Compared to European powerhouses, Bulgaria has a relatively small population of around 7.1 million. Whilst this isn’t a problem in itself, a high death rate and low birth rate has seen the population decline. To add insult to injury, countless Bulgarians are also finding employment abroad and fewer than 10,000 return annually.
Bulgaria was struck with high emigration levels between 1990 (when passports became easily available following the demise of communism) and 2007, the year Bulgaria became an EU member. During these 17 years, approximately 60,000 Bulgarians were leaving the country annually.
Whilst migration has somewhat slowed down, it is still an issue, and the drain circa 1990 was very much a wound that would never fully heal and is aggravated once again. Today, despite no official statistics being released, experts agree that 30,000 people still leave Bulgaria each year. The majority of this figure are students and graduates seeking richer opportunities elsewhere in the world.
Bulgaria’s Shrinking Population
Since 1990, Bulgaria’s population has depleted by around 2 million citizens – around 25% of the original statistic. Accompanied by a below average birth rate and highest death rate in the EU, the future doesn’t look promising for Bulgaria. Economists predict that, without a substantial baby boom or return of expat citizens, the country’s population will shrink by 2.1 million come 2050.
Dimitar Radev, Governor of the Bulgarian National Bank, commented, “The government is taking steps in the right direction, making education a clear priority in the 2018 budget. But these are very early steps. Hopefully, the trend of young people coming back will develop in the future.”
However, some officials believe that the tide may be turning. Education and Science Minister Krasimir Valchev stated: “The pace of emigration has declined over the past few years. We’re seeing emigration steady at lower levels now and more people are returning from abroad.”
Could the IT Sector Save the Day?
Of those 10,000 citizens returning annually, the vast majority are IT professionals. Considering that the country’s blossoming technology market accounts for 3.6% of GDP, this is an area that the government are trying to nurture.
Many expat Bulgarians are realising that there is huge competition in the IT industries abroad and are returning to find better success at home, where they are considered experts after education and experience abroad. Many returnees are finding they can now afford to buy a property in their homeland and afford to look after their parents in old age.