Half of Romanian immigrants with higher education are over-qualified for their jobs, OECD report reads

More than one quarter of the Romanian immigrants in the OECD countries worked as non-qualified workers in 2015/2016 and half of those with higher education were overqualified for their actual jobs, a report completed by OECD upon the request of the Foreign Ministry reads

In recent years, Romania has experienced fast-moving and far-reaching economic development. In view of the massive level of emigration by the Romanian population in the 21st century, and the emergence of labour needs, the Romanian authorities are seeking to gain a better understanding of this pool of talent based abroad,” says the report’s foreword.

This review provides the first comprehensive portrait of the Romanian diaspora in OECD countries, where almost all Romanian emigrants reside. It thus offers a detailed and current picture of the diaspora and its dynamics. While some restrictions on free mobility remained in place as late as 2014, Romanians have increasingly migrated to other EU countries such as Italy, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. Emigration has become a major social and economic phenomenon for Romania, the population of which has fallen from 22.4 million in 2000 to 19.5 million in 2018, with outward migration responsible for more than 75% of this decline, the OECD says.

The Romanian diaspora is the fifth largest in the world and is growing
In 2015/16, around 3.6 million people born in Romania were living in OECD countries, of which 54% were women. Between 2000/01 and 2015/16, the number of Romanian emigrants rose by 2.3 million, with most of the increase occurring between 2005/06 and 2010/11. The number of Romanian emigrants also appears large in relation to the domestic population of Romania. In 2015/16, 17% of all people born in Romania were living in OECD countries. While Romania ranked fifth in total emigrant population, it had the highest emigration rate among the ten main origin countries of emigrants living in OECD countries. A comparable number of migrants in OECD countries originated from Germany or the United Kingdom (both around 3.4 million emigrants).

Annual legal migration flows from Romania to OECD countries peaked at 560 000 in 2007, but nonetheless quintupled from about 88 000 in 2000 to 415 000 in 2016. In 2016, Romania ranked second among all countries of origin in magnitude of immigration flows to OECD countries and Romanian emigrants represented 6% of all entries. The peak in Romanian emigration in 2007 coincided with Romania’s accession to the European Union, opening access to free mobility for Romanian nationals.

Around 90% of Romanian emigrants in OECD countries live in Europe, primarily in Italy
The vast majority of the Romanian emigrants (93%) living in OECD countries in 2015/16 were based in just ten countries and 90% lived in a European country. Italy, with almost one third of the Romanian emigrant population (over 1 million), was the leading host country, followed by Germany (680 000) and Spain (573 000). Most of the other emigrants lived in the United Kingdom, the United States, Hungary, France or Canada. Between 2000/01 and 2015/16, the population of Romanian origin in the United Kingdom increased by a factor of 33, while the numbers of Romanian emigrants in Italy and Spain increased 13-fold and tenfold, respectively. The high growth in these countries largely explains the expansion of the Romanian diaspora as a whole over the period. Israel is the only OECD country where the number of Romanian emigrants decreased in the last 15 years, due to the ageing of the Romanian community and extremely limited inflows.


High emigration intentions in Romania, especially among young people
These recent flows from Romania to other European countries and beyond are driven by high emigration intentions. Between 2009 and 2018, more than a fourth (26%) of Romanians living in Romania expressed a desire to permanently settle abroad if they had the opportunity. This percentage is one of the highest recorded in the region, with only Moldova having a higher percentage. Emigration intentions are particularly high among young people: nearly half of 15-24 year olds in Romania said they intended to emigrate. These high percentages are likely related to poor job prospects for young people, especially those with high education. The employment situation in Romania is thus one of the main causes of the high level of emigration intentions observable in the population. Among those intending to emigrate, few respondents are satisfied with their current job (11%), the availability of good quality jobs (4%) or their income (4%).

Close to a fourth of Romanian emigrants in OECD countries are highly educated…

About 23% of the Romanian Diaspora of 15 years in the OECD countries (over 90% of the overall immigrants) had higher education, by 11 percentage points fewer than other foreign workers in the countries of destination. As compared to the neighbouring countries, only the Serbs had a share of graduates lower than the Romanian Diaspora.

The over-qualification rate of Romanian immigrants is higher even than the one of the native population and as compared to other foreign workers in the OECD countries.

Half of the Romanian immigrants with higher education, regardless of gender, have jobs requesting lower qualification. The share is lower for the immigrants from neighbouring countries (Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, Republic of Moldova) and is 31% for the graduated natives.

The share has increased for Romanians during 2000/2001 – 2015/2016 by 16%, whereas the immigrants from neighbouring countries the share has decreased by 7%.

The OECD experts point to several possible causes:

  • poor knowledge of the language in the country of destination;
  • limited access to professional networks;
  • difficult recognition of the obtained skills.

However, the distribution of educational attainment among Romanian emigrants varies across countries of residence. North American destinations had the highest shares of Romanian emigrants with tertiary education among the main destination countries: 54% in the United States and almost 80% in Canada. Romanian emigrants in France and in the United Kingdom also had, on average, a relatively high level of education: about 35% of them had reached tertiary education in 2015/16 in these two countries. Educational attainment was much lower in Italy, the main destination country, with only 7% of Romanian emigrants there reporting a high level of education. Germany is the main OECD destination country for highly educated Romanian emigrants, with close to one in five highly educated Romanian emigrants. Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom host respectively 13%, 11% and 10% of the total number of highly educated Romanian emigrants. By contrast, although Italy is the main destination country for Romanian emigrants, only 9% of the total number of highly educated reside in this country.

The Romanians in Canada have the best jobs in terms of high qualification. About 26% of Romanians have jobs with low qualifications (in Spain the share is 38%) as compared to 9% for the adult native population. Only 18% have highly qualified jobs, such as managers.

The share differs by country of destination: in Austria and the UK the share of those having jobs needing high qualification is 20%, whereas in Spain the share is 5%. In France, more than one third of Romanians are managers or technicians, in Canada the share is two thirds.

Romanian emigrants mostly work in low-skilled occupations and sectors
Romanian emigrants in OECD countries are on average about three times more likely than their native-born peers to work in elementary occupations, and about half as likely to work in highly skilled jobs, such as managerial and technical professions. Overall, a fourth of Romanians in OECD countries are in low-skilled employment. Yet, the situation varies across countries, with Southern Europe having a relatively greater share of Romanian emigrants in low-skilled jobs. Moreover, gender differences in the distribution of Romanians across occupations are particularly pronounced. In fact, women are almost twice as likely as men to work in elementary occupations. Consistent with these findings on occupations, many Romanian emigrants work in sectors where the majority of jobs are low skilled. They are, for example, 16 times more likely than natives to work as domestic personnel in private households, and they are also over-represented in manufacturing, accommodation and catering. In addition, Romanian men and women in OECD countries seem to be specialised in different sectors of activity. For instance, 15% of men work in construction and 10% in the manufacture of vehicles and machinery, while most women work in health, residential care activities and retail trade.
Although thousands work in highly-skilled jobs, almost half of tertiary educated Romanian emigrants in OECD countries are over-qualified…
Among those with high levels of education, there is a large number of Romanian emigrants working highly-skilled jobs. For example, in the health sector, over 39 000 Romanian-born nurses and over 20 000 doctors practise in OECD countries in 2015/16.

However, across OECD countries, tertiary-educated Romanians almost have a one in two chance of working in lower skilled occupations compared to only 26% for similar migrants born in neighbouring countries and 31% for natives. What is even more striking is that Romanian emigrants’ over-qualification increased in the past two decades, while that of emigrants from neighbouring countries declined. Almost nine out of ten Romanian emigrants self-perceive that their full potential is not exploited in the host country, and that they have the skills to cope with more demanding duties than those required to perform their current jobs.

The results of this review point to three key priorities for Romania’s diaspora policies:

  • improving the proper use of the skills possessed by Romanian emigrants in OECD countries to mitigate the high level of overqualification, foster their social and economic integration, and increase their potential contribution to Romania’s economy through remittances and skill transfer.
  • helping return migrants to find or create better opportunities in Romania, either by improving the matching between their skills and the needs of Romanian firms, or by supporting them in the development of their businesses.
  • fostering stronger ties with the children of Romanian emigrants born in OECD countries, so that they can contribute to both their country of residence and to Romania, and maintain the possibility of living in Romania, either temporarily or permanently.
austriaBulgariaCanadadiasporaFrancehigher educationhungaryimmigrantsnative populationoecd countriesover-qualifiedqualified jobsRepublic of MoldovaRomanian immigrantsSerbiaSpainUKukraine
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