2.4mn people from the Western Balkans held valid residence permits for EU countries as of the end of 2019, almost 14% of the region’s population of 17.6mn, data released by the EU’s statistics office Eurostat showed on January 19.
This included 868,000 Albanians who held valid residence permits for EU countries, equal to just over 30% of the country’s 2.8mn population. This put Albania fourth among the source countries for legal immigrants in the EU.
Serbia was also among the 10 largest source countries, with 504,000 holding valid residence permits. In addition, 444,957 Bosnians have residence in the EU, as do 340,144 Kosovans, 220,846 Macedonians and 31,099 Montenegrins.
At the end of 2019, there were a total of 20.3mn valid residence permits allowing non-EU citizens to reside in the union.
In absolute terms, Morocco was the largest source country for migrants with valid residence permits, with 2.0mn Moroccans in the bloc as of the end of 2019. Moroccans were followed by Turkey (1.9mn), Ukraine (1.3mn) and China including Hong Kong (1.0mn).
Just 10 countries accounted for 51% of the number of non-EU citizens holding valid residence permits for the EU-27, with Syria (974,000), Algeria (700,000), Russia (689,000) and India (555,000) rounding out the top 10.
Hundreds of thousands of people from the Western Balkans have German residence permits but other popular destinations are Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Slovenia.
Overall, Germany was the most popular destination for non-EU citizens, accounting for 4.9mn valid residence permits, 24% of the total, followed by Italy (3.6mn, 18%), France (3.1mn, 15%) and Spain (2.9mn, 14%). The four EU member states accounted for 71% of the total number of valid residence permits granted to non-EU citizens.
Many residents of the western former Soviet republics – Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine – are now resident in eastern EU members, primarily Poland. They include 132,759 Belarusians, 195,648 Moldovans and 1.2mn Ukrainians.
The data only covers until the end of 2019, but large numbers of migrants are reported to have returned to their home countries as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spread across Europe in March 2020.
The data also showed that several of the more prosperous new EU members in Central Europe have become increasingly popular destinations for non-EU residents, reflecting the high demand for labour in those countries whose economies boomed in the years before the pandemic struck.
For example, while Germany’s stock of residence permits remained roughly flat between 2011 and 2019, the number in Poland more than quadrupled from 144,876 to 649,352. Around two thirds of the third country nationals legally resident in Poland are Ukrainians.
There were similarly large increases in other countries, with the number of third country citizens with valid residence permits more than doubling in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Finland during the same period.