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Migration and population decline in post-communist Romania.

1. Introduction

The change of political regime that took place in Romania in December 1989 leads to structural economic and social transformations that have resulted in abrupt shifts in demographic trends. Marriage, fertility or mortality faced significant changes with irreversible consequences. The result of these changes is a new demographic landscape which is in stark contrast with the demographic situation of two decades ago and with the main population trends in Western Europe.

The transition to political democracy and market economy has met with large obstacles. The economy was confronted with declines in output, employment and trade ensued, accompanied by the emergence and rise in unemployment and inflation, as well as strong deterioration of real wages. As a response to these new uncertain situations and phenomena, population rapidly changes demographic patterns. Fall in fertility level, recrudescence of mortality and explosion of external migration are the most visible changes. Therefore Romania becomes a country characterized by net external emigration, one of the most important sending countries in Europe.

The economic impact of migration on the sending country received for a few decades a limited attention from the research community, but recent years have witnessed an intense debate on the extent and the consequences of so-called brain drain migration. This is put into a demographic context. Europe's societies are aging, placing their pay-as-you-go social security systems under considerable demographic pressure. It becomes increasingly well understood that a regulation of future immigration that is tailored to attract young and economically successful migrants can alleviate some of the demographic burden associated with an aging population (Bonin et al. 2003).

The increasing interest in analyzing the migration effects on sending countries is proven by the report Effects Of Migration On Sending Countries: What Do We Know? (Louka T. Katseli, Robert E.B. Lucas and Theodora Xenogiani, 2006), which devotes a special attention to remittances. Remittance flows do benefit both the migrants' households and the non recipient ones through multiplier Effects of spending. Temporary migration tends to be more conducive to higher remittance flows than permanent settlement to the host country, especially when it involves low-skilled migrants, not accompanied by family members, who expect to return to their country of origin. Leon-Ledesma and Piracha (2004) look at the case of eleven transition economies in Eastern Europe between 1990 and 1999. In this context, they also find a significant positive association between remittances and aggregate investments, after controlling for GDP per capita, the real rate of interest and inflation.

There are a few studies devoted to Romanian migration and its economic Effects. Nicolae (2007) concludes that if the EU countries will continue to attract human capital from Romania, then their economies will evolve faster, and the Romanian economy will lag behind and on long term the EU's and the Romania's economic growth will have different configuration. Silasi and Simina (2008) analyze migration and mobility issues in the context of an enlarged European Union (EU-27). They consider that Romania, a country with a labour market that faces distortions, will benefit from migration on short term, but will need to import labour force in order to maintain the development trend. Constantin (2004) analyze migration from a regional perspective and in connection with European Union integration. Goschin, Constantin and Roman (2009) approach some collateral Effects of migration, such as human trafficking. More recent, Roman (2011) reviews the interactions between demography and migration in Romania and in Europe.

The objective of the paper is to discuss the main trends in Romanian population after 1989 and to emphasise the role of international migration in the process of population change. Firstly, the demographic decline is described, followed by a more extensive discussion of international migration. The migration policy in Romania is presented in the final part.

2. Population Decline and Main Demographic Tendencies in Romania After 1989

The structural changes occurred in Romanian society after 1989, as consequences of the political and economic transition are reflected by the demographic situation of the last two decades.

Romanian population declined during the past twenty years and there are not visible signs of recovery yet (see figure 1). As of January 1st 2011, Romania has a population of 21,414,000, which decreased with 1.8 million inhabitants for the entire period 1990-2011. For a population of more than 23 millions inhabitants at the beginning of 1990s the loss is important as size and implications.


Both natural component and migration have contributed to population decrease, but with different magnitude (see figure 3). The decrease of Romanian population after 1989 may be seen as the cumulative result of three factors: increase of death rate, decline of birth rate and negative net external migration.

Under the circumstances of poverty expansion, of under financing the sanitary system and of the difficulties encountered by the implementation of efficient programmes meant to fight against risk factors, worrying trends are to be stressed in evolution of population mortality. Mortality was and still remains high in Romania as aggregate expression of the general economic, social, cultural and medical degree of development of Romanian society. The life expectancy at birth, the best measure of mortality and health status, is 7 to 8 years lower than in the western developed countries and pushes Romania in the bottom part of a European rating. The male life expectancy at birth decreased by1.5 years between 1990 and 1996, while the downward movement was minimal to females.

The number of deaths and the crude death rate increased in the first half of 1990s as response to the deterioration of the standard of living, spreading poverty, increasing unemployment, violence, stress and the collapse of the public healthcare sector. Mortality shows an upward trend from 10.7 per 1000 inhabitants in 1989 to a peak of 12.7 per 1000 inhabitants in 1996 (see figure 2). The excess of deaths was mostly placed to male population. By age groups, mortality level was high among children during the first year of life and among elderly people, while considering death causes, most of deaths in 2010 were due to disease of circulatory system, followed by neoplasm, diseases of respiratory system, injuries, poisoning etc.


A very significant measure of mortality is the infant mortality rate. Infant mortality is still at an unacceptable level in the European context, ranging during 1993-1997 at 23.9 deaths under one year of age at 1000 live births. The level of this indicator decreased sharply, to 14 infant deaths for 1000 live births in 2006 but Romania still remains in a very disadvantageous position in Europe.

The second factor that causes the decline of Romanian population is fertility and birth rate decline. Fertility declined rapidly during the 1990s in the majority of Central and Eastern European transition countries, associated with the "second demographic transition". The Romanian case has a particularity that makes necessary a short retrospective analysis. Romania had a forced and brutal pronataliste policy before 1990, imposed by Ceausescu's regime with the Decree no. 770 from 1966. The policy was based on several specific aspects: severe restrictions on contraception and abortion and a "celibate tax". Therefore, the law forbiden the sale of modern contraceptive means. In the same time, in order to control abortion, all women were forced to go for gynaecological control every month, this monthly health control representing the requirement for receiving medical care. The detected pregnancies were monitored until term, annihilating in this way almost all the possibilities to provoke an empirical abortion. The law was extremely severe, numerous gynaecologists as well as women who resorted to this method paying with years of prison their trial to avoid it (Lataianu, 2003). The celibate taxe of 30% of monthly income was imposed to all the employees older than 25 without children, except for those with medical or infertility problems.

As consequence, the birth rate as well as the total fertility rate were higher than in almost all European countries: 16 [per thousand] and 2.2 children per woman, respectively.

The abolition of those regulations on abortion and contraception was one of the first measures taken at the end of December 1989 in the context of political and social changes that had led to the fall of the communist regime. The drop of fertility was immediate and massive in Romania.

Starting with mid '90s the birth rate as well as the total fertility rate exhibit a noticeable stability at around 10 [per thousand] and 1.3 children per woman. Behind this equilibrium one can to detect strong structural changes of fertility, postponement of the onset of motherhood and childbearing.

During the last decade, Romania knew significant changes in population age structure, confirming an accelerating process of demographic ageing. This process was determined both by the increased in the number and in the share of elderly population and by the decrease in the number and share of young population.

The demographic evolution during the last 20 years was influenced by a complex of factors, among which it has to be mentioned: freedom of couples to decide upon the desired number and spacing their children, high economic and social costs supported by population during the transition period, the housing crisis and the low access of young people to an own dwelling, the changes in population behaviour with respect to family formation and dissolution, the social unstableness and unemployment and external migration. Therefore, the policies spurring economic growth and security and improving the availability of suitable housing may have a positive impact on fertility level. In the same time, the mortality could be decreased mainly thorough reforming health care system.

3. Romania: A Country of Net Emigration

The population natural decrease described here was added after 1992 to the negative external migration, as a result of a sharp raise in the net emigration rate.

Romania is subscribing to the worldwide migration phenomenon, having a history of migrations marked by booms and declines, based mainly on internal political, social and economic conditions. It is in human nature to try to find better living conditions, and therefore more developed regions are attracting people from poorer parts of the world. The process of migration involves a subject (emigrant or immigrant), at least two countries (the origin and the destination country, but also the transitory countries) and an intention to get settled or to find a job in the destination country.

After 1989, when the border barriers had fallen, migration reaches a peak in Romania. Romania rapidly becomes a country of net emigration and this fact implies severe consequences at different levels: demographic, social or economic.


The analysis of Romanian migration should be divided in two large periods: before and after 1989. Before the year 1989, emigration of Romanians had its roots in the political regime of that time. People usually emigrated on the basis of ethnicity, thus more than 60% of the emigrants being of other nationalities than Romanian, especially Germans, Hungarians and Jewish. The main countries of destination were Germany, Hungary, Israel, but also the United States.

After 1990, the Romanian external migration has two faces: the permanent migration and the temporary migration, mainly for work or study. It is crucial to point out that the statistical data on migration captures only the regular emigrants who change their permanent residence. Labour migration is hard to quantify, although in the late years it become the most important component of Romanian migration.

The permanent migration is statistically recorded as emigration and immigration and is not very important as size: 10 to 15 thousands emigrants and a few thousands of immigrants by year. One can notice the high proportion of emigrants having university level education - around 25%. The main destination countries are Germany, Italy, USA, and Canada.

The immigration flow has two components: a returning migration and a moderate number of immigrants from the Republic of Moldova. This is the country of origin for most of the Romanian immigrants; some of these are interested in obtaining Romanian citizenship in order to find better opportunities in European Union.

The years after the 1989 Revolution brought severe political changes and migration history is divided into several phases. Between 1990-1993 mass permanent emigration of ethnic minorities continued. Romanians also were fleeing political turmoil and poverty. The latter tended to apply for political asylum in the West, peaking at more than 100.000 applications in 1992. The period 1994-1996 is characterized by new migration drivers, such are economic conditions in Romania. As consequence, there are low levels of Romanian economic migration to Western Europe, mainly for seasonal or illegal work, along with continued very low levels of ethnic migrations and asylum-seeking.

Between 1996-2001 started a development of several parallel trends and increases in emigration, making this a complex phenomenon to analyze: permanent migration increasingly to the USA and Canada, rather than legal migration to European countries; The emergence, especially since 1999, of illegal "incomplete" or circular migration to European countries, for illegal work; Growth of trafficking in migrants, a phenomenon overlapping illegal migration but distinguished by violence and abuse by traffickers/employers. This type of migration is thought to be predominantly of females.

From 1999 there is a small usage of labour recruitment agreements with various European countries (Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy), as well as a circular migration of Romanians between Germany and Romania.

In 2002 elimination of the Schengen visa requirement promoted a rapid growth in circular migration, which is specific for the period 2002-2007. With the possibility of 3 months' legal tourist stay, a sophisticated circular migration system developed, focused primarily on Italy and Spain (IOM 2005). This new strategy succeeded in evading European labour market controls by migrants' working illegally for 3 months - essentially, job-sharing with other Romanians.

In 2007 Romania enters the EU and therefore Romanian citizens have free access to European labour market. A massive labour migration begins mainly to Spain and Italy. According to the World Bank data, the stock of Romanian migrants in 2010 in main European countries was 2.237.960. Out of these, in Italy and Spain were living more than 800.000 migrants in each of these countries.


International mobility is higher among persons having the appropriate age to work; as a consequence, emigration countries face an accelerated demographic ageing process of their population, which is currently a demographic phenomenon present in Romania.

It is expected that in the very near future, Romania will become an attractive destination for immigrants, especially for those coming from the third world countries. In addition, the emigration of qualified labour from Romania would force the local entrepreneurs to look in any third country for labour force in order to keep developing their businesses.

In 2010 Romanian Office for Immigration had in evidence 97.395 foreign citizens with legal residence in Romania. Among these, 60% were coming from non EU countries. The main countries of origin are Moldavia (17494), Turkey (8969) and China (7049). Immigrants with permanent residence in Romania are and 17.33%, while 82.67% have temporary residence. As far as the EU citizens are concerned, 40% are EU citizens and their family members, out of which 37618 have a residence of over 3 months and 1353 have permanent residence.

4. Migration Policies in Romania

International migration is considered to be the main engine of European population growth. It is important to notice that although it may delay population ageing and decline, it may not reverse the trends. In the same time, it is increasing population diversity in European countries, requiring specific policy measures both at European and national level.

During the period 2000-2006, Romania has made significant efforts for harmonizing the national legislation regarding migration, trafficking in human beings with the European one. There was given a special attention to accomplishing an institutional reform for increasing efficiency of the specialized institutions in the field of migration.

Once with Romania's accession to EU in January 2007, here is localized an East external border of European Union. This requires a strict applying of concrete measures stated both at European and national levels.

In order to increase the efficiency of the immigration management on the Romanian territory, the Romanian Government approved the 2007-2010 National Strategy on Immigration, in September 18, 2007.

Romania's accession to the European Union in January 2007 and the new approach to migration in the EU context have made this step necessary, following the previous 2004 Strategy on Immigration. The new Strategy focuses on the government's aims regarding controlled immigration, prevention and control of illegal immigration, asylum and social integration of immigrants.

This Strategy could be also understood as the official position of the Romanian Government on the immigration phenomenon. Having a limited period of implementation, this Strategy assumes the obligations that Romania has in this issue as EU member and also tries to shift the vision from the former one, (that was proper for a mainly transit country) to a new one, proper for a destination country. In the Strategy, some elements such as The Hague Programme and the Action Plan have been a major source of inspiration along with the relevant documents issued by the European Parliament.

Romania is an important emigration country and yet to date it has adopted only a few specific migration policy measures that might have affected emigration. For instance, there are policy measures for attracting back to Romania the higher educated migrants.

The main institutions responsible with migration policy are Romanian Office for Immigration, Border Police and Schengen Department. All the structures are within the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reforms of Romania. Before the set up of the Romanian Immigration Office, in 2007, the Authority for Aliens and The National Refugee Office, within the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reform, were the main authorities in Romania responsible for the management of migration and asylum, each of them having strictly defined competences, in the field of control of migration and countering illegal migration and, in the field of asylum, respectively.

Romanian Office for Immigration is the main institution for Romania responsible with the migration policy. Romanian Office for Immigration is defined by law as a specialized institution of central public administration with legal personality, part of the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reform, founded on June 26, 2007, through the reorganisation of the Foreign National Agency and National Agency for Refugees. Its mission is to implement Romanian policies in the field of migration, asylum, foreign integration and also of the legislation relevant to these fields. It has different and essential prerogatives in the migration field as asylum, visas etc. It is also the main official channel of communication with those interested in information regarding the legislation, the documents needed by UE/SEE citizens and with those from third countries and with asylum solicitants. One important objective is to prepare in the view of the accession to Schengen Area.

Border Police is another institution that is heavily involved in immigration policy in Romania and is the main partner of ROI in implementing the relevant legislation. Border Police is defined by the law as the specialized institution, part of Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reform, responsible to supervise and control Romania's borders in preventing illegal access of person on Romania's territory while also preventing and fighting with various forms of transborder crime, having in responsibility approximately 3.150 km of borders. The Border Police inspects the passports of those who travel in or out Romania and protect the specific interest of the state along the interior Danube and Sulina Channel.

The Schengen Department was established to ensure a coherent and unitary character of Romania's adhesion to Schengen Space. The accession to the Schengen area represents one of the top priority objectives of Romania after the January 1, 2007. The deadline that the Romanian authorities set for gaining this goal is 2011.

Schengen Department is a specialized structure within Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reforms, without juridical personality, with general competence to national level, for coordinating and monitoring all activities developed by responsible authorities and institutions in the field, according to National Strategy regarding Schengen Space, Indicative Plan regarding Schengen Facility, Schengen Action Plan and National Integrated Management Strategy of Romanian state borders.

There are also a number of non-governmental institutions involved in running or gathering information on migration, such as: private companies mediating labour contracts abroad, the local office of the International Organization for Migration in Romania, the representative office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees in Romania, the Foundation of the Romanian National Council for Refugees, the Romanian Forum for Refugees and Migrants, and others.

5. Concluding remarks

The structural changes occurred in Romanian society after 1989, as consequences of the political and economic transition are reflected by the demographic situation of the last two decades, characterized by a severe population decline. The decrease of Romanian population after 1989 may be seen as the cumulative result of the increase of death rate, the decline of birth rate and the negative net external migration. Both natural component and migration have contributed to population decrease, but with different magnitude. After 1989, when the border barriers had fallen, migration reaches a peak in Romania, which rapidly becomes a country of net emigration. The demographic consequences are not only reflected by population decline, but also by affecting the age structure.

Considering the large number of Romanians currently working abroad, it seems that Romania has no longer significant contingents of labor force for migration. We can conclude that there is not going to be an explosion in the number of Romanian migrants in the near future. On the other hand, after Romania entering the EU and because Romania is confronted with shortages on the labor market, it will be attractive for migrants from non EU countries such are Republic of Moldova, Turkey or China.

In such case, strong migration legislation is needed. Therefore, during the period 2000-2006, Romania has made significant efforts for harmonizing the national legislation regarding migration, trafficking in human beings with the European one. Since here is localized an East external border of European Union this requires a strict applying of concrete measures stated both at European and national levels.


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(17.) World Bank (2011). Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011,
Figure 4. European destination countries of Romanian migrants, 2010.

Switzerland 0.35%

Sweden 0.34%

Spain 36.21%

Portugal 1.45%

Nedherlands 0.32%

Italy 36.33%

Hungary 8.45%

Greece 2,02%

Germany 6.03%

France 2.43%

Czech Republic 0.18%

Belgium 0.97%

Austria 2.54%

United Kingdom 2.37%

Source: own processing based on World Bank estimates (2011)

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Monica Roman, PhD, is full professor of statistics and econometrics at Bucharest Academy of Economic Study, Romania. She currently is the director of the research project The Effects of Labor Migration and of Demographical Structures Changes on Economic Growth, financed by Romanian Government.
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Author:Roman, Monica
Publication:Crossroads Foreign Policy Journal
Geographic Code:4EXRO
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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