Visa Liberalization: Kosovo's Golden Opportunity

File photo of a travel document being examined. Photo: IOM

From 1 January 2024, Kosovo* is set to experience enhanced mobility and new opportunities, following the European Parliament's recent approval of visa liberalization, writes IOM Kosovo's Virginia Negro. The change allows for 90-day visa-free access to the Schengen Area, opening doors for youth, students, and the business sector.  

However, it also underscores the necessity for rights-based labour mobility pathways, considering challenges such as aging populations, labour force imbalances, and potential migration of the workforce. Adhering to ethical recruitment practices that align with EU labor standards is critical in this context.  

A considerable number of Kosovars are already working abroad, particularly in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The diaspora's contribution to Kosovo's economy is substantial, with remittances, tourism, and investments accounting for approximately 40% of the GDP in 2022. 

Kosovo plays a dynamic role as an origin, transit, and increasingly, a destination for migrants, as was revealed in the "Kosovo Migration Profile", supported by IOM and the Swiss Embassy, and launched at a Migration Multistakeholder Partnership Forum in Pristina earlier this month. It sets out to present substantive data on migration trends and recommendations for decision-making mechanisms. 

Underpinning the initiative is the tenet that international migration is a key aspect of today's globalized world, with communities serving as origins, transit points, or destinations for migrants, presenting both challenges and opportunities. As developing economies contribute significantly to the global labour force, migration becomes a critical factor in addressing issues like climate change, conflict, and inequalities, while also offering paths for sustainable development as outlined in Agenda 2030. 

Also in December, IOM Kosovo brought together private sector stakeholders for a collaborative dialogue on effective migration policies and inward migration. “The Impact of Visa Liberalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Businesses" was organized by IOM with the German-Kosovar Chamber of Commerce (KDWV), Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the market research company Kantar.  

The event heard that more than half of residence permits issued are for employment, primarily to people coming from Turkey and Albania, but also form Southeast Asia, especially Bangladesh. This trend underscores the evolving landscape of migration and the need for well thought-out policies to effectively manage its complexities. 

Regarding destinations for Kosovars, Slovenia, Croatia, and Germany are the main choices. In Kosovo, employment is not the primary driver of migration; factors such as human and social security, the quality of education systems, and health services play more significant roles2 

The prospect of a better life is a significant pull factor, especially for highly qualified Kosovars. Conversely, the main attractions for the the EU include labour market demands, changes in policies and legislation aimed at attracting qualified labour from the Western Balkans, and an aging population in the EU necessitating a migrant labour workforce.  

Kosovo faces various migration-related challenges, including low employment rates for women and high unemployment among young women and minority groups, according to the World Bank. Traditional societal norms and restricted access to resources impede women's economic participation. Furthermore, persistent interethnic rifts hinder collaboration. The local labour market is gradually and increasingly being supplemented by foreign workers in sectors like construction, underlining the importance of mobilizing and training the potential workforce.  

Kosovo's engagement with migration is a testament to the intricate ways in which it shapes and is shaped by socio-economic dynamics. On the brink of pivotal policy changes, particularly visa liberalization, Kosovo has a golden opportunity to craft an adaptive and robust system for managing migration.  

This step is essential for turning migration into a driving force for development and societal welfare. By creating a resilient and humane migration ecosystem, Kosovo can not only boost its economic and social growth but also strengthen its commitment to human rights for collective advancement. 

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99.

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