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Migrant workers find prosperity at home

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2008-10-24

After Romania joined the European Union in 2007, 3 million Romanians travelled to Western Europe, walking right into a financial crisis. When those expat workers returned to their native land, they prospered.

Ion Preda is not much of a talker. At the building site where he works, every minute is accounted for. He and his fellow workers are under strict deadlines. “We have six months to finish a ten-storey building,” he says. “And we have to hurry because other projects await us. We are booked with contracts for two years solid and have had to turn down other offers.”


Romania is experiencing a real estate boom the likes of which have never been since the fall of the nation’s communist government 19 years ago. Ion Preda and ten of his friends returned to Bucharest last September after working as builders in Germany and Spain. “We left home for better wages,” he said. “But the tables are now turning, since salaries are on the upswing in Romania, whilst they are stagnant in Western Europe. Besides, this is our home.


Seeking 300,000 workers


Since its accession to the EU, about 3 million Romanians went to Western Europe. It was a mass exodus that created a labour shortage in a rapidly growing country. This lack was most painful in the rapidly booming industry, which is short 300,000 workers.


After suffering an economic stagnation during a chaotic political transition from communism to capitalism, the nation began to pull itself up by its bootstraps, when it applied for EU membership in 2000. By 2013, Bucharest will have received a total of 32 billion euros in non-reimbursable funds from Brussels to renovate its obsolete infrastructures.  


The money sent to Romania by Romanian expats has already served to accelerate the nation’s development. In 2006, Romanians working overseas sent 3 billion euros to their homelands. A year later, when Romania joined the EU, the amount had reached 5.5 billion. According to the Romanian central bank, by the end of 2008, this amount will reach 7 billion euros.


Western Europe is not the paradise we had hoped for

The explosion of the housing market – the barometer of Romania’s whirlwind economic growth – has led to rising salaries, which were as low as 100 Euros a month in 2000.  In Bucharest and the other large cities, the current average salary is now 1000 euros per month. “In Spain, I got about 1300 euros per month,” explains Ciprian Anghel: “It was not very profitable, especially since I had left my family in Romania. Now I make as much in my own land and I am not threatened with unemployment as in the West.”


For Romanian workers in Western Europe caught up by the financial crisis, repatriation is more and more tempting.  “This year over 8 million Romanians left for western European nations and then returned,” confirms Ionela Roman, spokesperson for the Romanian border police . “The preceding year, about 160,000 Romanians returned home and stayed.”


“The West is not the paradise we had hoped for,” Preda said. “Mark my words, many Romanians will return.” It remains to be seen whether they will return in sufficient numbers to fulfill the growing demand for workers.


Date created : 2008-10-23