Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Slovenia Eager To Recruit Foreign Workers

Nicholas Zalewski
Location of Slovenia on a map with the national flag marking the capital. Source: Sjankauskas | Dreamstime.com

Unemployment rates have been following across the European Union, including Slovenia. Slovenia’s unemployment rate is currently the fourth-lowest in the European Union and was reported to be 3.2 percent in February of this year. As the pool of potential applicants for jobs in Slovenia is limited, the Slovenian national government hopes to attract third-country nationals (non-EU citizens) to the country. The Slovenian government passed two bills in order to allow third-country nationals to change their jobs and who they work for more easily than in the past and job applications for public sector jobs will be processed faster. In addition, asylum seekers will only have to wait 3 months to work instead of 9 months as previously required.

While Slovenia desires to attract more workers, it still wants to promote the national language. Family members of workers without European Union citizenship will be required to pass an A1 Slovene language exam. This is the lowest level of certification possible for someone to receive yet it can still be challenging. This is a provision of the Foreigners Act which was passed by the former government, yet the current government has chosen to preserve it. The provision was originally supposed to come into effect by April 27th yet the deadline was delayed until November 1st of 2024.

Slovenia’s Economic Boom

While people may be less familiar with Slovenia, this European Union member state has been enjoying a growing economy. Just last year, the GDP grew by 5.7 percent. Slovenia’s GDP per capita was slightly over $10,000 in 2000 yet is expected to hit $30,000 this year. The nation is in need of workers from a variety of industries including engineers, law enforcement, construction workers, welders, truck and lorry drivers, etc. in order to keep the economy growing. A third of all companies are located in the center of the nation which is logical considering this is where the capital Ljubljana is situated. For those seeking the highest wages in Slovenia, those better-paying jobs will likely be found here.

The economy, however, has also had its moments of weakness. In 2014, unemployment hit 14 percent due to the economic crisis felt throughout the EU and has gradually fallen over time. Now low unemployment can hurt the economy’s ability to continue growing. Taxes and regulations are also considered to be burdens for the Slovenian economy and impede its competitiveness.   

The unemployment rate in European countries in June of 2022. Source: viborc.com

While it would seem logical for people to want the unemployment rate to be as low as possible, this is not necessarily ideal for a national economy. An ideal unemployment rate is between 3 and 5 percent, putting Slovenia on the lower end of the range. An unemployment rate too low can make it difficult to fill job vacancies. This is the case for Slovenia right now which is why it is attempting to increase the number of workers in the country. As there are not enough Slovenians looking for work, the government has to try to encourage workers to come from elsewhere.

Inability To Attract EU Workers

As a member state of the European Union, citizens of any of the other 26 member states can legally search and apply for work in Slovenia. While this is true and Slovenia has one of the lowest employment rates in the European Union, European Union citizens are not flocking to the nation. As of January 1st, 2022, only 36,204 citizens of other EU member states were living in Slovenia. This is equal to only 21.2 percent of non-nationals living within the nation and 1 percent of the national population. An unemployment rate of less than half of that of the Eurozone (6.5 percent) has not been enough to convince workers to relocate to one of the smaller member states. One of the factors potentially causing this is the language barrier. Slovenia is one of only two current member states that speak a South Slavic language, the other being Croatia. While Slovenian and Croatian are similar, they are not mutually intelligible and unfortunately for Slovenia, Slovenes are more likely to understand Croatians than vice versa. This would theoretically make it easier for Slovenians to move to Croatia for work than for Croatians to move to Slovenia. However, because of the similarities, it is still easier for Croatians to learn Slovene than another language from a different branch of the Indo-European language family.

Net Migration in Slovenia from 1995-2017. Source: SURS

Despite Slovene not being mutually intelligible as other South Slavic languages, the majority of non-nationals living and working in Slovenia come from other nations that were part of Yugoslavia. For speakers of South Slavic languages, Slovene is easier to learn than other European languages and Slovenia has a shared history with other former Yugoslavian nations. 85 percent of all non-nationals currently living in Slovenia were born in Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. Slovenia saw a large number of immigrants arrive between 2008 and 2009 yet has seen the number of arrives decrease again.

Show Me The Money

One of the challenges for Slovenia can be wages. Currently, the gross median hourly wage in Slovenia is less than the average in the European Union. In 2018, the gross median hourly wage in Slovenia was 8.04 euros meanwhile the gross median hourly wage was 13.18 euros for the European Union. Considering this gap, it is likely that it will be difficult to attract more EU citizens until Slovenia’s wages catch up with those of the richer member states, such as Denmark and Luxembourg. However, Slovenia has higher wages than any other former Yugoslavian nation, which helps explain why the majority of non-nationals come from these nations. What currently also helps Slovenia is that apart from Croatia, no other former Yugoslavian nation is a member of the European Union and cannot benefit from the free movement of workers. This means that citizens from Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia all need to apply to EU member states for permission to migrate for work. A consequence of this is that it is harder to migrate to the EU member states unless they are also simplifying the requirements for immigration for foreign workers, as is the case in Slovenia.

As can be observed throughout the European Union and not only in Slovenia, unemployment rates fluctuate greatly. While Slovenia currently has a low unemployment rate, this can change quickly, particularly now considering that the European Central Bank has been raising interest rates in an attempt to fight inflation. This could potentially result in a recession, leading to an increase in the unemployment rate.

For More Information Please Read The Following:

Maček, Sebastijan. “Slovenia eases conditions for hiring foreign workers” Euractiv 30 March 2023

Svetin, Irena. “What has changed in Slovenia since it won independence?” Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia 21 June 2018

Dolenc, Danilo. “62% of immigrants who first immigrated to Slovenia in 2008–2009 still live in Slovenia” RTV Slovenia 18 December 2017

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by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 5 min