The opposition Homeland Movement party on Tuesday organised a round table on a new aliens bill which heard that when enacted, it would strongly affect the labour market and that the question was whether it should be liberalised in the midst of an economic and health crisis.
The party’s MP Vesna Vucemilovic said liberalising the labour market and abolishing foreign workers quotas “is definitely not what we need” at the moment.
She said this year’s quota was 100,000 and that it had not been utilised even closely.
Demographer Stjepan Sterc said foreign workers transferred their identity to the majority population and that this should worry any government.
He said Croatia was at the bottom of EU rankings because of the performance of its governments, their attempts to remain in power and their solving the problem with immigration, rather than by defining and implementing a systematic population policy and adopting a development strategy.
“We are still waiting for a functioning state, we need to define where we want to go and which goals we want to achieve”, said Sterc.
Croatian emigrants’ remittances amount to US$ 19 billion annually and surpass foreign investment in Croatia, he said, adding that emigrants should be offered incentives such as tax exemptions given that Croatia “is one of the few countries with more inhabitants outside the mother country than in it.”
As for the aliens bill, Sterc said the immigration policy could not be defined by the Interior Ministry and that free migration was not possible as it destroyed society.
Aliens bill is actually an immigration bill
The leader of the Independent Croatian Trade Unions, Kresimir Sever, warned that the liberalisation of the labour market would further encourage emigration of Croatian citizens and worsen the demographic situation in the country.
He recalled that after Croatia joined the European Union in mid-2013 many of its citizens had emigrated in search of better living and working conditions.
“The aliens bill is actually an immigration bill that defines labour market conditions, which will enable employers to get the necessary labour faster. They say it is good for the economy, but it is not good for Croatia,” Sever said.
Historian and political scientist Tado Juric said that Croatia was increasingly becoming an immigrant society, comparatively more so than Germany. He said that more and more Western countries were giving up on importing workers from distant countries willing to work for low wages because the costs of their integration into society were much higher.
In his opinion, it is not in Germany’s interest to help Croatia in combating corruption because in the present situation it can continue attracting young and educated labour from Croatia.
“Croatia cannot solve the problem of emigration on its own because it is the EU’s policy – grabbing the resources of others and ‘draining’ the EU’s periphery,” Juric said. He believes that there is a way out “because if Poland managed to reverse the trends, Croatia should be able to do so as well.”
Professor Ljubo Jurcic of the Zagreb School of Economics said that labour import was inevitable, recalling that Croatia had lacked 200,000 jobs since the 1960s. He said that something was wrong with the country’s economic policy because “labour is needed everywhere, except in Croatia, although there are unemployed people here.”
Jurcic said that most investments were made in real estate, noting that the Peljesac Bridge construction project was a political investment that did not create any jobs.
“We invest in property with small added value, instead of industries with higher added value,” Jurcic said, noting that the labour market cannot function without matching labour market supply and demand.