Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli said ahead of a cabinet meeting on Thursday that the quota for foreign workers in the tourism sector would be increased to 15,000 due to the increasing shortage of labour.
"The quota will most definitely be raised by several thousand. Judging by our needs, I think the quota should reach 15,000, of which 30-40 percent will be seasonal workers, and the rest will probably be workers on open-ended contracts," Capelli told reporters.
The annual government-set quota of work permits for non-EU nationals in Croatia was little under 39,000 in 2018. The government allocates quotas to sectors which experience labour shortages, so the hospitality and tourism industry got nearly 8,000 work permits, along with another 2,000 permits for seasonal work in farming, forestry, tourism and hospitality.
The shortage of labour is an increasingly acute problem of Croatia's economy, with the number of vacancies advertised standing at around 30,000 in recent years. One of the causes is dwindling population, caused by a combination of mass emigration and low birth rates.
Another contributing factor is the mass retirements over the past couple of decades under special rules and provisions, which resulted in about a quarter of Croatia's 4 million population consisting of pensioners, who are not legally allowed to work if they want to keep the right to their state-funded pensions.
The government addressed this through the recent pension reform bills passed by Parliament last week, which included provisions allowing pensioners to work up to four hours a week while retaining their pension income.
Meanwhile, Croatia's official unemployment rate is posting record lows, standing at 8.1 percent in October 2018, down from 10.2 percent 12 months ago, in the largest year-on-year drop in the European Union. At the end of November, there were nearly 147,000 unemployed Croatians registered with the state's employment service.
Commenting on a reporter comment that Labour Minister Marko Pavic announced plans to activate the domestic sources of labour, Cappelli said that state-sponsored job fairs were planned in the major cities of Osijek and Split and other towns around the country, starting in January next year.
"The goal is to put to use Croatia's domestic work force as much as possible, via programmes including job training and other types of measures. And only once this route is exhausted, we will approach (foreign workers) quotas," Cappelli said.