By Yiannis Elafros
“Albanian tourist” was the punchline of a rather politically incorrect joke doing the rounds here in the 1990s. How the tables have changed. On top of the many Albanian migrants who are returning to their homeland, an increasing number of crisis-hit Greeks are also moving to the neighboring country in search of work.
“I regularly travel to Albania for construction jobs,” said a worker from Thesprotia in northern Greece who did not wish to give his name. “More and more, I find myself running into other Greeks from various parts of the country who have come to work in Albania,” he added.
The majority of Greeks to have visited Albania in search of employment have done so with the help of Albanian immigrants in Greece who also decided to leave the debt-wracked country.
“Wages in Albania are very low. Construction workers get 7-10 euros a day, while a craftsman gets around 15 euros; or up to 20 euros a day if he is really lucky,” the construction worker continued. Of course the cost of living there is much lower compared to Greece. “You have to understand that the people who go to Albania in search for work are really desperate,” he said.
A number of Albanian and Greek companies are looking for specialized staff from Greece, including engineers, to work on various projects in Albania. It is tough work for relatively little money.
“We are talking here about 10 hours work a day with four days off a month – that is two weekends,” said another worker, from Ioannina, who has often crossed the border for jobs. He says that male workers travel back and forth in order to visit their families back in Greece. “It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing – particularly given the situation in Greece.”
The exodus is not large, mainly because of the low wages but also because of the limited number of jobs available. However, for the first time, Greeks who are not the employees or executives of the Tirana branch of a big Greek company are traveling to work in Albania.
The trend picked up during the summer as many Greeks sought work in tourism in southern Albania, where the wages are higher, hovering at around 30-40 euros per day.
Although there is no clear long-term trend, the inflow is confirmed by figures from the immigration department of Albania’s Labor Ministry. Officials say most workers came from Turkey, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), as well as Italy, Canada and China.
The number of foreign applications for work permits is small – just 2,500 for 2012 but still 8 percent higher compared to 2011. Many of the odd jobs do not require a work permit, which backs the trend of short-term employment.