Reality Check (Out) from Montenegro: Roadmap to brain gain

by OMSA Archive | June 1, 2022

Montenegro has been facing a negative natural increase in recent years, which, when combined with the aging population, poses a threat to the future of the country. Simultaneously, the country is suffering a loss of its highly skilled workers to countries with larger and more developed labor markets, which offer Montenegrin citizens better opportunities for personal and professional development. The loss of human capital is significantly affecting all spheres of the society, and represents a growing source of concern. Why do highly qualified young professionals migrate from Montenegro? Which policies could be developed and implemented to put an end to – or at least slow down – such trends?

About the Study

The purpose of this study was to identify the reasons instigating the emigration of young people, ascertain the patterns of behavior, predict outcomes, and create a space for dialogue while offering concrete activities and potential solutions. This study addressed an increasing exodus of young people, which has a detrimental effect on Montenegro’s development, and identified ways to leverage Montenegrin diaspora’s knowledge and professional experience. 

Unlike previous research centered around the same topic conducted in Montenegro, this study included participants who have already moved abroad – to understand their perspectives, needs, and aspirations in their search for better work and life opportunities elsewhere. The target group included individuals who possess a higher education degree, and who are professionally engaged in a foreign country. Most of the participants migrated in the period between 2010 and the end of 2021, when the final phase of this study was conducted.

​​132 respondents: Highly qualified young people employed around the world, aged 24 to 40;
19% of respondents live in the Western Balkans, 81% in the rest of the world;
60% of respondents considered returning to Montenegro;
86% of respondents considered contributing to Montenegro from abroad.

Key reasons for emigration

  • The most often cited reason is Montenegro’s socio-political situation. Additional concerns: public administration system, the rule of law, health care, and education. 
  • Limited access to the labor market and a weak work(place) culture, lack of  access to the labor market for certain professions, and a lack of opportunities for further professional training and promotion at work.
  • Low living standard and income (stated only as the third or fourth reason for emigration) often significantly impact young people’s sense of autonomy.
  • The pursuit of a more diverse and better educational offer abroad, which often leads to international professional opportunities.
  • The desire to discover the world – as a natural part of growing up.
  • Resistance to positive change in society. Positive examples, experiences, and stories are frequently not given prominence in public and the media discourse.

Key findings

Participants in this study, whether they are living in the Western Balkans region, Europe or the rest of the world, and regardless of their profession, pointed to similar reasons for their migration from Montenegro. It is surprising, but also consistent with previous qualitative research on brain drain conducted in Southeast Europe, that respondents are not nearly as dissatisfied with the economic situation as they are with the country’s social and political ones. It is particularly encouraging that, while many of them do not wish to return to Montenegro, they are still eager to explore ways to contribute to the country’s development and growth. If appropriately approached, their potential can provide immeasurable benefits to Montenegrin society and send a message to young people that their acquired knowledge and valuable international experience are indispensable and desirable.

“Montenegro is a deeply segregated society without a clear strategy on how to deal with many challenges, whereas brain drain is just one of the outcomes of such a situation . However, the migration of young people, particularly when we talk about specificized niche occupations, does not necessarily have a negative connotation. I do not see our young people abroad as “victims” or the problem, but as a solution to the problem and as our most valuable asset, besides our very beautiful country. The question is how we will make use of this asset.”

The way forward

To address this challenge, it is necessary to conduct a more comprehensive analysis with a larger sample, but also to continuously monitor and analyze demographic trends and population movements in order to aid future policy development in the field. Such policy interventions should aim to create conditions that will encourage young people to stay in the country or, contribute to its development from abroad, or to enable them to return and contribute to the country’s development by sharing experiences and knowledge they acquired abroad (brain circulation).

At this link you can find 17 recommendations, which, to some extent, map out  an initial recovery strategy, assuming the need for  further refinement and development of policy measures and activities. 

We are grateful to all respondents whose insights and perspectives helped us to better understand this challenge as well to develop  policy recommendations.

Additional information, materials and contacts

The entire Study is available at this link.

The Factsheet is available at this link

The recommendations are available at this link

For additional information about the Study, please reach out to us via [email protected]. For other information, please get in touch with us via [email protected]