Outside the immigration office in Romania, a queue is forming. You line up in the crowded alley, waiting for your turn to renew your residency permit. But, as night falls, and the office closes, you are one day closer to going out of your residency status…

This is the case of countless expats living in Romania, including many of the members of our AISB community, as well as the service workers that support our community’s daily operations, such as Uber drivers, food delivery personnel, nannies, housekeepers, waitstaff and cooks. 

Since Romania joined the EU in 2007, 6 million Romanians have emigrated, leaving a huge labor shortage. To meet the demands of a growing economy, immigration rates are rapidly rising in Romania. While the Immigration General Inspectorate (IGI) officials begin to adapt to this new reality, delays in receiving residency permits continue to cause uncertainty. 

The Knock-on Effects of Immigration Delays

Between 2021 and 2022, the number of new employment permits being issued to non-EU workers increased from 38.000 to 78,400. With this exponential rise in requests for residency permits, IGI has faced difficulty responding in a timely manner. Months-long delays on renewing residency permits that once took a few weeks to process have disrupted the lives of immigrants to Romania, expat faculty included.

Being left without a residency permit undeniably results in an illegal residence status. This has led to many facing fines for ‘illegally residing’ in Romania, even though the delay in prolonging their residence permits is a system-wide problem. Knock-on effects take various forms, though the freezing of local Romanian bank accounts, including Revolut accounts, can lead to the most dire consequences.

Foreigners waiting hours in line at Immigration in downtown Bucharest created a numbered list to ensure fairness; a few hours later, when the Immigration offices opened, the list was forgotten in a mad scramble to be first in the door. (Submitted photo)

Secondary English and Journalism teacher Chuck Adams witnessed his wife, Ani Nersisyan, an Armenian citizen, experience these changes first-hand. Having lived in Romania for the past six years working for Dacia/Renault, Nersisyan expected conditions for renewing her permit to be similar to past years, but this was not the case. Nersisyan applied three months before her permit expired, but had not received an appointment until mid-March, two months after her permit’s expiration.

Thus, with the clock ticking before the expiration date, Nersisyan spent several days in line at the immigration offices in late January, attempting to submit a renewal application for her residency permit, but was faced by unexpectedly long queues and, subsequently, delays.

On a day when the offices honor appointments only, Nersisyan decided to make another attempt at renewing her visa. As luck would have it, she found a quiet moment and managed to apply for the renewal. Nevertheless, since her residency permit did not arrive on time before the expiration of her previous one, she had her Romanian bank accounts frozen, making it practically impossible to receive her paycheck, withdraw money, or pay bills.

Adams recalls: “[My wife] received her residence permit [one month after it expired], and this magical document was the tool to finally unlock both her bank and Revolut accounts so she could receive her paychecks from her work and pay for the necessities of life. If she were single and unmarried, this whole ordeal would have been a complete disaster for her.”

If IGI cannot make big changes to their systems and workload, they can, at the very least, notify all applicants to apply at least six months in advance. This would be extremely helpful.

—Ani Nersisyan

An Increasing Influx of Foreign Workers to Romania

As Romanians emigrate, the nation must attract foreign workers to work in its HoReCa industries, including gig-workers such as food delivery. (Image courtesy of Mart Productions/Pexels)

There has been a visible increase in foreign workers in Romania over the past few years. As a nation, Romania has seen mass emigration, weakening its workforce and reducing its numbers greatly. But, as its GDP per person increases, from 53% (of the EU average) up to 74% of it by 2021, and the private sector continues to expand, an imbalance is brewing.

Particularly of note is the discrepancy between the private sector’s increasing number of immigrant workers and the government’s wish to encourage higher paid jobs for Romanian nationals. In order to access low-paid workers to respond to the increased demand for labor, private companies operating in the construction and HoReCa industries have turned towards immigrant workers. Yet, the government, through its Diaspora Ministry has begun various campaigns in an attempt to discourage emigration and beckon émigrés back home, raising doubts about the role of immigrants. 

This conflict in public policy has led to an unprecedented political and economic situation in Romania, with The Economist remarking that similar to “Italy in the 1970s, Romania is on the cusp of switching from a country of emigrants to one of immigrants.”

A generation ago Romanians queued for food. Today in Bucharest the queues are back, but those standing in them are not Romanian. In one street Ukrainian refugees line up in front of an aid-distribution centre. In another Nepalis, Bangladeshis and others wait outside an immigration office to renew work and residence permits.

The Economist

Irina Popescu, the Human Resources Officer for Overseas Faculty at AISB, is responsible for the management of the relocation and benefits of expat teachers recruited from outside of Romania, and provided an eye-witness account of what she sees and hears from countless trips to the IGI offices. 

Popescu says, “Increased number of immigrants from lower economy countries in Asia and Africa are coming for employment as unqualified workers, mainly in the construction and HoReCa industries. This category impacts the immigration offices for non-EU citizens living in both Bucharest and Ilfov counties, setting the immigration appointments waiting time to six months.”

Adapting to the New Normal

To adapt to this new reality, government institutions must respond to the increasing trend in immigration and, implicitly, in residency permit applications. Further, an important voice in the conversation, the private industry needs to work with the government to generate change.

Working closely with authorities to facilitate expat teachers’ residency applications, Popescu applauds the efforts made by IGI to improve the current situation, but recognizes that change now is in the hands of policy makers.

“Although IGI improved operations and came with a good platform for online applications, which must be saluted for how well it works,” Popescu says, “the increased number of the expat population in Romania is without precedent and affects the workflow significantly. However, on multiple occasions the immigration office opened during weekends and public holidays (e.g. from 8AM to 9PM) and scheduled applicants in an attempt to minimize the applications backlog within the system.”

Until the government and/or the EU would approve additional budget for immigration staffing and infrastructure (e.g. buildings), these efforts must be appreciated, as it is the maximum officers at the immigration counter can do.

—Irina Popescu

Certainly, as Romania’s demographic shifts, there is much that needs to adapt. Yet, if responded to correctly, these changes are likely to be beneficial in the long-term.

Have you noticed the changing demographics within Romania recently, or experienced issues with immigration-related bureaucracy? Please share in the comments below.