Research proposal




Georgina Szilagyi




Since 1992 a collective of researchers from the Partium Christian University of Oradea (Romania) conducted several investigations of the Hungarian-Romanian-Ukrainian border areas in cooperation with colleagues from the Universities of Szeged and Debrecen (Hungary). The results of our research so far offer a very challenging and contradictory picture of the region. In spite of geographic proximity, after the transformations of 1989-91 the three countries found themselves in very different situations and developed very different strategies of adaptation to the new economical, social, political and legal environment. While Hungary rather successfully advanced towards a fully fledged market economy and European integration, Ukraine and Romania were to a much larger extent affected – although in different degrees – by the disintegration of the communist economic system and the collapse of the Eastern market. These led to a dramatic fall in the life standards and the aggravation of social problems in the two countries concerned.

The data of our previous research on the economic orientation of the inhabitants from the borderland area demonstrate that the adaptation strategies employed by the population are also very divergent. In Hungary, where work opportunities are much larger due to the considerable influx of foreign capital, the positive-constructive ways of adaptation (such as retraining, change of jobs, accepting second employment) are prevailing. By contrast, in the Ukrainian border region – and to less extent also in the areas belonging to Romania - the collapse of industrial enterprises and the resulting huge unemployment forced many people to search for sources of income in Hungary.

In order to prevent an en masse exodus, most of the potential "receiver" states adopted strict legal limitations for Ukrainian and Romanian citizens wishing to work in their territory. In fact, the neighbouring Hungary remained the only largely accessible country for those in search of employment opportunities abroad. However, the policy of Hungarian governments in this field also undergone significant changes and a series of restrictive regulations have been imposed in order to prevent what was called a situation of "unfair competition" which might result in a decreasing of wages and higher unemployment for Hungarian citizens.

Given the present circumstances, any responsible policy aimed at regional development in the conditions of preserving social stability has to take into account the importance of working opportunities offered in Hungary. These still can absorb a significant proportion of the "overpopulation" produced by the economic reform in the border region under consideration. The migration of the working force creates problems and challenges not just in the host country but also in the migrants' country of origin. The incomes earned by guest workers further contribute to social differentiation and polarisation in the migrants' home regions. The families and the local communities which have less access to work in Hungary are pushed even harder than others to economic and social marginality. In the same time migration is also affecting the way local identities are perceived within the region.

In this regard, important micro-regional differences can be identified. One major factor of differentiation seems to be the geographical proximity to Hungary of particular areas belonging to Romania and Ukraine. The residents of the localities and counties near the border are evidently favoured, as they do not necessarily have to combine working with living abroad and may remain in closer contact with their families.

The second important variable to be considered is the ethnic affiliation of workers.There can be no doubt that ethno-political motivations are also playing a role in Hungary's decision to keep its labour-market open - with certain limitations - to the employment-seekers from Romania, since a large proportion of them apparently are ethnic Hungarians. There are a number of favouring factors contributing to this: the guest-workers of Hungarian identity have the knowledge of language, the possibility to communicate easily and to adapt themselves more quickly to the local life, customs and expectations, and they are also believed of having comparatively better technical skills in professions with work supply deficit in Hungary. For all this reasons they have additional motives to work in Hungary and they are more likely to be preferred by the employers as well.

Thirdly, a group with special socio-economic and cultural characteristics needs a special attention and approach: the Roma migrant workers. Due to their transnational character, migratory way of life, low level of integration in the official (legal) economy and the higher level of deprivation caused by the structural changes, they are particularly vulnerable to the temptations of illegal labour markets both inside and outside the country.

The “guest worker” phenomenon is also connected to the emergence of black markets and black economies within the region. The amplification of semi-legal and illegal forms of migration is generating social, political and legal problems which can not be tackled successfully by the governments concerned alone, but should involve regional thinking and cooperation.


My project has both research oriented and policy components . My proposed research aims:

1. to define and assess the regional specificity of social marginality within the Ukrainian-Romanian-Hungarian border region with special focus on the relationship and mutual interconditioning between migration of workers and social marginality.

2. to identify the economic, financial, human, institutional and community resources which can be used by decision makers in order to successfully address poverty within the region.

The main questions to be addressed are:

- To what extent employment opportunities offered for Ukrainian and Romanian citizens in Hungary are acting as economic differentiating factors between regions and ethnic communities within the region? How social marginality has to be defined and redefined as the result of the differentiation produced by the "guest worker" phenomenon ?

- What is the contribution of black economies and black markets in generating sources of income and reproducing social inequality?

- What consequences for the status and perspectives of migrant workers and their families and for the situation of prospective migrants have been produced by the regulations aimed at a restrictive re-definition of legal and illegal employment by the Hungarian authorities and what alternatives are still open?

- What is the current role of governmental social policies at all levels in addressing economic and social marginality and what are the chances for improvement?

On the basis of research results I am going to make public policy reccomendations in the field of cross border co-operation within the concerned region. The major policy objectives to be achieved in connection with the proposed research are:

1. to elaborate a plan for the harmonization of economic, fiscal, social and employment policies and legislative framework within the region in order to atenuate economic discrepancies, alleviate tensions caused by unwelcome migration and improve the situation of disadvantaged social groups

2. to formulate proposals for promoting cross - border initiatives of cooperation which should involve central and local governments, economic enterprises, civil organizations and think tanks active or interested in regional development




The project will be based on a comparative analysis of basic economic and social indicators and a survey of population, guest workers and their families, residential migrants, local governments and NGO-s from the three selected micro-regions of the Hungarian-Ukrainian-Romanian border:

- in Romania : Bihor and Satu-Mare counties

- in Hungary: Hajdu-Bihar and Szabolcs-Szatmar counties

- in Ukraine: Zakarpatska region


 I am planning to study, within the framework of this research project the following dimensions of the research problem:


1; Ethnic affiliation and regional background of guest workers in correlation with other important socio-economic and demographic characteristics such as: type of locality (rural-urban), previous occupational status, type of migration, sex, age, marital status etc.

2; Government policies concerning the changing definitions of legal and illegal employment of foreigners; in what sense the new legal regulations affected the phenomenon.

3; Social, legal and administrative difficulties faced by the "visiting workers". The nature and types of support received in Hungary from official and other organisations, relatives,friends etc. Their strategies for obtaining employment and recognised status; their future plans;

4; The correlation between occupational mobility, residential change and the decision for definitive resettlement (by emigration), both for legal and illegal workers.

5; Consequencies of migration on the social situation in the home countries/regions. Possibilities of reintegration/alternative employment of the migrant workers( with special attention to those without a recognised status) into the economy of their own country (region,locality); potential forms and means of cross-border cooperation in this field between Romania, Hungary and Ukraine.

6. The mutual interconditioning between migration, social situation in the home regions and the social policies of the home countries

The indicators to be compared include: the occupational structure of population; the proportion of active and inactive populational segments ; the rate of unemployment; the proportion of population living below the poverty line, demographic characteristics (populational distribution according to gender, age, family structures etc), data concerning disadvantaged groups, ethnic and national minorities (with particular focus on the situation of Roma), as well as information concerning migration of work force and definitive resettlement.

b. The survey of the 3 selected micro-regions will include:

- a research of populational attitudes and values in order to have a clearer image on their local and regional identity and the way in which these identities interact with other forms of identity (ethnic, national, confessional etc.)

- a survey of guest-workers and their family members and of residential migrants in order to have a picture of their social, economic and cultural background their motivations, assesment of the migrational move they made and their future plans

- interviews with local government and NGO reprtesentatives which will focus on local social and migrational policies and will try to identify methods of improvement and possibilities for a cross border regional co-ordination of strategies

The main research techniques to be employed are:

1.Analysis of relevant statistical and other information contained in official documents, journals, newspapers and specialized literature in the field

2. Empirical data to be collected by various methods

- survey in selected rural and urban areas

- interviews with local community opinion leaders

- content analysis of opinion poll results and media reports

- case studies of selected local communities

- secondary analysis of existing research data



Public policy advocacy


My project will also provide an opportunity for contacting the important stakeholders. With the help of my colleagues from the partner universities in Hungary and Ukraine (the universities of Debrecen and Ujgorod) I will be able to meet with local officials, entrepreneurs, representatives of development agencies and civil organizations in order to build up a coalition around the proposed policy objectives. The results of research and the policy reccomendations will be discussed in a regional seminar with the participation of key players in the regional public policy field and will be published in a book in four languages (English, Romanian, Hungarian and Ukrainian). In addition, I will initiate a public discussion in the regional mass media concerning the issues of cross-border cooperation.