Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Georgia's Economic Exodus

Job creation schemes have failed to stop workers voting with their feet.
By Shorena Latatia
  • Nona Salagaia says it has been hard to find work in Georgia since she returned with high hopes from abroad. (Photo: N. Salagaia)
    Nona Salagaia says it has been hard to find work in Georgia since she returned with high hopes from abroad. (Photo: N. Salagaia)

Georgians are increasingly being forced to seek work in other countries, despite their government’s efforts to create employment.

World Bank figures show that a quarter of Georgian nationals now reside outside Georgia. Analysts say hundreds of thousands have been forced to go abroad as labour migrants because things are so bad at home.

Even though global labour markets are not crying out for immigrants, Georgians still seem to be leaving in a rising tide. Data from the national bank shows that the amount of money that Georgians abroad sent home to relatives in January-June this year was 30 per cent higher than in the same period of 2010. Most was sent from people living in Russia.

“More and more Georgians are leaving every year to earn money abroad, and the main reasons are the difficult social situation and unemployment,” Murman Pataraia, head of the Migrants’ Rights and Integration Centre, said. “I think this has to become a priority for the government. It must design a unified policy as soon as possible,”

Nana, a 37-year-old from the town of Gori, described the constant drive to find work abroad.

“To support the family, my husband was working in Germany, but he got deported last year. Now I’ve managed to find a job in Turkey, through friends,” she said. “It’s hard to up and leave your family and children, but there’s no other option,”

A survey conducted by the United States’ National Democratic Institute shows that Georgians view unemployment as the key problem facing their country. Almost three-quarters of those polled considered themselves unemployed, and 46 per cent said their standard of living had dropped since 2008.

The government has launched a number of programmes to address these problems, including a short-term job creation scheme launched in 2008-09, and more recently a commission on migration drawing together representatives from all major government agencies.

Under the job-creation scheme, over 100,000 people were given three months’ work with companies, and their wages paid by the government. The idea was that the best would be taken on permanently, while the rest would gain valuable skills and experience, but the effects proved to be limited.

“The programme was not aimed at longer-term employment,” Keti Patsatsia, of the Association of Young Economists of Georgia, AYEG, which monitored and studied the programme. “The job openings were just a formality, and a lot of people didn’t go to work but just took the money for three months like a subsidy. As for those who did get long-term contracts, they were often people whom the company had planned to hire anyway and who were made part of the programme.”

When AYEG questioned 1,000 people who took part in the scheme, it turned out that only ten per cent of the companies that took people on gave long-term jobs to participants.

“Most respondents thought the state scheme did not achieve real results and was just a formality. They did not improve their qualifications, and merely received a subsidy for three months before becoming unemployed again,” the group said in its findings.

The authorities are hoping the migration commission will be able to address the flow of labour out of the country.

Giorgi Gabrielashvili, a justice ministry official who sits on the commission, says it is working on a new strategy for emigration.

“The government commission goes from strength to strength every day,” he said, citing as an example a scheme to monitor the implementation of an agreement simplifying visa procedures between Georgia and European Union states.

The Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, a think tank, conducted a survey in 2009 which showed that most Georgians working abroad do so illegally.

“Many Georgians think the streets abroad are paved with gold, so they opt for illegal migration, but then face a different situation when they get there. It isn’t easy to find work in European countries,” Ivane Chkhikvadze, head of the International Organisation for Migration programme in Georgia, said.

In November last year, Georgia signed a deal with the EU promising to bring back any of its nationals found to be working illegally. The agreement also applies to non-Georgians who make their way to EU states via the country.

The authorities are trying to halt the flow of illegal migrants by making it easier for people to work abroad. France has agreed to a quota arrangement allowing Georgians with desirable skills to work there. And from March this year, a deal came into force simplifying visa requirements for Georgians travelling to the EU.

“European countries are now paying a lot of attention to what is called circular migration, where a Georgian citizen, say, goes off and works in another country for a few years and then returns to Georgia,” Chkhikvadze said. “All three parties win – Georgia because its citizen learns new skills, the receiving country because it gets labour, and the individual makes money.”

However, most experts think the solution has to lie in creating better job prospects at home.

Nona Salagaia, who came back from Germany in 2008, said it was hard to readapt after several years abroad.

“I left Georgia in 2000 because of the difficult situation and because I realised I had no prospects. After eight years, I decided to come back. Although the main reason was that I was homesick, I thought that the situation in Georgia had got better, but turned out not to be true,” she said.

Shorena Latatia is a freelance journalist in Georgia.