Dessislava Pencheva: Visa Agency fights against the obstacles to labour mobility between Bulgaria and Romania

Dessislava Pencheva (photo: Bulgarian-Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Inteview with the administrative manager of the Visa Agency for Cross-Border Labour Mobility on what was achieved in the last two years, on what were the effects of the project for the people in the cross-border region and what the future activity of the agency will be

Vladimir Mitev

Dessislava Pencheva is the administrative manager of the Visa Agency for Cross-Border Labour Mobility. She has been a part of the Bulgarian-Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BRCCI)’s team for almost 16 years. She speaks Romanian, English and Russian language and has graduated from the Economic Academy in Svishtov.

BRCCI is the only specialised organisation, which has the resources and the experience to help with information, advice and market consultation firms, which want to make business on the Bulgarian and Romanian market. BRCCI’s team has developed the project “Visa – Agency for cross-border labour mobility” for two years, taking account of the Bulgarian and Romanian companies’ need for personnel.

Mrs. Pencheva, on 19 April 2019 the project for cross-border labour mobility “Visa” ended. What should we know about this project? What are its goals?

The idea for this project has come from the business circles and is old. For years our members have been telling us that they have difficulties to find good human resources. We have been discussing those topics in various configurations – both internally, in our team, and in groups, where businessmen from Bulgaria and Romania were taking part. Gradually, the talks moved on to the problem of hiring salaried workers from the neighbouring country. The fact that we live in a cross-border region gives us a lot of advantages.

In the beginning we made an in-depth survey of the conditions and tendencies of development of labour market. We focused on the cross-border occupation. We studied the problems and tried to see the perspectives before labour mobility in the border region.

We created the Visa Agency as an unique center for information, consultation and teaching in support of the labour mobility in the cross-border zone Romania-Bulgaria. The Agency is headquartered in Rousse, while its satellite, partner office is in Slatina (Romania). The services that we offer cover all the Romanian-Bulgarian cross-border regions. The mission of Visa Agency is to support the cross-border occupation as a key element of the regional economic connectivity.

You have prepared within the project guides to the living and working conditions in Romania and the living and working conditions in Bulgaria. What is the feedback you have received on these guides by their readers? How many people have read them and how much have the guides helped taking a decision to work in the neighbouring country?

These guides have been prepared after careful research on the specifics of labour legislation in each of the countries and of the peculiarities, connected with the residence of foreign citizens. We have given useful contacts to institutions from the cross-border region. We have presented information on transport relations, on cultural and touristic sites. The guides have been distributed in career centers, EURES offices, labour bureaus, univerisities.

The cross-border worker’s guide turned out to be a useful read, at least if we judge by the feedback, which we have received. The gathered information is used not only by those who search for work, but also by people who plan to travel in Romania. We have made the effort to provide data not only on tax and social security, but also on the conditions for business trips, on the necessary steps for recognition of diplomas and certificates. We have also given informational added value on the question “What should I know, when I travel with my car in Romania” and we have shared rules on the driving licences.

We have distributed more than 300 copies of the guide only in Bulgaria. It is difficult to give an answer to the question how many people have been helped to choose working in the country. After all, the decision to work in another country and to travel every day or every week is taken after careful measuring of the potential benefits and risks. Our goal was to synchronise the information, so that people could save time in their search for data, avoid wandering between various institutions and make informed decisions.

Within the project the BRCCI prepared the report “Study of labour’s occupation and of labour mobility” in the cross-border regions between Bulgaria and Romania. What hinders cross-border labour mobility – the lack of objective need for employees who speak Bulgarian/Romanian in the other country, the insufficiently attractive salaries and labour conditions, the psychological attitudes of the people or something else?

There are serious regional and structural disproportions in Bulgaria and Romania. They make the labour force move both in the country and beyond. At the level of cross-border municipalities and regions, labour market has depleted labour potential in some cases. According to the comments of some representatives of the business circles there is practically no unemployment. There is a need for qualified labour on every level – general workers, engineers, drivers and managerial cadres.

We tried to search for an answer to the question whether labour mobility is a positive or a negative phenomenon. While it is a positive change for a given person, because he/she obtains higher salary, better labour conditions and life in another country. But if we look at labour mobility from the standing point of entrepreneurs and the economy, this mobility has negative effect, because of the outflow of experts and workers. This was the case with Bulgaria and Romania in the last decade. Unfortunately, what we see is labour migration, rather than labour mobility.

One obstacle to cross-border labour mobility could be the psychology of the people on the both sides of the border, which is marked by the sedated way of living and working. Around 90% of the Bulgarians and Romanians in age of labour have housing of their own. It is difficult for them to leave it for a long time, in order to work in another city or country, even if they could leave together with their families. The language barrier is difficult to overcome. Even though a lot of active people on the both sides of the border speak English or German, these language competencies turn out to be insufficient for them to start working in the neighbouring country.

Last, but not least, Bulgarians have greater expectations from the labour market in Romania, because the higher salaries there are attractive. On the other hand, Romanian employers are not keen to pay higher the labour of their potential Bulgarian empolyees. The truth is that people deal with greater difficulty with the language, with the neighbours’ thinking and with the lack of familiarity with these neighbours.

When we asked the Bulgarian and the Romanian firms what are the obstacles to hiring employees from the neighbouring country or posting their workers temporarily beyond the Danube, it turned out that they lack current information on the labour legislation in the other country, they are not aware of the labour practices, of levels of salaries, etc. Another problem is finding competent help for individual consultation on a concrete case, connected to the topic of cross-order mobility and labour legislation. It is difficult to find suitable language courses, which give quality education respectively in Romanian language in Bulgaria and in Bulgarian language in Romania.

That is why BRCCI’s team undertook serious efforts to help in overcoming these barriers and created the Visa Agency.

At the moment of our interview on the site of Visa Agency exist 10 job proposals. 8 of them are located in Rousse, 1 in Giurgiu and 1 in Bucharest. To what extent is it justified to say that the agency has local importance for the region around Rousse and that there is a lack of employers’ interest in hiring cross-border workers? Is there a tendency that mainly large-scale companies look for cross-border workers through Visa? Would you tell how many cross-border workers have searched for job through the Visa Agency, how many of them have accepted the proposed conditions and to what extent have they remained happy with the discovered job?

The Agency has been working for less than an year as a separate entity under the aegis of BRCCI. We have started officially in September 2018 and it is normal that at this stage we are rather regionally recognisable. The last summer we organised the visit of 10 Romanians from Slatina and Craiova to leading companies from Rousse and the region. We have shortly afterwards taken 10 unemployed people, willing to change their professional carrer, to Romania. Both groups had the right to ask questions to their potential employers, so that they could acquaint themselves with the labour conditions, with renting a flat, with medical care, etc. It is true that the employers and their potential employees didn’t manage to cross their interests. But we hope that it will soon happen. We explain it with the people psychology I have already mentioned and with the high expectations before those vists.

The objective data from the survey, which we have been doing with stable companies, registered and active in the cross-border Bulgarian-Romanian region for more than 7 years show that employers plan to widen their activity and they will need new employees in the mid-term. Bulgarian firms will have greater need for hiring new staff than the Romanian companies in the next one year. But in the longer term (two to five years), the need for labour force will be greater in Romanian companies.

At this stage large companies are indeed more active in their search for workers from the other country. They have a greater need for employees, because of the great volume of work they perform.

After all, beside large companies, there are also smaller firms, which try timidly to look beyond the river for their next employees. First of all, they are interested what are the conditions for hiring of the personnel. We receive questions by Bulgarian companies, which have offices in Romania, asking us how to post their Bulgairan workers there. We receive questions by freelancers, who have clients in Romania and consider moving there. The freelancers ask us whether it is necessary to register a firm and what documents would be necessary to change their physical place of work.

We are deeply convinced that labour mobility is a chance for sustainable development of the cross-border region between Bulgaria and Romania. But we need to work actively for providing of easy transport accessibility in the region. The longest water interstate border in Europe still relies only on two bridges and on a limited number of ferryboat lines. The better infrastructure would be a prerequisite for economic growth, labour occupation and will increase the labour mobility within the region.

In November 2018 BRCCI received license for a Center for Professional Education. Which are the field of activity of this center and what should we expect as courses and events by it in 2019?

The Center for Professional Education is a logical continuation of the Visa project and of BRCCI’s activities. In this center we make trainings on employers’ request, when they want their workers to receive a new qualification or to upgrade their knowledge. Of course, we work with individual participants, organising various courses.

Our license from the National Agency for Professional Education and Training gives us the right to make trainings in 17 specialities – most of all in the field of tourism, commerce, industry, agriculture, rivership navigation. Those who complete successfully the courses receive certificates.

At this moment the Center for Professional Education makes a course on Business Romanian language (Advanced level). In May a group of beginners will start studying Romanian language. We coordinate the timing of these courses with the participants, so that they could receive the lessons maximally often and learn the necessary knowledge.

How do you alone evaluate the effect of the project for Visa Agency for Cross-Border Labour Mobility in the last two years? What and to what extent has been changed by this project in the cross-border region between Romania and Bulgaria? What is the future of Visa Agency after the project is completed?

As part of the project we had to gather 10 successful stories of Bulgarians and Romanians, who work in the other country. In the beginning it seemed difficult. We were wondering how will discover and identify those people, whether they will allow us to know their story. It turned out that this is not only easy, but also one of the most pleasant emotions of ours. People were sharing their experience, recalling their beginning, giving advice to those, who had made the step to change the country of work and life. We have rapidly gathered the necessary stories. But gradually other people started contacting us, willing to share their story. We have the approval of the participants to share their stories and soon the public will get to know them.

The project is over, but Visa Agency will continue to work. The effect of the team’s activities will become more and more visible. We have really done a lot of work. We met a lot of people. The feedback they have us make us think that we are on the right way. Years of time are necessary for such a structure to develop its potential. Our work will continue to take into account and be in conformity with the needs and desires of the business.

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!


Author: Vladimir Mitev

Жител на град Русе. Румъноговорящ. Locuitor orașului Ruse. Vorbitor de limba română.

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