In the last two decades, regional immigration, mainly from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Kosovo, has replaced the flows of refugees and displaced persons into Croatia, following the break-up of the former Yugoslav republic. Due to the economic downturn, the number of migrant workers has decreased significantly in the shipbuilding and construction industries, which traditionally employ the largest number of migrant workers. 

As part of its preparation for EU accession, Croatia harmonised its Aliens’ Act and Asylum Act with the EU acquis in 2013, and started a significant policy and administrative reform. The Croatian government adopted a strategic document, establishing the migration policy priorities of the Republic of Croatia for 2013 – 2015, as well as the “Action Plan on the removal of obstacles to the exercise of particular rights in the area of the integration of foreigners 2013-2015”. Croatia has ratified most of the main international human rights treaties, but has not signed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their families, nor ratified the European Convention on Nationality (ETS 166). 

Newcomers to Croatia will face barely halfway favourable policies for their integration. With an overall MIPEX score of 42/100, it ranks alongside other ‘new’ immigration countries in the MIPEX on the Balkans, such as Bulgaria, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia.  Croatia’s policies that best promote integration are in areas of European law. Nevertheless, these legal conditions can be undermined by authorities’ rather discretionary procedures, a problem across Central and Eastern Europe. Newcomers to Croatia lack many basic opportunities, such as targeted state support to find the right job, improve the education of their children, or participate in political life. Their children, even if born in the country, are not eligible to be citizens at birth and dual nationality is not accepted, which is contrary to the trend in the majority of MIPEX countries.

Areas of Integration

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    Opening labour market access in new countries of immigration

    The most recent MIPEX study found that many new immigration countries are increasingly opening equal access to the labour market to all legal temporary residents. The major countries of immigration in Southern Europe (Italy, Portugal, Spain) grant newcomers nearly equal opportunities to change jobs and careers, and equal access to general support. Poland in 2009 and Hungary in 2010 granted all non-EU temporary residents the right to self-employment. General and targeted support for migrant workers is already more favourable than average in several new immigration destinations, including Portugal, Spain, Estonia, and Romania.

     Migrant workers in Croatia have slightly more opportunities on the labour market than in most Central European countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. However, some temporary resident workers could spend years trapped in a job below their qualification because they cannot change jobs and sectors, and access immediate self-employment.  Once they can, all legal workers have the right to work in any private sector job and some public sector positions, as in most European countries. Still, their foreign qualifications might not be recognised, while their education and training opportunities are limited because hardly any targeted support is available in Croatia. In contrast to the practices in the major developed immigration countries, migrant workers in Croatia cannot benefit from information campaigns.  Once employed, all migrant workers are entitled to the same working conditions, social security, and access to trade unions, as in a number of leading countries.

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    Conditions and procedure: from law to practice

    Many Central European countries create few legal obstacles for non-EU citizens to apply for family reunion, but maintain very discretionary procedures with many grounds for authorities to reject them. PL does not follow this trend. While the length and cost of the procedure may be burden-some, there are few additional grounds for rejecting their application or withdrawing their status (as in CA, IT, ES). AT, NL provide entitlements in cases of death, divorce, separation and violence, while several countries (e.g. FR, PT, ES, SE, NO, US) are working on clearer residence autonomy for all families after a few years.

     Reuniting families enjoy a right to family reunion around the EU average because Croatia follows the EU standards to a minimum. Sponsors can quickly apply for their spouse and minor children, following the Family Reunion Directive’s minimum standards. Those who meet the slightly favourable requirements are still insecure about their families’ future due to the discretionary procedures in Croatia, as in most Central European countries. Authorities may reject their application or withdraw their permit on wide discretionary grounds, without considering their family’s personal circumstances, below the EU legal standards.  Furthermore, family members in Croatia have limited access to autonomous permit if their sponsor dies or is abusive, unlike traditional countries of immigration, such as Norway, Sweden and Portugal. Positively, reunited families generally benefit from the same rights as their sponsors like in most MIPEX countries. 

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    Adapting schools in recent countries of immigration

    Estonia provides all newcomer pupils with compulsory, continuous, and standardised support to learn Estonian, as well as their own language and culture. Similarly in Czech law, language courses should be needs-based, professionally taught, and regularly evaluated, while mother tongue and cultures should be available. Czech teachers can integrate multicultural education into their curriculum through state-supported pedagogical materials and teacher trainings like the much-used information portal ( Slovakia also recently introduced ‘multicultural education’ into its curriculum as well as intercultural education trainings for qualifying and working teachers.

     All legally residing migrant children in Croatia can enrol in compulsory education. Following the recent amendments of the Law on Education in Primary and Secondary School of 07/15/2013, undocumented pupils will now have limited access to primary education.Still, they will not be able to enrol in secondary school, as in nearly all MIPEX countries, and access higher education or vocational training, as in half of the MIPEX countries. Moreover, Croatian schools are required to provide very few integration measures for migrant pupils, as in most of the Balkan countries. Migrant children can benefit from official language support in primary and secondary education, but are not provided with an opportunity to learn their mother languages. Schools must integrate intercultural education throughout their curricula, which can be modified to reflect the diversity of the local population. However, they are missing out on the new opportunities that immigrants bring to the classroom. For comparison, most new immigration countries in Southern and Central Europe provide additional tuition to master the official language and immigrants’ home languages, specific funding or teachers for schools, and required teacher trainings on immigrants’ needs.  

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    The participation of foreigners in public life at local level

    Although policymakers increasingly list participation in public life as a key area of integration, opening political opportunities often takes time and significant reforms. New immigration countries in Central and Southern Europe have made progress. Several Central European countries have granted long-term residents the local right to vote (Czech Republic in 2001, Estonia and Slovenia in 2002) and to stand as candidates in elections (Lithuania in 2002 and Slovakia in 2003). Most countries have used the new European Integration Fund to support associations working on integration. Local and national authorities have started a dialogue and consultation with associations of foreign residents. Examples range from Portugal and Spain to Ireland, Greece, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland. For instance, the Spanish Forum for the Social Integration of Immigrants has an independent chair and issues opinions or reports on any drafts affecting social integration. The Forum has the right to prepare reports, plans, programs on request or own initiative, and to formulate its own proposals and recommendations. Members from immigrant-run associations participate extensively in the preparation and discussion of reports and resolutions, and secure much government consensus around their recommendations.

    Non-EU citizens are excluded from democratic life in Croatia, just as in Macedonia, Serbia and other new countries of immigration in the region. Only naturalised Croatian citizens have the possibility to inform and improve the policies that affect them daily. Migrants are denied the right to vote and cannot join political parties, unlike in most countries of immigration, including the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia. Moreover, the government does not structurally finance immigrant-run associations or consult them in national, regional, or local consultative bodies (see instead bodies in the Nordic countries).  

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    Reducing state discretion

    Migrants pass numerous state procedures to integrate e.g. for family reunion, long-term residence and citizenship. Procedures that lack explicit rules give discretion to the administration and pose a risk of abuse. Furthermore, applicants are never fully prepared as they do not know what they will be asked.The 2009 CZ language test for long-term residence aimed to ensure equal and reasonable conditions. With an attainable level (A1), free support and professional examiners, this model creates conditions for applicants to succeed, rather than creating more bureaucratic obstacles. Portugal’s 2007 law aimed to create a legal regime fostering legal immigration by opening long-term residence to nearly all categories of legal residents and protecting from deportation anyone born in the country, living there since childhood, or raising their children there.

     Standard in the EU, most newcomers must wait 5 years to apply for equal opportunities to integrate in economic and social life in Croatia. Thanks to EU law, most legal immigrants are eligible to apply for a long-term residence permit after five years’ residence and under rather straightforward conditions. In line with the EU legal standards, half of the residence time as a student or a pupil will still be counted. Still, the high level language and integration requirement could be a major obstacle in practice. Applicants who meet the legal conditions can still be rejected on several grounds due to state discretion that is common in the region.  Once accepted, Croatian long-term residents enjoy indefinite residence rights and equal social and economic rights as in most MIPEX countries. However, they have few protections against expulsion, a problem in most countries (see stronger legal protections in Australia and several Western European countries). 

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    Accepting dual nationality and birthright citizenship

    Dual nationality and some form of birthright citizenship are becoming the norm in most established countries of immigration across Europe. The past decade has seen significant reforms in Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Luxembourg, and, until recently, Greece. Since the last edition of MIPEX in 2010, similar citizenship reform bills or laws have been introduced in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, and Poland. For more, see

     Immigrants’ access to Croatian nationality is slightly unfavourable for immigrant integration, scoring below the European average. Spouses and partners have access to a facilitated naturalisation procedure, although they have to meet the qualifying periods for permanent residents. Applicants are required to go through a rather discretionary procedure, as well as to pass some of the highest language and discretionary integration requirements in Europe, and a “good character” condition. They must give up their previous nationality, unless they have Croatian origins or are Croatian spouses. In contrast, accepting dual nationality is now the trend in the majority of MIPEX countries (e.g. GR, HU, IT, RO, SK). Moreover, Croatian-born children are not automatically entitled to Croatian nationality, as they would be in the majority of MIPEX countries. 

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    Where are the strongest equality bodies in the region?

    Bulgaria’s Protection Against Discrimination Commission, Hungary’s Equal Treatment Authority, and Romania’s National Council on Combating Discrimination offer victims independent advice and can issue binding appealable decisions. Romania’s council is an independent administrative body with a jurisdictional mandate. Hungary’s Authority also has the legal standing to intervene on behalf of the complainant, while also instigating its own procedures, although only against certain public bodies. In the policymaking process, Bulgaria’s Commission can submit legally binding recommendations to the parliament and government to prepare bills and abolish discriminatory laws.

     Croatia has enacted anti-discrimination legislation that is only halfway favourable for integration. Nationality (citizenship) discrimination remains the key weakness in law, unlike in half of the MIPEX countries. The anti-discrimination law provides weaker protections for multiple discrimination (see AT, BG, UK). Croatia has slightly favourable mechanisms to enforce the law. Victims can benefit from financial assistance, shifts in the burden of proof, and alternative dispute resolution procedures. Though the procedure remains rather long, if victims cannot take the case themselves, they can look to NGOs for support and class actions. Judges have the full range of sanctions at their disposal in cases of discrimination, in line with EU standards. The major weaknesses in implementation in Croatia and many European countries are equality policies and the powers of the equality body. Croatia’s Ombudsman can give legal advice to victims, investigate the facts of a case, instigate proceedings in its own name, but cannot make binding decisions and enforce findings, unlike equality bodies in Bulgaria and Hungary. In addition, the Croatian government could do more to promote equality through social and civil society dialogue, equality duties, and compliance monitoring (see PT, ES, UK, and Nordics).