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Feb 21, 2018 - Zoltán Kovács

A “labor force boomerang” as booming economy has Magyars returning to Hungary

Recent reports indicate that workers from the eastern member states of the European Union are returning home following work experience in western Europe. Booming econ-omies in the new member states are creating a pull factor, enticing workers to return to their home countries. And as they return home, they’re shattering a myth that critics have propagated for years.

The Hungarian economy posted a GDP growth of 4 percent in 2017 and unemployment has fallen to 3.8 percent, the lowest we’ve seen since 1990 when we started tracking job figures again. Needless to say, the robust recovery is having some impact on the labor force.

“Eastern Europeans call it the great 'Re-migration'. Economies are booming. Wages are soaring. Poles, Balts, and Magyars are returning home,” British newspaper The Telegraph wrote last summer. The article points to the changing migration trends evolving over the last couple of years as eastern Europeans return to eastern Europe.

Others have begun to notice the trend as well.

Real estate firm Colliers also reported that workers are returning eastwards to the CEE-6 (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia). They call the trend the “labor force boomerang.”

“Since 2010, net emigration has fallen in 9 of the 11 post-communist EU member states. Net migration to Britain from the eastern countries that joined the EU in 2004, which was above 30,000 in every year from 2010 to 2015, fell to 5,000 last year,” said the Colliers report.

According toThe Economist, “thriving economies and low costs of living [in the eastern member states] are luring expats home from the West.” The article states that 73 percent of Hungarian manufacturers are unable to find the workers they need. As a result, wages have been raised by an “extraordinary” 15 percent, they write, and tax levels in the region are at “rock-bottom.”

The Economist adds another factor: “patriotic optimism.” The article cites a Slovak banker who says that, “by coming back, I bring the skills I have accumulated, and give back to society.”

As a historian, I recall the fact that since the Middle Ages, workers and professionals traveling to other parts of Europe, learning new knowhow – or “sharing best practices” and “knowledge transfer,” in today’s parlance – have been a driving force behind the establishment of the economically and politically flourishing Europe of today. The free movement of labor in the EU remains one of the Union’s great accomplishments and an essential ingredient in making the common market function.

The fact, however, that tens of thousands of Hungarians – and Bulgarians, Poles, Romanians, Slovaks and others – left in recent years for jobs in western Europe is a point that critics of the Orbán Government love to exploit. Conditions in Hungary are so bad, claim the doomsayers, that the youth and skilled laborers have been fleeing in droves.

They ignore important details. The large emigration of Hungarian workers, for anyone who tends to such details, got underway during the previous, Socialist-led government when the economic outlook – and the unemployment rate – were in terrible shape. Furthermore, some sources say that the per capita emigration from Hungary was lower than in other CEE countries.

But most importantly, they simply don’t want to acknowledge the “labor force boomerang,” that many Hungarians are in fact returning home. It completely undermines their narrative. Because after all, if conditions were so bad in Hungary, why on earth would they be coming home?

The answer is, of course, that conditions are not bad. On the contrary! The economy is posting robust growth, wages are rising, taxes remain low, and employers are hiring.

To the thousands of Hungarians returning: Hungary needs your hard work and experience. Welcome home!