Bytyqi: Foreign workers to be imported, primarily from Western Balkans

The Macedonian economy will accelerate with the import of workers from abroad. The market will be liberalized but it is still an open dilemma whether this will be full or targeted, says Deputy PM for Economic Affairs Fatmir Bytyqi.

Deputy PM Bytyqi told an interview with Deutsche Welle that the focus is the Western Balkans. The goal is to increase yearly quotas and target third countries if there is a need and consensus for it.

“It is true that we still have a high unemployment rate of 14%, with a projected downward trend over the next period but we are also facing a serious drain of staff from the country. All countries of the Western Balkans are facing this, and it is due to what is happening in the countries of the EU, such as Germany, France, Belgium, which are opening their labor markets and also have migration of workers to third countries,” said Bytyqi and adds that North Macedonia does not have the sort of migration policy that lets it say which way it opens up.

“We took the first step a year and a half ago with the Open Balkan Initiative. Part of this process was the piece of legislation for a unique ID number of Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, connected to one of the values of the EU – mobility, to allow easier influx of workforce. The OECD report shows that the intra-migration movements in the Western Balkans are 15% of total migration movement. We want to further articulate this so that we can use all the potential of the Western Balkans because we are closer culturally, which will allow for easier movement on the labor market for the people,” says Bytyqi.

Bytyqi says that North Macedonia should not focus on one country and that there will be a detailed conversation with the chambers and the organization of employers sometime this week “so that we see how much we need and where we need it.”

“Some sectors are too vulnerable, such as construction, hospitality and tourism, but we need to consider the needs of other sectors, which is why we will discuss this with the business community. We will identify all sectors and set up ground rules. We won’t allow 90% import of workers for one sector and keep 10% of workers local. We must prioritize public interest and the protection of our citizens. This will lead to increased competition, which leads to increased productivity,” notes Bytyqi.

We have workers from India, he adds, who work in the automobile industry and the IT sector, as well as workers from eastern Turkey in construction, and workers from China who work on the Kichevo-Ohrid highway, and other countries.

“It’s time to expand quotas. The current quota is 5,000 on an annual level and it’s filling up quickly. We also need a workforce for certain infrastructural projects. I personally believe that the number should increase, two-fold at least, but let’s leave it as the result of the talks we will have,” Bytyqi says, adding there are countries where the quotas are determined bilaterally.

“The size of our economy does not require big quotas, but if we conclude that we need them, then why not? It is key to control whatever we do through the institutions and regulations,” says Bytyqi.

He believes it is better to have 100 registered and easily controlled workers with protected human rights than 100 illegal workers with no protection.

“The labor market requires 10-15,000 jobs per year and we reached up to 25,000 before the crisis. Right now, we need 9,000 jobs sought after on the labor market, but most of the ones we have don’t fit the needs. I won’t give up on active job seekers, our compatriots, who want to upgrade their qualifications to fit the labor market’s needs. Some of them may even have master’s degrees that don’t fit the bill, which is why this process has to go on,” underlines Bytyqi.

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