the Albanian economy, which dominated our key-informant interviews. Specifically, the political and economic elites of the country appear to conceive of immigration only as a source of positive effects on the Albanian economy. The dominant view is that immigration is only associated with the export of unemployment, the inflow of private transfers (in the form of emigrants’ remittances), improvements in the knowledge base of immigrants etc. In contrast there was an absence of concern regarding the export of human capital from the country, or even the brain drain, which in the long term may undermine the development potential of the country.

Quite understandably, this low prioritisation may by attributed to the relatively recent emergence of the phenomenon, since immigration from Albania only became a significant societal factor in the early 90s, making return migration something that has had even less time to impact on national consciousness.

In order to secure a representative sample, we selected our questionnaire sample from among people satisfying the following criteria: a) they were over 18 years old when the questionnaires were conducted;  b) they had stayed for more than 1 year abroad as emigrants;  c) they had returned to Albania and lived there for at least one year at the time of the interview;  d) they had been emigrants to either Greece or Italy and e) they originated geographically from a variety of different parts of Albania (North, Centre, South) and from settlements of different population size (Tirana, other urban areas, villages).

Since the total number of Albanian returnees remains unknown and since much of the migratory movement, especially between Albania and Greece, has to do with flows back and forth, the only way to ensure a random sample was to make use of the snowball sampling method. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge the existence of possible biases in the selection of the sample, since the total number of returnees remains unknown, as are their characteristics in terms of age, sex, family status, geographical distribution and labour market integration. To this extent, it would be dangerous to attempt sweeping generalisations.

Due to the novelty of the phenomenon of Albanian emigration, and the nascent state of development of the movement towards the return of emigrants to Albania, there has been no research done so far regarding this “counter stream”. We can only call to mind a recent article (Kule et al., 1999) that uses data from an Albanian survey including former emigrants, without, however, focusing on the particulars and implications of return. Therefore, the material we use in this study had to be based exclusively on our own fieldwork research.

3.2. Forces of attraction: Migrants’ characteristics before migration

The overall levels of education before migration were surprisingly high, 48.4% of men and 21.9% of women were graduates of Technical College or a University, while the degree of illiteracy was insignificant (0.3% of men and 1% of women). The level of education for migrants to Italy was much higher than to Greece before migration: 60% of men and 38% of women going to Italy were graduates of Technical College or University while the respective percentages for Greece were 44% and 17.4% (Table 1.2).

Table 1.2            Education levels of returning migrants before migration (%)

Education level

TOTAL

GREECE

ITALY

Men

Women

Men

Women

Men

Women

Primary school

0.3

1

0.4

1.3

0

0

High school

51.3

77

56

82

40.2

61.4

Technical school

30.2

6.9

27

5.4

37

12

University

18.2

15

17

12

23

26

Total

100.0

100

100

100

100

100

Turning now to the occupational status, before migration 54.6% were employed full time, 25.9% had a seasonal job, 14.5% were unemployed and 4.6% were employed part time. Approximately one out of four men were employers (owner of business, professionals or self employed) only 2.8% farmers, while 41.1% were employees (manufacturing, building, service and cleaners) (Table 1.9).

As far as their socio-economic milieu is concerned, our sample conforms to the finding of the received international literature suggesting that it is not the poorest that emigrate (low ownership of means of transport, 5.2%, but very high ownership of residence, 85.2%) (Table 1.8). Thus, a general observation that can be made is that migrants are neither the poorest, nor the most marginalized segments of the sending society. This is consistent with international empirical evidence. The comparative picture suggests that Greece attracts less skilled and less well off categories of migrants compared to Italy. There are two possible explanations for this comparative picture. The first is associated with the relative ease of entry due primarily to porous borders (Table 1.3 and Table 1.4). The second refers to the characteristics of the receiving economy. It could be that case that Greece has a stronger unmet demand for unskilled labour (due to the Olympics construction and infrastructure projects as well as the faster growth of the economy over the last few years).

Table 1.3            Main reason that Albanians decided to select Greece as a country of destination

Reasons  

% 

Easy to enter the country illegally

49.2

Easy to enter the country legally

24.4

Of Greek origin

8.4

Proximity to Albania

6.2

Stepping stone to another destination

4.2

Ease of working in the black market without papers

2.8

Common traditions and customs

0.8

Ease of working legally in Greece

0.2

Highly remunerated jobs

0.2

Other reasons

3.6

Total 

100.0 

Source: Labrianidis & Lyberaki (2001)

Table 1.4            Frequency of emigration to Greece and Italy

Times 

 

Greece 

Italy 

a.n.

%

a.n.

%

1

172

72.0

82

96.5

2

36

15.1

2

2.4

3

29

12.1

0

0,0

4

2

0.8

1

1.2

Total

239

100.0

85

100.0

 3.3. Reasons for returning to Albania

The capacity of individual migrants or households to achieve their initial aspirations is to a large extent subject to time. In the beginning, the difficulties are greater; the migrant has a poor knowledge of the local language, customs, labour market conditions, etc. As the years pass his/her position ameliorates, and this is particularly true in the case of Albanian migrants in both Italy and Greece, who seem generally to be socio-economically upwardly mobile in their host countries (e.g. King & Mai, 2003 and Labrianidis & Lyberaki, 2001).

In our sample of Albanian returnees, the average period of stay abroad is about seven years. Most of the respondents decided to go back in 1999-2000, and more than half of them subsequently returned within 3 months. The primary reasons for return mentioned by the respondents were positive economic factors (more than one third), which, as we shall see later in this chapter, can be translated into achievement of initial aims ensuring better conditions upon return. About 37% of the participants in our survey had actually planned to return from the outset, but only 20.1% intended to stay abroad for more than six years.

Thus the majority of Albanian emigrants returning from Italy and Greece fit the criteria of the first category in Gmelch’s typology, since they intended to migrate temporarily and did return after fulfilling their original plans, which conforms to what Cerase terms “return out of conservatism”. The overwhelming majority cited purely economic reasons for deciding to emigrate, and such reasons can be translated into the necessity to supplement the family income, to improve living conditions, or to find start-up capital in order to establish a micro enterprise upon return. About half of the respondents regularly sent money to their families while abroad (in most cases just for support) and one third of them reported attempting to establish a business, even before going back.

All this suggests that, in the Albanian case, migration arises as a response to a pressing need, the problem of survival and limited life prospects which has to be faced now and can be solved by moving to a neighbouring country to seek work. Distance is not a problem, since geographic proximity is a central feature of population mobility between Albania, Italy and Greece. Particularly in the Greek case, movement is actually facilitated by mountainous land borders, since these are difficult to patrol and therefore easily crossed. In this respect, it is worth noting that 55% of the respondents to our questionnaire had crossed the border illegally. In addition, 28% of the respondents had migrated to Greece more than once (compared to only 3.6% of emigrants to Italy): proximity and ease of entry determine movements back and forth, something that is very likely to continue in the future. This means that although all respondents have been living in Albania for more than a year at the date of our interviews, remigration may emerge as an option again if things at home deteriorate. While about 70% declared that they had returned for good, some 56.5% would consider emigrating again if necessary, and 11.4% did actually attempt to do so (Table 1.5).

Table 1.5                 How permanent is the returned migrants decision?

 

Yes

No

I don’t know

Total

Have you returned to Albania for good?

69.4

18.5

12.0

100.0

Have you attempted to emigrate again after returning to Albania?

11.4

88.6

0

100.0

Would you consider emigrating again if necessary?

52.5

40.4

7.1

100.0

Proximity, in our case, not only allows occasional movements back and forth for simple visits home, but also establishes patterns of seasonal or temporary mobility, depending on the nature of the employment of the migrants abroad. During their period abroad, about 40% of the respondents used to visit Albania once a year and another 28.5% made more frequent return visits per year.

A large part of our respondents had actually planned their return from the start while 36.7% returned after achieving their initial aims. Additional reasons for return were family obligations (19.4%), psychological reasons (13%), or simply the desire to go home (7.7%). About 17% had been encouraged to return by friends and relatives, while 40.7% had received help from friends and relatives upon return. It is obvious that in the case of return migration the motives are not the purely socio-economic ones that inspired the decision to emigrate. And last, but not least, only 3.4% mentioned negative economic reasons, while 87% believed that, overall, the migration experience had been positive.

 So, in the general case of Albanian returnees, economic success seems to characterise their migration cycle with respect to the old debate about whether returnees are “successes” or “failures” (see for instance Gmelch, 1980). However, as King (1986) has argued, this question may involve more than one answer and definitions of “success” and “failure” are very relative. We are aware of possible bias in the selection of our sample and bear in mind, for instance, the sad stories about human tragedies that occasionally appear in the Greek press. Nevertheless, we think that it is reasonable to generalise from our findings that the majority of those who did return had benefited from the experience of migration, and this is something we are going to discuss further, later on, on the basis of the empirical data.

3. 4. The post-migration performance

First observation: Migration results in clear and strong overall improvement

Returning migrants enjoy better housing conditions compared to their pre-migration situation and also compared to their housing conditions when abroad. This is true in terms of the floor level of their residence (fewer people living on ground level, greater share of people living in upper floors), but also and more importantly in terms of house ownership. While 85.2% owned their residence before emigrating, this went up to 92.3% upon their return (Table 1.8). Furthermore, after return a larger proportion of people became employers (67.1% of men and 25.8% of women -Table 1.9). The longer a migrant stays abroad the more likely it becomes to turn into a business owner (Table 1.10). And last, but not least, the re-absorption of returning migrants into the Albanian labour market was quite smooth (27.2% found immediate employment).

Second observation: Having crossed the border once, residence ceases to be permanent in the long run. After becoming a migrant, shifting from the position of migrant to that of returning migrant is easy -which is in accordance with what Nicholson (2001 and 2002) argues. 67.9% of the migrants visited Albania during their migration period. 39.5% of the migrants paid visits once a year, 20.4% of them visited the country twice a year, while 8.1% made more than three visits. However, a significant percentage (32.1%), never visited Albania, either because, lacking permission to stay in the host country, their return would be difficult, or because of their poor financial status. It appears that migrants tend to form a population “living in two countries” rather than having a fixed residence status (here or there). We are dealing with strata gradually acquiring a dual identity.

23% of return migrants move back and forth between Albania and Greece or Italy. The largest percentage of returned migrants (32.9%) move back and forth between Greece or Italy for tourism, 26% because members of their families live in those countries, 21.9% in order to work there and, consequently, in order to improve their economic status (cyclical migration) while a small proportion (1.4%), in order to retain their migrant status, that is in order to retain the “green card” (in Greece) or the “sogiorno” (in Italy) (Table 1.6).

Table 1.6                                    Why do you travel back and forth to Greece or Italy

Reasons

a.n.

%

Family reasons

19

26,0

Tourism

24

32,9

Economic reasons (trade– business)

29

39.7

Extension  of green card (sogiorno)

1

1,4

Total

73

100.0

Third observation: Migration appears to be related to intensive social capital formation (cross-border and domestic).  The role of family and friends in the smooth integration of returning migrants is highly significant. On their return, 40.7% of the returning migrants had the support and aid of relatives and friends. 41.7% were supported and aided by relatives, 31.3% by their family, 23.5% found support from friends and 3.5% both from friends and relatives.

There is a back and forth movement of Albanian emigrants between Greece and Italy due to geographical proximity. In the case of Greece, most migrants originate from areas within Albania that are directly adjacent to Greece There is a quite distinct differentiation of the place of origin within Albania of those that come to Greece to those that go to Italy. In fact the percentage of those that come to Greece from southern Albania is double to those that go to Italy (Table 1.7).

Table 1.7                 The distribution of former Albanian emigrants to Greece and Italy according to the area of origin in Albania

Area

 

Greece

Italy

Total

a.n.

%

a.n.

%

a.n.

%

Northern Albania

6

2.5

3

3.5

9

2.8

Central Albania

146

61.1

69

81.2

215

66.4

Southern Albania

87

36.4

13

15.3

100

30.8

Total

239

100.0

85

100.0

324

100.0

At a more general level, labour movements from Albania to Italy and Greece seem to be embedded in a wider framework of mobility, which also involves flows of goods, services, capital, as well as information, signs and images. Italy and Greece are Albanian’s main trade partners: in 1993, imports from Italy formed 35.4% of total imports, and imports from Greece 20.9%, while the share of exports to Italy and Greece was 41 and 17.7% respectively (Mancellari et al., 1996, p. 477). In 1998, one fifth of the 1270 Greek investment projects in Eastern Europe were concentrated in Albania, reflecting the high demand from Greek enterprises for cheap and flexible labour which is available either in Greece (immigration from Albania), or abroad (direct investment in Albania, see Labrianidis et al., 2004). Furthermore, “western” images and values have also “travelled” to Albania through Italian television (Mai, 2001), or through the experiences of emigrants returning or simply visiting relatives at home.

Migration between two or more countries creates multiple relationships binding places of origin and destination in various ways (Sassen, 1988). In the Albanian case we can observe several kinds of flow moving “back and forth” and communities of people expanding beyond national borders. Geographic proximity and ease of entry, especially regarding Albanian migration to Greece have shaped migration patterns. Obviously there are those who are going to return for good, as well as those who will settle permanently (or have already done so) in Greece, Italy, or somewhere else. But for an Albanian who had been an emigrant, let us say to Greece, who knows the language and has friends and relatives who are still there, perhaps also relationships with Greeks, it is not really much of a problem to get a coach from Tirana or Saranda and go down to Athens, Larissa, or wherever. In the newly emerged transnational space linking Italy, Albania and Greece, population movements seem to be becoming easier and easier despite national barriers, while other forms of mobility have also intensified. In this sense, as Glick-Schiller et al. (1992, p. 5) have written, “constant back and forth flows of people could not be captured by categories of ‘permanent migrants’, ‘return migrants’ or ‘sojourners’. Informal migrant social networks link people who live in different places and, as we have seen, for a significant share of the respondents such links continue to exist after their return: either with relatives and friends still abroad, or with Greek or Italian friends and colleagues. In some cases, migrant networks constitute a form of social capital, since specific resources (like other forms of capital, e.g. financial and human capital) can be mobilised through certain types of social groups and relationships (Ammassari & Black, 2001, p. 21, 22). This is a trend, easily observable in the Albanian case, which might develop more widely in the future, as transnational structures become more and more consolidated.

The comparative picture is interesting because it tells a different and unexpected story. In spite of significant starting-point differences (in favour of those emigrating to Italy), and although Greece was not seen as the most preferred country of destination, it appears that returning migrants from Greece tend to adjust better to their host society and labour market. This point is further reinforced by looking at the emigration experience itself: Returning migrants from Greece seem to be better equipped and more likely to utilize the skills and knowledge acquired through migration compared to those returning from Italy. They also display considerably higher residence ownership rate (96.2% compared to 81.2%) (Table 1.8). In addition, the re-absorption of those returning from Greece was higher (and more immediately successful) compared to those returning from Italy (87.1% found work within three months while the respective figure for Italy was 68.2%). And last but not least, while those that emigrate to Italy earn more than those going to Greece, it is interesting to note that after their return these differences are evened out (Figure 1.1 Figure 1.2 ).  Needless repeat that one has to be extremely cautious with such cross-country comparisons given the fact that, as has been pointed out already (King & Mai, 2003), there are huge differences within countries and hence the overall picture remains highly heterogeneous. 

Figure 1.1                   Income before immigration

Table1

Figure 1.2 Income after return 

Table2

 

4. Conclusions and Policy implications

The preceding analysis culminates in the following four major concluding observations:

  • First, returning migrants are undoubtedly better off compared to their pre-migration situation. This is true as far as employment status and remuneration is concerned, as well as housing and living conditions.
  • Second, neither migration nor return migration is “permanent” in character. The decision to emigrate is not taken “once and for all”, while return may itself turn out to be an interval. Geographical proximity alongside strong ties with the host country tend to facilitate the creation of “dual identities” that in turn facilitate a constant movement back and forth, according to the changing personal and wider situations. In other words, if a person has crossed the barrier once, then subsequent movement is greatly facilitated.
  • Third, the attraction for migrants of a particular economy mirror, to a large extent, the characteristics and the “needs” of the host labour market situation. Thus, Greece seems to attract less skilled and less well off categories of migrants compared to Italy.
  • Fourth, and more paradoxically in certain respects, the integration patterns tell a different story. In spite of the fact that Greece does not represent the first choice of Albanians seeking to migrate, and although those who come to Greece are not among the most qualified of Albanian migrants, nevertheless, they tend to adjust better to their host society and labour market. This point is further reinforced by looking at the emigration experience itself: returning migrants from Greece seem to be better equipped and more likely to utilize the skills and knowledge acquired through migration compared to those returning from Italy.

The last point concerning the comparative picture deserves some further discussion in order to be interpreted in a satisfactory manner.  Why do the return migrants from Greece, though worse off and less skilled before emigrating appear to have a better employment record and generally to have made a better deal of their migration experience?

A number of possible explanations could be provided:

  • Statistical artifact? The observation may be due to selection bias – i.e. the really successful emigrants do not return and hence are not included in the sample.  If the most successful ones are in Italy they will be underrepresented.
  • Appropriate technology argument. In the development economics literature there is wide discussion of “appropriate” or “intermediate” technology – to suit the needs of the LDCs.  The reason is that technology is not “too advanced”, so that it does not make inordinate demands on the human capital (education, social relations) – but also on thee accompanying complementary physical capital.  As far as factor endowments are concerned, Greece is closer to the source country and hence more familiar to migrants.  More simply put, the jobs they did in Greece prepare them better for the jobs on offer in Albania. Conversely, applying the Italian experience requires accompanying or complementary human or physical capital which is lacking in Albania.
  • Historical argument. This is a variant of a “(migration) path dependency” argument.  Greek history has brought Greeks into contact with Albanians repeatedly.  There was widespread repopulation of parts of Greece with Albanians in the 8th century, again in the 14th and lastly and most importantly in the 17th-18th.  It is significant that the farmers that were the first to employ Albanian workers were the ones of Albanian origin (Arvanites) who could remember a few words of Albanian.  Hence Albanians were able to make a better go in Greece because they were more familiar to the Greeks.
  • Critical mass argument. There is a greater concentration of Albanians in Greece (%of the Greek population, preponderance of Albanians amongst migrants) and there exists the critical mass for them to form effective informal networks for information and solidarity. 
  • More open society- less regulated informal sector. The informal sector in Greece is less prone to control by centralized criminal networks.  Moreover for reasons possibly to do with internal Albanian matters (fewer Kossovars/ northern Allbanians?) Albanian criminal organizations appear to be less active in Greece.  Hence individuals are freer to exploit their own potential. 
  • Although relatively new, migration in SE Europe is a strong and persistent trend. It will stay with us in the years to come.
  • Migration is good both for sending and receiving economies, while it definitely pays off for migrants themselves.
  • Migration is not a “one-off” decision neither a single process: it is more or less a constantly open option
  • Return migration deserves greater attention, both from the point of view of the sending and of the host societies. Spontaneity delivers goods but there are limits and hidden dangers. There is a strong case for managing the process in order to make it more orderly and mutually beneficial. Some form of organised support mechanism for those that decide to return to their homeland is a necessary appendage to the required institutional support system that aspires to turn migration into a win-win situation for all involved parties.

Our analysis points to the following policy conclusions and recommendations:

  • Although relatively new, migration in SE Europe is a strong and persistent trend. It will stay with us in the years to come.
  • Migration is good both for sending and receiving economies, while it definitely pays off for migrants themselves.
  • Migration is not a “one-off” decision neither a single process: it is more or less a constantly open option
  • Return migration deserves greater attention, both from the point of view of the sending and of the host societies. Spontaneity delivers goods but there are limits and hidden dangers. There is a strong case for managing the process in order to make it more orderly and mutually beneficial. Some form of organised support mechanism for those that decide to return to their homeland is a necessary appendage to the required institutional support system that aspires to turn migration into a win-win situation for all involved parties.

Bibliography

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Amassari, S. & Black, R. (2001). Harnessing the potential of migration and return to promote development: applying concepts to West Africa. Sussex Migration working Papers, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex, July.

Andrikopoulou, E. (1987). Regional policy and local development prospects in a Greek peripheral region. Antipode 19(1), 8-24

Andrikopoulou, E., Hermanns, H., Kafkalas, G.,  Lagopoulos, A., Lienau, C. &  Schulte R. (1984). Industrialisation, regional labour market and productive investent by remigrants in a peripheral region: the case of Thraki in Northern Greece, Westflische Wilhelms Universitat: Munster and University of Thessaloniki.

Barjaba K. (2000). Contemporary patterns in Albanian emigration, South-East Europe Review, 2, 57-64.

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Germenji, E. (2002). Remittances of emigrants from rural Albania. Paper presented in the International Conference Albanian Migration and the New Transnationalisms, University of Sussex, 6-7 September.

Ghosh, B. (2000). Return Migration; reshaping policy approaches. In B. Ghosh (Ed.), Return Migration: Journey of Hope or Despair? (pp. 181-225).  Geneva: IOM/UN.

Glick-Schiller, N., Basch, L. & Szanton-Blanc, C. (1995). From immigration to transnational migration: theorising transnational migration. Anthropological Quarterly, 68 (1), 48-63.

Gmelch, G. (1980). Return migration. Annual Review of Anthropology, 9, 135-139.

IOM – International Organisation for Migration (1995). Profiles and motives of potential migrants from Albania. IOM.

King, R. & Mai, N. (2003). Albanian immigrants in Lecce and Modena: narratives of rejection, survival and integration. Paper to the International Conference Human Mobility in a Globalising World, Palma de Mallorca, 3-5 April.

King, R. (1978). Return migration: a neglected aspect of population geography. Area, 10 (3), 175-182.

King, R. (1986). Return migration and regional economic development: an overview. In R. King (Ed.) Return migration and regional economic problems (pp. 1-37). London: Croom Helm.

King, R. (2000). Generalizations from the history of return migration. In B. Ghosh (Ed.) (2000) opocit: pp. 7-55.

Klinthäll, M. (1998). Patterns of return migration from Sweden 1970-1993. Paper prepared for the TSER workshop on Labour demand, Education and the Dynamics of Social Exclusion, Lisbon, 29 October-1 November.

Krane, R. E. (1973). Effects of cyclical international composition migration upon socio-economic mobility. International Migration Review, 7 (4), 427-436.

Kule, Dh., Macellari, A., Papapanagos, H., Qirici, S., & Sanfey, P. (1999). The caeses and consequences of Albanian emigration during transition: evidence from micro-data. Working Paper N. 46, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London, December.

Labrianidis L., Barjaba C., Voutira Ε., Eftsratoglou K., Sofianopoulos J., Hassid J., & Vakirtzidis N. (2002). Research of the Albanian Labour Market: Identification of gaps in supply and demand of Labour and policy directions for the reintroduction of return-migrants Financed by the Hellenic Manpower Organisation.

Labrianidis, L. & Lyberaki A. (2001). Albanian immigrants in Thessaloniki: paths of prosperity and oversights of their public image. Thessaloniki: Paratiritis,

Labrianidis, L., Lyberaki, A., Tinios, P. & Hatziprokopiou, P. (2004). Inflow of immigrants and outflow of FDI: aspects of interdependence between Greece and the Balkans. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 30.

Mai, N. (2001). “Italy is beautiful”. In R. King (Ed.) The Mediterranean passage: migration and new cultural encounters in Southern Europe. Liverpool Liverpool: University Press.

Nicholson B. (2001) “From migrant to micro-entrepreneur”, South-East Europe Review,  4(3), 39-41.

Nicholson B. (2002). The wrong end of the telescope, The Political Quarterley  73(4), 436-444.

Patiniotis, Ν. (1985). Return migration and socio-economic integration. Greek Review of Social Research, 54,  87-104.

Rogers, A. ( 2000). “A European space for transnationalism?”, Transnational Communities Programme Working Paper Series, WPTC-2K-07. ESRC Transnational Communities Programme, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford.

Sassen, S. (1988). The mobility of labour and capital: a study in international investment and labor  flows. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P..

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APPENDIX

Table 1.8            Ownership of residence/accommodation (%)

 

Before emigration

during emigration

after emigration

TOTAL

 

 

 

Privately owned

85,2

0

92,3

Rented

9,0

74,7

4,7

Dependent member of family/ guest

5,9

16,1

3,1

Residence provided by employer

0

9,3

0

Total

100,0

100,0

100,0

GREECE

 

 

 

Privately owned

95,4

0

96,2

Rented

4,6

79,5

3,0

Dependent member of family/ guest

0

9,2

0,8

Provision of residence by employer

0

11,3

0

Total

100,0

100,0

100,0

ITALY

 

 

 

Privately owned

56,5

0

81,2

Rented

21,2

74,7

4,7

Dependent member of family/ guest

22,4

16,1

3,1

Provision of residence by employer

0

9,3

0

Total

100,0

100,0

100,0

Table 1.9 Occupation by country of emigration, before, during and after emigration (%) 

country/occupation

before emigration 

during emigration 

after emigration 

TOTAL 

Men 

Women 

Men 

Women 

Men 

Women 

Owner of a private business

1.9

1.7

1.2

0.6

36

16

Professional

6.5

6

1.6

0

8.1

5.1

Self employed

18

0.9

15.5

0

23

4.7

Farmer

2.8

2.6

3.4

1.2

2.5

1.6

Manufacturing worker

9.9

5.1

19.6

5.5

7.5

3.5

Building/construction worker

20

0

33.9

0.6

5.3

0

Services (tavern, fast-food etc.)

6.8

3.4

11.2

20.9

2.8

9

Cleaner / dishwasher (kitchen maid

0

13

0.3

53.4

0.3

6.6

Farm worker

4.4

6.8

8.7

1.8

2.2

3.1

Unemployed

11

44

0.3

14.1

5

39

Other

20

17

4.3

1.9

7.5

11

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

GREECE 

 

 

 

 

Owner of a private business

1.3

1.2

0.4

0

29

17

Professional

5.1

4.1

1.7

0

9.2

2.9

Self employed

17

0.6

14

0

24

3.9

Farmer

3.8

3.6

3.4

1.7

3.4

1.9

Manufacturing worker

8.5

5.9

16

4.2

7.6

3.9

Building/construction worker

20

0

36

0

5.9

0

Services (tavern, fast-food etc.)

7.2

3.6

14

24

3.4

10

Cleaner / dishwasher (kitchen maid

0

12

0

55

0.4

7.2

Farm worker

5.1

8.9

11

1.7

3

3.9

Unemployed

13

46

0.4

12

5.9

38

Other

19

15

2.9

1.7

8

12

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

ITALY 

 

 

 

 

Owner of a private business

3.5

3.1

3.6

2.3

55

14

Professional

10

11

1.2

0

4.9

14

Self employed

20

1.5

20

0

20

8.2

Farmer

0

0

3.6

0

0

0

Manufacturing worker

14

3.1

30

9.3

7.3

2

Building/construction worker

17

0

27

2.3

3.7

0

Services (tavern, fast-food etc.)

5.8

3.1

2.4

12

1.2

4.1

Cleaner / dishwasher (kitchen maid

0

17

1.2

49

0

4.1

Farm worker

2.3

1.5

2.4

2.3

0

0

Unemployed

4.7

38

0

21

2.4

47

Other

22

22

8.4

2.3

6.1

6.1

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

Table 1.10             Years abroad and performance in the labour market  (in %)

occupation 

Years abroad 

1 

2 

3 

4 

5 

6 

7 

8 

9 

Business owner

39.3

16.7

32.8

56.0

71.0

41.7

66.7

62.5

80.0

independent professional

10.7

6.7

8.2

4.0

12.9

16.7

16.7

12.5

0.0

self employed

10.7

38.9

21.3

30.0

3.2

16.7

16.7

25.0

20.0

farmer/Shepard

7.1

2.2

6.6

0.0

0.0

8.3

0.0

0.0

0.0

worker in small factories

7.1

7.8

16.4

4.0

6.5

8.3

0.0

0.0

0.0

worker in construction

10.7

7.8

4.9

4.0

0.0

8.3

0.0

0.0

0.0

in services (taverns, fast food)

3.6

2.2

6.6

0.0

6.5

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

cleaner/ dishwasher

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

worker in agriculture

0.0

5.6

0.0

2.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

Unemployed

10.7

12.2

3.3

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0



[1] In our interviews with key-informants we observed that the country’s political and economic authorities seem to acknowledge only the positive effects of emigration (keeping unemployment under control while ensuring the influx of funds and a more or less “free” skills acquisition mechanism). Little concern is shown for the outflow of human capital, particularly the brain drain phenomenon, which may undermine the future development of the country. The flow of remittances may also cause problems in the long run: as King (1986) has observed, the tendency to remit declines as the period of stay abroad increases. Furthermore the question of whether emigrants do acquire useful employment skills while abroad is highly debatable, especially with respect to economic development (Swanson, 1979;  King, 2000). Overall, our impression is that neither research into nor any policies regarding the return of emigrants to Albania are currently among the priorities of the country’s authorities, certainly not from the perspective of economic development. This obviously results from the fact that emigration itself is a very recent phenomenon in Albanian history, and consequently the return of emigrants is an even more recent trend, still limited in terms of numbers and significance.

[2] Specifically, labour migration is used to accumulate savings, which are then invested in some form of economic activity, typically a one-person or family enterprise, in Albania. The rapid growth in the number of shops has been financed in part by emigrants’ savings (e.g. groceries, small workshops , bars, and fast food outlets - souvlaki, pizza and toasted sandwiches).

[3] We analysed the characteristics of both the Greek and the Albanian labour markets, through secondary data, as well as extensive fieldwork conducted in Albania, the subject of which were return migrants, who had spent considerable time (often many years) in Greece and/or Italy. The main objective was the identification of suitable fields of potential intervention by the Greek State and the formulation of relevant proposals for policy measures, in order to facilitate the frictionless reintroduction into the Albanian economy and society of those whishing and able to return, with the additional  purpose of maximizing the benefits from the presence of immigrants in Greece.

[4] The fieldwork was conducted by:  a) during March and April 2002 by a group of students of the University of Tirana under the supervision of K. Barjaba, 289 questionnaires and b)  during April and May 2002 by Brahimi Brikena a Ph.D. student in the Dept. of Economics University of Macedonia, 35 questionnaires, 5 of which were conducted together with L. Labrianidis.  The students were given detailed guidelines in a two day meeting in Tirana on 24-25th February 2002 by L. Labrianidis, the scientific coordinator of the program

[5] The interviews took place in 25-28 February 2002 by a team consisted by  Labrianidis L., Barjaba K., Sofianopoulos J., Vakirtzidis N. and A. Kocollari.