Over the past decades, emigration from the Western Balkans has taken on impressive proportions. OECD figures (2022) indicate that more than half of Albania’s population today lives outside the country. It is worrisome that 71% of young people in the Western Balkan countries consider moving abroad, as the Balkan Barometer of Public Opinion 2023 shows, on a quest for better economic opportunities, education, security, and living standards.
This policy paper investigates the perceptions of young people in Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia that drive outward-oriented migration and from which sources these perceptions are mainly formed. To address the research questions, RYLMP Fellows employed a mixed-methods research approach, including two focus groups conducted in each country to gather qualitative insights, facilitate in-depth discussions among participants, and distribute a regional survey targeting young individuals aged 18-25 years living in these countries. The research was conducted on 182 young people (145 from the survey and 37 from the focus groups).
Findings reveal that economic prospects and professional opportunities significantly motivate young individuals from Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia to migrate. They are driven by the pursuit of better living conditions and career growth, which they believe can be achieved more easily abroad. However, they are not blind to migration challenges, such as cultural adaptation and separation from family and friends. When asked about common channels for migration information, trust levels, and influence on decisions, participants often relied on educational institutions as the main source of information. However, they trusted and were influenced more by family, friends, and acquaintances abroad. These findings contributed to the identification of the average “Balkan Youth Dreamer” profile so policymakers and stakeholders can tailor their actions according to the young people’s aspirations and tendencies.
Finally, the policy paper provides concrete recommendations and actions for the three governments and respective institutions to follow and implement so that youth will not see migration as the “only option.” Recognizing the importance of addressing the limitations of the current research on migration policies, it is strongly recommended that one of the institutions with direct access to youth in each of the three countries (e.g., Ministry of Education) undertake a comprehensive survey at a national or regional representative scale. Ideally, this survey should be repeated periodically, such as annually or bi-annually, to ensure up-to-date and reliable data on migration trends and related policies. The data should be implemented in national action plans.
This policy paper is prepared by the Migration and Brain Drain Working Group of the Regional Youth Leadership Mobility Program 2023 (RYLMP). The Regional Youth Leadership Mobility Program is a collaborative effort between the Center for Science and Innovation for Development (SCiDEV), the Center for Education Policy (CEP) in Serbia, and the Youth Educational Forum (YEF) in North Macedonia. This project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.
Learn more about the Regional Youth Leadership Mobility Program here.