2. Number of Georgian emigrants and their socio-demographic characteristics

According to United Nations estimates, approximately 860 000 Georgians individuals lived abroad in 2020, which represents 22% of Georgia’s population (Figure 2.1). This diaspora is highly concentrated in Europe, which hosts 80% of the Georgian emigrant population. Asia and North America account for the remainder, with 15% and 5%, respectively.

According to UNDESA estimates, the Russian Federation remains the leading destination country, hosting more than half (52%) of all Georgian emigrants (450 000), despite the introduction of a visa for Georgian citizens in 2001 and the 2008 conflict (OECD/CRRC - Georgia, 2017[1]). Such geographic concentration is explained by pre-existing historical and economic ties, geographic and cultural proximity and knowledge of the language (European Training Foundation, 2013[2]). Greece is the second largest destination country, hosting 10% of Georgian emigrants, followed by Ukraine (8%), Azerbaijan (6%), and the United States (5%).

Unsurprisingly, Georgia, a country with a small population of 3.7 million and significant levels of labour migration, is highly dependent on remittances with a ratio of remittances to GDP at 13.3% in 2020 (Figure 2.2). However, this ratio is almost on par with the average from the reference group (13.8%). The level of personal remittances to Georgia gradually increased between 2003 and 2014, when they amounted to approximately USD 2 billion. The 2015 decrease can be partially explained by sluggish macroeconomic conditions in the Russian Federation as well as the Eurozone debt crisis, which particularly affected Greece. Between 2000 and 2020, almost half (46%) of personal remittances were composed by the income of border, seasonal, and other short-term workers which are catalogued as employees’ compensation.

According to the most recent estimates, approximately 275 000 Georgian migrants lived in OECD countries in 2020 (Figure 2.3). Among the selected reference group – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – Georgia’s diaspora is the second largest in OECD countries, only after Kazakhstan’s. The preponderance of the Kazakhstani and Georgian diaspora in the OECD area also reflects the importance of the Russian Federation as a destination for the other countries. In 2010, when data are available, approximately 70 and 75% of the Kazakhstani and Georgian emigrants resided in the Russian Federation, compared to 97% of the Tajikistani and Kyrgyzstani emigrants.

Between 2000 and 2020, the number of Georgian emigrants living in OECD countries increased twofold. In absolute terms, such growth (+ 141 000) ranks third among the selected Caucasian and Central Asian countries, below Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In percentage terms, however, Georgia ranks among the three lowest, only before Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

In 2020, the Georgian diaspora in the OECD area was concentrated in Greece (34% of the emigrant population), Israel (14%), Turkey (12%), Germany (10%) and the United States (10%). These four countries account for more than three-quarters of the Georgian diaspora in the OECD area. Across the main destination countries, however, the Georgian migrant population has evolved differently since 2000.

Greece has been the leading destination in the OECD area since 2000. Georgian emigration responded to the demands of the Greek labour market, the transport infrastructure between the two countries, cultural and religious affinities (Christian Orthodox religion) and strong social networks that date back to the early 1990s (Maroufof, 2017[5]; Triandafyllidou, 2018[6]). Among the seven main destinations shown in Figure 2.4, between 2000 and 2020, the Georgian diaspora in Greece registered the third largest increase in absolute numbers (+22 000). In percentage terms, however, the increase is only the sixth highest (+36%). Moreover, this growth was mostly observed between 2000 and 2010, when the Georgian diaspora increased by 38%, after which it practically stagnated between 2010 and 2020. The latter tendency is linked to both a drop in new arrivals and an increase in return migration amidst a context of economic recession in the Greek labour market following the 2008 global recession and the 2015 Eurozone crisis (Maroufof, 2017[5]).

In Israel, the second destination country in the OECD area, the Georgian diaspora has gradually decreased between 2000 and 2020. Starting with a population of approximately 46 000 Georgian emigrants at the beginning of the century, there were approximately 35 000 by 2020 (-24%), a trend that is explained by an ageing population that arrived, in its majority, during the early 1990s as a result of the USSR’s dissolution and repatriation programmes in Israel (Denisenko, 2020[7]).

Conversely, in Turkey, the size of the Georgian diaspora grew almost five-fold between 2000 and 2020, the third largest percentage increase among the main destination countries. While Turkey has been a popular destination for emigrants since Georgian independence in 1991 due to its geographical proximity, its attractiveness increased after the abolition of a visa requirement for Georgian citizens in 2006 (IOM, 2008[8]). Indeed, while the number of Georgian emigrants only grew by 6% between 2000 and 2010, it increased by 341% between 2010 and 2020.

In Germany, the fourth destination country, the lack of data provide an incomplete picture of the diaspora’s evolution. Yet, the latter doubled between 2011 and 2020. In the United States, the number of Georgian emigrants more than doubled between 2000 and 2020. Italy, Spain and France saw the largest percentage increases, respectively, which can be explained by strong base effects. From less than 300 Georgian migrants in 2000, Italy now hosts 16 000. Similarly, in Spain and France, the Georgian diaspora grew from less than 1 000 in each country to almost 20 000 and 17 000 in 2020, respectively.

Of the total Georgian population residing abroad, approximately 7 300 are refugees (Box 2.1). Refugees are theoretically estimated as part of the foreign-born population in their respective host countries, but in practice, this depends on data sources and host country practices.

International students comprise another specific category of Georgian emigrants. After the 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia pushed for improvements in higher education. Among other measures, the new administration promoted greater exchanges for faculty and students, particularly to European and American institutions (Campbell, 2016[10]). An additional driver of student mobility from Georgia – and former Soviet Republics more generally – was the adhesion to the European Higher Education Area in 2005, a set of agreements and commitments that allow national education systems to be more compatible and strengthen their quality assurance mechanisms (European Commission, 2020[11])

In 2019, approximately 4 200 students from Georgia enrolled in a tertiary-level institution abroad, which represents 3% of all tertiary-level enrolments in Georgia. Among Georgian international students, eight in ten were studying in an OECD country (Figure 2.6). Between 2013 and 2019, the population of Georgian international students gained approximately 500 students, an increase of 13%. In 2019, among the selected Caucasian and Central Asian countries, Georgia was the fifth most important origin of international students in the OECD area (5% of the total), with Azerbaijan leading and accounting for a third of the total.

Germany hosted the largest number of Georgian students in 2019, accounting for almost half (45%) of the total, followed by the Russian Federation (18%) and Turkey (17%). While the number of Georgian students in Germany has remained relatively stable between 2013 and 2019 (1 800 on average), it has varied considerably in the second and third leading destinations: in the Russian Federation, the population of Georgian students decreased by 33% since 2013, while in Turkey it grew from 45 to over 700 students in the same period. Even when considering the strong base effect for Turkey, the country has become an attractive destination for Georgian students in recent years.

National data sources make it possible to study the location of Georgian emigrants in certain main destination countries and to map their regional distribution. In the United States, of the 24 000 Georgian migrants that reside there, more than half (55%) is settled in the Northeast region and particularly in the states of New York (37% of all Georgian emigrants), New Jersey (9%) and Pennsylvania (5%).

In Germany, more than half (54%) of Georgian emigrants are concentrated in three federal states: North-Rhine Westphalia (22% of total Georgian population), Baden-Württemberg (16%) and Bayern (15%). Moreover, the majority resides in big cities such as Berlin (9% of the total), Munich (6%), Hannover (3%) and Hamburg (3%). This geographical distribution around big urban areas is explained by the availability of educational institutions, employment opportunities and migrant networks (ICMPD, 2014[12]).

In Italy, more than half of Georgian migrants are concentrated in three regions: Puglia (22%), Umbria (21%) and Toscana (13%). According to surveys among returnees, the presence of social networks in Italy largely influences the settlement patterns of Georgian migrants, leading to concentration in destinations that are not necessarily optimal in terms of job opportunities, income level and migration policies (Badurashvili, 2012[13])

In 2015/16, 62% of Georgian emigrants living in OECD countries were women. Georgia is the second most feminised diaspora among the selected Caucasian and Central Asian countries, and ranks above the group average of 55% (Figure 2.10). The share of women in the emigrant populations of these eight countries is also slightly higher than the share of women among the foreign-born population (51%). Moreover, the share of Georgian emigrant women increased by 15% since 2000, the third-largest percentage increase among the reference group.

A combination of push and pull factors account for the feminisation of the Georgian diaspora. Among the former, employment rates of women across the former Soviet space plummeted since the transition to market economies, despite Soviet-era policies that promoted the participation of women both in higher education and labour markets (Vanore, 2015[14])). Among the pull factors, the growing demand for female labour in the domestic and elder care markets increased opportunities for women (Vanore, 2015[14]; Trouth Hoffman, 2012[15]). Simultaneously, opportunities for labour migration in the Russian Federation, which used to be the traditional destination, became more limited for men. Indeed, 2010 data show that the Georgian diaspora residing in this country is more gender balanced (50% of the emigrant population is composed by women).

While women account for the majority of the emigrant population in the OECD area, its distribution varies significantly by country of destination (Figure 2.12). Among the top five destinations, Turkey and Italy exhibit the greatest gender gaps, with women accounting for 84% and 80% of the diaspora, respectively, followed by Greece and Israel (61 and 58%, respectively). In the United States and Germany, the gender ratio is more balanced (52 and 57% of the migrant population is composed by women, respectively).

Overall, destinations outside the Caucasian and Central Asian countries are more attractive to women migrants due to the widespread availability of domestic and service jobs (Trouth Hoffman, 2014[16]). Moreover, while informal job networks for migrants are highly gendered, they are particularly so in European destinations such as Italy and Greece (Ferry, 2013[17]). In Turkey and Greece, Georgian women migrants are in high demand as domestic workers, caregivers, babysitters, janitors and waiters (ICMPD, 2014[12]). Similarly, in Spain, qualitative data suggests that Georgian women are employed mostly in the domestic sector as cleaners, housekeepers, nannies and caregivers (ICMPD, 2019[18]). Finally, the salience of Turkey as a destination for Georgian women migrants is also explained by the geographical proximity and low travel costs, which allow women migrants to return to Georgia on a regular basis and, in turn, permits them to maintain their family roles and control the use of remittances (Ferry, 2013[17]).

The Georgian diaspora living in OECD countries is primarily of working age: 83% of its emigrants were between 15 and 64 years old in 2015/16, similar to that of the Caucasian and Central Asian countries selected for comparison. Among these countries, 85% of emigrants belong to the same age group (Figure 2.11). The predominance of working age individuals in the Georgian diaspora is more significant than among the foreign-born and native populations of OECD countries (+4 and +19 percentage points, respectively). This positive self-selection among Georgian individuals in working age also means that the share of Georgian emigrants younger than 15 and above 64 is disproportionately low.

The population younger than 15 accounts for only 2% of the Georgian diaspora in OECD countries, a lower share than among both the foreign-born (6%) and native (19%) populations. Similarly, individuals older than 64 represent 13% of the Georgian diaspora, compared to 17 and 15% of the native and foreign-born populations, respectively.

Moreover, the age distribution of the Georgian diaspora highly contrasts with the population of Georgia and, again, points to a positive self-selection among those in conditions to work: only half (53%) of Georgians are of working age, compared to three-quarters (74%) of its emigrants. Similarly, 20% of the Georgian population is less than 15 years old, compared to 2% of the population that migrates to an OECD country.

The age distribution of the Georgian diaspora also varies significantly by country of destination (Figure 2.12). The Georgian diaspora in Israel is older than in the rest of the main destination countries: the share of people over 64 years of age is 22%, compared to 3% in Italy. Conversely, Italy and Turkey host the largest proportions of Georgian migrants of working age (85% of the total in both countries). Germany accounts for the largest proportion of children: the share of migrants under 15 years of age is 15%, reflecting the preponderance of permanent family emigration. Finally, the United States is the only country, among the main destinations, where Georgian men represent a larger proportion of the working age population (37% versus 31% of women).

Emigrants who arrived in their respective destination country within the past five years can be considered recent emigrants. According to 2015/16 data, 22% of Georgian emigrants in the OECD area are recent migrants, while approximately 60% are settled migrants (arrived in the country more than ten years ago) (Figure 2.13). Compared to other diasporas in OECD countries, Georgia’s is less mature on average – especially compared to the emigrant populations from other Caucasian and Central Asian countries, suggesting that temporary labour migration among individuals of working-age is far more widespread in Georgia (Barbone, Bonch-Osmolovskiy and Luecke, 2013[19]).

There are also differences in the duration of stay among Georgian emigrants by country of destination (Figure 2.14). Among the main OECD destination countries – except for Germany where data is not available – Israel hosts the diaspora with the highest share of settled emigrants: 98% of the Georgian emigrant population arrived more than ten years ago, well above the OECD average of 69%. Greece and the United States are other destinations with a mature diaspora; more than half (67 and 62%, respectively) of Georgian migrants can be considered settled migrants. In contrast, a significant share of Georgian emigrants living in Turkey (83%) and Italy (88%) arrived to those destinations less than ten years ago. Of particular salience is the fact that more than 60% of Georgian emigrants in Turkey – presumably circular migrants working in the agricultural sector – are recent migrants (Figure 2.14).

In 2015/16, 72% of Georgian emigrants aged 15 years and over and living in OECD countries had at least an upper secondary education; 38% had a tertiary education (Figure 2.15). Since 2000/01, the educational level of Georgian emigrants in OECD countries has increased. The share of emigrants with a low level of education (up to lower secondary) fell from 36% to 26%, while the share of highly or tertiary-educated emigrants increased by 10 percentage points. In 2015/16, Georgian emigrants living in OECD countries were, on average, more educated than the foreign-born population and the emigrant populations from the selected Caucasian and Central Asian countries.

In terms of educational attainment, however, Georgian emigrants are not positively selected among the Georgian population. In 2015/16, 41% of the Georgian population had a tertiary education, while only 12% were low-educated. (Labadze and Tukhashvili, 2013[20]) attribute the latter phenomenon to misguided education policies which generated an over-supply of university graduates. Thus, the educational profile of Georgian emigrants does not point to a case of ‘brain drain’.

Compared to the emigrant populations of the selected Caucasian and Central Asian countries, Georgian emigrants are relatively better educated (38% of Georgian emigrants had a tertiary education compared to 30% among the reference group). However, the regional average seems to be disproportionately weighted by low-educated Kazakhstani emigrants in OECD countries, which comprise about half of the emigrant populations of the selected Caucasian and Central Asian countries (Figure 2.16). Emigrants from other countries in the reference group have a higher share of highly educated individuals than Georgia. This is particularly the case of countries with small populations – Kyrgyzstani, Tajikistani.

There is also substantial heterogeneity in the educational attainment of Georgian emigrants across destination countries (Figure 2.17). Greece, the main destination, hosts the Georgian emigrant population with the lowest share of tertiary educated (24%), reflecting the fact that the majority of Georgian emigrants, mostly female and middle-aged, moved to Greece in the 1990s and early 2000s for economic reasons (ICMPD, 2019[21]). Conversely, Georgian emigrants in the United States, a main destination for Georgian international students, have a high level of education: more than two-thirds hold a tertiary degree and less than 10% are low educated. Similarly, Georgian emigrants in Spain show high levels of educational attainment with more than half (55%) holding a tertiary degree. Such distribution is likely a reflection of the earlier flows of migration during the late 1990s, when Georgian emigrants arriving in Spain were mostly highly educated. Recent Georgian emigrants in Spain have, on average, a primary education and primarily come from rural areas in search of employment (ICMPD, 2019[18]).

In the Russian Federation, according to the 2010 Census, more than 30% of Georgians aged 15 and over were highly educated, while 32% of Georgian emigrants were low educated, suggesting that low-educated Georgians are more likely to migrate to the Russian Federation than OECD countries.

Differences in the educational level of Georgian emigrants also vary by gender and destination country (Figure 2.18). Italy and Turkey exhibit the highest educational gaps in favor of women: almost 40 and 50% of Georgian female emigrants hold a tertiary degree, respectively. Conversely, in Israel and in the United States, the educational distribution among Georgian emigrants is relatively similar among men and women.

In the OECD area, the educational gap in favor of Georgian emigrant women has increased since 2000/01 (Figure 2.19). Whereas in 2000/01 the share of low-educated emigrants was virtually identical among men and women, in 2015/16 the share of low-educated men was 4 percentage points higher than among women. Similarly, the share of highly educated emigrants was 6 percentage points higher for women in 2015/16, whereas the gap between men and women was only 4% in 2000/01.

There are some notable patterns in the acquisition of nationality among Georgian emigrants in the main OECD destination countries – the United States, Germany, Greece, France and Italy. The figures are not available for Israel and discontinued for Turkey. While the number of Georgian emigrants who acquired American or German nationality increased significantly between 2000 and 2019, it dropped drastically in Greece by 2019.

Furthermore, the share of Georgian emigrants holding the host country citizenship in 2015/16 was high in three main destinations, Israel, Greece, and the United States: 99, 70 and 57%, respectively, held the nationality of these three host countries (Figure 2.21). Over 90% of naturalised Georgian emigrants in OECD countries were residing in these three countries.

According to the most recent data available, 62% of Georgian emigrants held the citizenship of their OECD host country in 2015/16 (Figure 2.22), a rate 18 percentage points lower than for selected Caucasian and Central Asian countries, and more than 10 percentage points higher than for the foreign-born population. Among the reference group, Georgia boasts the fourth highest citizenship acquisition rate after Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

Emigration rates are defined as the ratio between the number of emigrants from a specific country living in OECD countries and the total sum of the resident population of this country and emigrants living in OECD countries. While Georgia had the third highest emigration rate among the reference group of Central Asia at 6.4% in 2015/16, it held the highest female emigration rate at 7.5% in the same year (Figure 2.23).

Furthermore, the emigration rate among the low-educated (12.9%) is much higher than among the medium and high-educated individuals (5 and 6%, respectively), suggesting that emigration from Georgia to some OECD countries is not primarily composed by high-skilled workers but responds to the demand for lower-skilled labour. This pattern is particularly noticeable in the cases of Greece and Turkey (ICMPD, 2014[12]), (OECD/CRRC - Georgia, 2017[1]) (Figure 2.24).

This chapter analysed the number of Georgian emigrants in main OECD destination countries, as well as the overall evolution of the emigrant population since 2000. While highly concentrated in the Russian Federation, approximately 300 000 Georgian emigrants reside in the OECD area, mainly in Greece, Israel, Turkey, and the United States. The analysis of the Georgian emigrant population in comparison with other reference groups – emigrants from Caucasian and Central Asian countries, the foreign-born and native-born populations – shows that the Georgian diaspora in the OECD area is feminised and mainly of working age, suggesting a growing demand for female labour in Europe and increased restrictions to emigrate to the Russian Federation. Georgian emigrants’ negative self-selection in terms of educational attainment and their comparatively higher citizenship acquisition rate also characterise the Georgian diaspora in OECD countries.


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