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Preliminary communication

The Differences in Migration Data Collection: A Comparison between Croatia and Selected European Countries

Dario Pavić orcid id ; Odsjek za sociologiju, Hrvatski studiji, Sveučilište u Zagrebu, Zagreb
Ida Ivanović ; Zagreb

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Migration is one of the demographic processes that has shaped the modern world most profoundly. It is estimated that the global number of migrants reached 272 million in 2019 and that international migrants make up 3.5% of the world population. These figures reveal that migration shapes the modern world not only in economic terms, through the growth of trade and remittances, but also in terms of culture, gender, ethnicity, and identity. In a world of declining fertility, migration is becoming the main factor in the spatial distribution of the world population. However, migration is still one of the most poorly defined and measured demographic processes, lacking standardised procedures between countries, which prevents international comparability of data. Also, an overarching theory of migration does not exist, and instead we are left with several perspectives.

The two main aspects of any definition of migration are (1) a change in place of usual residence, and (2) crossing an established political/administrative border. One term essential for defining migration is the place of usual residence, a place where a person lives or spends most of his/her daily rest. This definition is important since shorter periods of absence from this place do not count as migration (tourist travel, pilgrimages, etc.). The length of absence is the most important condition; the EU defines immigration as establishing a new usual residence that lasts or is expected to last at least 12 months. Another challenge to the definition of migration are the recommendations of the UN on the international migration statistics where there is a distinction between “short-term migrants” (those who reside in the country of immigration for 91 to 365 days), and “long-term migrants” (those who reside in the country of immigration for more than a year). Some countries do not abide by these recommendations, so the time frame for attaining a resident status differs among countries. Also, the manner of producing statistics on migrations differs among countries as well. There are several ways of producing these statistics, most notably by using border crossing data, censuses, surveys, and population registers, the latter being considered the “golden standard” of migration data.

The aim of this paper is to compare the ways of collecting data on migrations and the deadlines for registering residence in Croatia and six other European countries, to explain the discrepancy in the number of annual migrants in the data for Croatia and the other countries, from 2013 (the year of Croatia’s accession to the EU) until 2018. It has been established that deregistration from the origin country is far less pronounced than registration in the country of destination due to the different incentives for the migrants. In the case of Croatia, the main problem is the unknown number of Croatian citizens who reside in neighbouring countries (mostly Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia). We try to solve this problem by separately analysing the statistics on migrants with Croatian citizenship and migrants from the origin country of Croatia. However, there is an unknown number of Croatian citizens residing in neighbouring countries with registered residence in Croatia (so-called “fictive residents”) and isolating these individuals in migration statistics is not possible.

Six European countries were chosen for the analysis: Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Sweden, mostly for their economic power, but for other reasons as well, ranging from strong cultural ties and existing Croatian diasporas (Italy, Germany, Austria), to favourable immigration laws, a mostly Roman Catholic population (Ireland) and a strong welfare state (Norway and Sweden). The analysis itself consists of two parts: the comparative analysis of the legal framework for establishing residence in a specific country, with emphasis on the deadline for registering usual residence, and the analysis of the reported number of immigrants in a specific country, compared to the number of deregistered Croatian citizens (and those whose country of origin is Croatia). The numbers of registered Croatian citizens in specific European countries and deregistered citizens from Croatia were obtained through the official statistics bureaus’ websites, except for Austria, where the data were sent to the authors on request. Also, the numbers of Croatian citizens registered in Ireland were estimated by the number of Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSNs) issued to Croatian citizens every year.
Croatian law differentiates between permanent and temporary emigration. Those who leave the country permanently must deregister within 15 days of leaving. For those leaving Croatia temporarily, the law is not as exact; they must notify the police (where all registration and deregistration takes place), but the deadline for notification is not specified. This alone can demotivate emigrating citizens from deregistering. In Austria, the registration process also falls under the jurisdiction of the police. Here, immigrants from EU countries must register if they want to reside in the country for longer than three months. The deadline for registration is the last day of the three-month period. The data on migration is collected and kept in the population register.

Ireland does not require registration of EU citizens and does not keep a population register. Data on migration are gathered through the Quarterly National Household Survey and Labour Force Survey. The number of Croatian immigrants is estimated by the annual number of issued Personal Public Service Numbers. In Italy, registration takes place in municipality registration offices that keep municipal population registers. EU citizens must register if they plan to spend more than three months in Italy, and they must do so after the three months have passed.

Germany does not require a residence permit, yet all persons, whether German nationals or foreigners, must register their usual residence within 14 days of arrival, and deregister within 14 days of either a departure or a change of usual residence within Germany. Germany keeps a population register. Likewise, Norway and Sweden keep population registers as well and do not require a residence permit, the only difference between these two countries being that Norway requires registration after the three-month period, while Sweden does not.

As for the data on migration flows from Croatia to these six European countries, all the data on immigration to those countries from their respective statistics bureaus cite higher numbers than the data on emigration from Croatia from the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, except Italy. These differences are approximately the same for the data on Croatian citizens and the data for persons coming from Croatia as the country of origin. The annual share of the Croatian emigrant data in the European countries’ immigrant data range from 6% to 67%. We interpret these discrepancies by two main processes. Firstly, since Croatian law is not unequivocal on the deadline for deregistration, many Croatian emigrants simply do not know when to deregister, in addition to not knowing how long they will stay in the country of immigration. Furthermore, there are negative consequences for deregistering. Croatian citizens would lose many health and social benefits in Croatia if they deregister. There is also evidence that the Croatian interior affairs and judicial system are not very efficient in punishing those that do not deregister. Secondly, most of the countries require registration at the end of three months, Germany even after 14 days. Since immigrants have more incentives to register in the new country, the numbers of immigrants are higher than those of emigrants from Croatian data. These numbers can also be misleading, as in the case of Germany, where there are many more annual emigrants to Croatia than the Croatian data reveal, meaning that people come and go to Germany several times annually.

In conclusion, this research reveals the imperfections in the registration process, the differences in the logic and procedure of data acquisition, and dissemination, and different traditions of data acquisition throughout Europe. It is therefore of vital interest to harmonise the data gathering process by unifying the definitions of migrations, the registration process and data dissemination. For Croatia, the imperative is to adopt the concept of usual residence, to implement the population register and to change the laws on residence accordingly. The ideal for all European countries should be the cooperation between Nordic countries where the process of data sharing is efficient and the statistics are fully comparable.


emigration, population register, usual residence, Croatia, migration flow

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