Since 1990, the population of the Republic of Moldova has been steadily declining owing both to lower birth rates and, more importantly, to considerable emigration. In just two decades, the country has lost over 1 million people, accounting for a vast Moldovan diaspora. While the 1990s saw foremost an outflow of irregular migrants, the 2000s through enhanced legal channels saw a spike in regular labour migration, which continues until the present day.
According to official data on border crossings, 155.322 persons left Moldova in 2019 as compared to 123.379 in 2014. Most of those leaving are young people below 40 years of age. In terms of stock figures, almost 800.000 Moldovans resided abroad at the end of 2019. Some 45% of the total number were in the Russian Federation, 16% in Italy, 6% in the US, 5% in Poland, about 3% each in Portugal, Ukraine, and Germany.
Various studies reveal that socio-economic conditions (Moldova has one of the lowest salary rates in Europe) represent the main driver for emigration making labour migration an attractive solution. Over 350.000 Moldovans were working or looking for a job abroad in 2018. The choice of the particular destination shows a strong gender dimension: while most male labour migrants go to Germany, Russia, France and the UK, the majority of female migrant workers migrate to Italy, Turkey, Portugal and Greece. Considerable out-migration has made the country dependant on remittances. In 2019, Moldovan nationals remitted 1.88 billion US$, corresponding to 16% of the country’s GDP.
Immigration to Moldova is insignificant with a slight upward trend, amongst others attributed to the simplified access for foreign nationals to higher education institutions. Out of 4.857 foreigners recorded in 2019, 41 % arrived for work reasons, 33.5 % to reunify with their families, 13 % for studies and 11 % for other purposes. About half of them came from Ukraine, Turkey and Russia. Foreigners represented 2.6% of the total population of Moldova in 2020, with the majority originating from Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Italy. According to UN data, the country hosted 400 refugees in 2020. Among the 77 asylum applications registered that year, applicants from Turkey and Uzbekistan were most successful in obtaining refugee status.
Diaspora as well as return and reintegration policies are particularly important for Moldova, which has signed 13 readmission agreements - with several EU Member States, Switzerland, Norway, North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Turkey, Albania, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The Government is currently updating the National Strategy on Migration and Asylum for the new decade. Meanwhile, the National Development Strategy “Moldova 2030” and the National Strategy “Diaspora 2025” address a wide range of aspects covered by the Global Compact for Migration. Overall, Moldova’s migration policy focuses on enhancing legal migration, development (e.g. through diasporas) and the return of nationals. The 2014 EU visa liberalization marked an important step in this regard.