Migration from Eastern Europe has soared since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. However, the outflow of such large numbers of people, including a high proportion of young migrants, poses demographic challenges for the successor states, and Georgia is no exception. Migrants from this country in the Caucasus essentially fall into three categories: ethnic minorities returning to their countries of origin, migrants in search of better socioeconomic conditions, and refugees from war, conflict, political unrest and corruption. The main destination countries for Georgian migrants are Russia, Ukraine, the US and European countries.
Gender-specific differences can also be observed. Most migrants aged 49 or younger are male, while women form the majority in the 50+ age group. There is also a strongly gendered destination pattern: women mainly migrate to Greece, Turkey and Italy, while male migrants head for Russia and Ukraine. This probably has to do with the employment opportunities available in the different sectors, such as building, elderly care and domestic work, in the destination countries.
According to Georgia’s official statistics, cities are the main point of departure for the majority of migrants, most of whom are young, highly skilled individuals in the 20-34 age group. Some are overqualified for the work they are employed to do in the destination countries, but they still earn enough to support their families back home, thereby contributing to regional stability. The much-lamented brain drain – the outflow of human capital – thus helps to provide livelihood security.
Inequality in the migration context
Increasing numbers of young Georgians are opting to study abroad. The out-migration of this age group also impacts on the country’s demographic structure. Many of these migrants start families of their own while living abroad, resulting in population decline in Georgia itself. The number of Georgian migrants living in Germany in 2020 is estimated at 27,315. According to recent figures from the National Statistics Office of Georgia (2020), Germany is the most important destination country for Georgian education migrants. Access for unskilled workers has also improved: starting on 15 February 2021, Germany allows Georgian citizens to find legal employment in its agriculture sector. On paper, this offers the less affluent, less educated or jobless segment of the Georgian population seasonal employment opportunities abroad, although in reality, the scheme is likely to be out of reach for many who have no capital to fund the application process and travel. A knowledge of English or German is also useful – skills that many prospective applicants lack.
Families left behind in Georgia often rely on financial support from their relatives abroad. In fact, migrants’ remittances to their families support large numbers of people all over the world. According to the World Bank, remittances from Germany to other countries totalled an estimated 24,671,000,000 dollars in 2017. Total remittances by private individuals to Georgia are estimated at 1,794,000,000 dollars, with 49,000,000 dollars coming from Germany alone. According to the National Bank of Georgia, most remittances in recent years originated from Russia, Italy, Greece, the US, Israel, Turkey and Germany. These remittances are an important source of revenue for Georgia; they account for 14 per cent of gross domestic product, making them a potential driver of economic development. The scale of the remittances suggests that Georgians living in other countries are increasingly well-integrated into the labour markets and are therefore well-placed to send money home.
Impacts of remittances
Studies conducted by the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) in 2019 show that younger and better-educated persons living in larger cities benefit more from remittances than older rural dwellers, who are most affected by poverty. It is possible, therefore, that remittances from abroad are not having the desired effect and are worsening rather than reducing social inequality. A further negative aspect of remittances is, potentially, the short-term effect of this income source for many poorer recipients; in these cases, most of the cash is spent on everyday essentials. Remittances can also create a sense of dependency among recipients. According to one public survey, remittances from abroad make up three-quarters of the household budget of almost 50 per cent of families, and for 15 per cent of respondents, they are the only source of income. So if the relative sending the remittances becomes unemployed, this can cause problems for the family in Georgia. However, in the long term, migration also has the potential to improve the quality of life of relatives left behind if remittances are spent on gaining access to health care and education or are invested in real estate.
Migration, then, affects not only Georgia’s demographic development but also its economic position and social structure. Remittances sent by migrants can substantially influence their families’ quality of life, but the process may not always be sustainable. With migrant numbers and remittances rising in recent years, the effects of out-migration on the home country are likely to intensify in future.
Diana Bogishvili is a PhD candidate and a researcher at ZOiS where she works on the project ‘Georgian Migrants in Germany: The Impacts of Social Remittances on Forms of Inequality in the Country of Origin’.