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Historical Trends in Emigration and Immigration | Romania |

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Historical Trends in Emigration and Immigration

István Horváth

/ 3 Minuten zu lesen

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Romania was predominantly a country of emigration. In this period, the first large-scale outflow occurred in the context of the great wave of Eastern European migration to North America. It was mostly the population of Transylvania (incorporated into Romania after 1918) that was engaged in this flow.

Aspects of migration before Communism

In the first decade of the 20th century alone, a quarter of a million inhabitants of this province (with a total population of 4.8 million in 1900) emigrated to the United States.

In the wake of territorial changes in the course of the First and Second World Wars, Romania experienced large-scale population transfers. Approximately 200 000 ethnic Hungarians left Transylvania (which had been passed from Hungarian to Romanian authority) between 1918 and 1922. As a result of the re-annexation of the northern part of Transylvania to Hungary in 1940, and in the framework of a population exchange agreement between Hungary and Romania, 220 000 ethnic Romanians left Northern Transylvania (then under Hungarian rule) and moved to territories under Romanian control. At the same time, 160 000 ethnic Hungarians relocated from Romanian to Hungarian territories. During the Second World War, the bulk of the Jewish population living on Romania's present territory was deported (by either Romanian or Hungarian authorities); the Holocaust reduced Romania's Jewish population of 780 000 persons by half. Following the Second World War, approximately 70 000 ethnic Germans were deported to the Soviet Union, and many more were forcibly relocated within Romanian territory.

The Communist era (1947-1989)

Romanian emigrants, 1957-1989 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

During Communist rule, Romanian authorities exercised rather restrictive exit policies, severely limiting the ability of citizens to travel internationally. Passports were held by the police, and prior approval from the authorities was required in order to obtain the travel document. Those applying as emigrants to various embassies in Romania had social and economic rights revoked and were stigmatised and harassed by authorities. Despite this harsh stance on emigration, a relatively high amount of permanent, legal emigration took place under the regime. This is not as contradictory as it appears at first glance, as the actual purpose of this restrictive regime was not to prevent all forms of emigration, but rather to control outflows by restricting exit possibilities while allowing certain groups to leave (see below). By limiting departures, authorities hoped to reduce the number of asylum applications made by Romanians abroad; it was feared that asylum-seeking by a large number of Romanians would discredit the regime and threaten its legitimacy as a functioning political system, in the eyes of both foreign governments and remaining citizens.

Ethnic structure of the emigrant population (1975-1989) compared to the ethnic composition of the Romanian population (1977 census)

Share of general population (1977 census)Share of emigrant population (1975-1989)

Institutul National de Statistica (INS)

Ethnic minorities (Jews, Germans and Hungarians) were clearly over-represented among the group of people who legally emigrated from Romania during Communist rule. For example, although ethnic Germans represented only 1.6% of the population in the 1977 census, they constituted 44% of the emigrant population between 1975 and 1989.

The emigration of Romanian Jews began immediately after the Second World War, and under the Communist regime the majority of the Jewish community (between 300 000 and
350 000 persons) moved to Israel or the United States. The emigration of both the ethnic Germans and the Jews were closely managed by the Communist authorities.

The case was somewhat different for ethnic Hungarians. Starting in 1985, this minority emigrated in increasing numbers to neighbouring Hungary. In this case the vast majority of those leaving used irregular strategies (crossing the green border illegally, staying in Hungary without residence permit, etc.). Their migration was not approved by the Romanian authorities, who were rather anxious about the potential negative impact of major, uncontrolled migratory outflows on the country's international standing

Some patterns of temporary migration were also prevalent during the Communist era, notably for the purposes of education and work. Labour migration was exclusively state-managed, and a large majority of Romanian workers headed to the Middle East, particularly to the Persian Gulf area, where their labour activities were tightly regulated and family reunification forbidden.

The inflow of foreign migrants was rather limited during the Communist era, as any alien – especially those from "unfriendly" countries – was considered by the authorities to be a potential threat. Visiting foreign citizens were monitored closely, even in the case when these foreigners visited their friends and family members; Romanians had the legal responsibility to report to the authorities any non-Romanian citizen they hosted in their homes.

There were some exceptions to this suspicious attitude toward aliens: foreign students, especially from the Middle East and African countries, were well represented at Romanian universities from the 1970s onwards. At its peak, the annual stock of foreign students rose to 16 900, representing 7-8% of all students registered at Romanian universities in 1981.



  1. See Varga E. (1998).

  2. See Münz (2002).

  3. See Stola (1992).

  4. See Rotman (2004).

  5. See Pledna (2001).

  6. See INS (2006) and SOPEMI (1994).

  7. See Mueller (1999).

  8. See Salt (1989).

  9. See SOPEMI (1994).

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