A Future without Workers or Mobility Strategies for the Future of Work

Kopaonik – On 5 March 2024, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) organized a thought provoking panel within the XXXI Kopaonik Business Forum on the skills mobility partnerships as accelerators for the economies of Serbia and the Western Balkans.

Bringing together highly relevant panelists to discuss ambitious mobility strategies to plan the future of work in the Western Balkans, the panel served as a platform to send an important message about the transformative potential of migration and its impact on economic growth. 

As the UN Migration Agency and the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration that works closely with governmental, non-governmental and private sector partners, IOM is dedicated to promoting regular pathways for the benefit of all. IOM is particularly committed to ensure that regulatory frameworks are in place to facilitate skill mobility, reduce administrative barriers and gaps in labour market access, directly helping employers attract and retain workers in key sectors taking into account right based and ethical recruitment approaches and safeguards.

In light of the fact that WB faces continued emigration, skill gaps and labor shortages affecting the growth potential, Donatella Bradic, Chief of IOM Mission in Serbia, reiterated that sustainable labor mobility strategies and regular pathways can alleviate the current challenges. Ms. Bradic stated that migration is not only essential for sustainable development but also presents a valuable opportunity for harnessing human potential through leveraging migration to deliver these objectives.

“In addition to alleviating pressing labor shortages there is abundant evidence that migrants’ skill and talent drives innovation and thus provides companies that support it with a strategic advantage, while fostering prosperity of the society as a whole,” stressed Ms. Bradic. 

“At IOM, we promote collaborative, effective and sustainable approaches to skill mobility for employment or training purposes, IOM Serbia Chief of Mission added. 

Minister of Family Welfare and Demography, Darija Kisić Tepavčević, stated that the labor market has always been dynamic and that current changes must be accounted for with the demographic transition. She welcomed the Open Balkan initiative and referred to the new Law on the Employment of Foreigners and the agreements that the Republic of Serbia has with various countries.

"The number of foreign investments has increased, and foreign workers are well integrated into society," said Minister Kisić.

From the employer's point of view, Romano Rossi, Vice President of Confindustria Serbia, pointed out both the advantages and disadvantages of employing foreign labor instead of local population. He pointed out that, in the current circumstances, the costs of hiring local labor are lower than imported labor due to numerous restrictions, that there is a tendency for economic migration to be short-term, but also for abuse by employers and agencies actng as intermediaries, which must be systematically addressed.

„One of the solutions is to meaningfully and systematically invest in the local workforce, in order to encourage a longer-term approach through trainings to acquire the required skills, achieve greater employee loyalty to the company, and retain the workforce in the long run," said Mr. Rossi.

The discussion was also aimed at whether Serbia and the Western Balkans are ready to absorb more foreign labor, in terms of an adequate legal framework, immigration procedures and administrative process for employing migrant workers, as well as adjusting the necessary policies.

Direct, practical experience came from Mr. Saša Aćić, Director of the Union of Employers of Republika Srpska, who shared examples of good practices as well as the obstacles in dealing with the complexities of today's labour market. 

"Even with the presence of various agencies acting as intermediaries in employing of foreigners from various parts of the world, employers are most often left to negotiate with the countries of origin on their own, which indicates that the system is not sufficiently integrated," explained Aćić.

He emphasized the need for control mechanisms that would effectively monitor the work of intermediary agencies, but also the necessity for the economies of the Western Balkans to work together to retain the workforce and to regularize the flows of economic migration.

Distinguished panelists concluded that a whole of government approach, engaging various sectors, is essential in the process of enabling ambitious mobility strategies across Western Balkans. 

Both business leaders and authorities should put migration on their strategic agenda and take a stand for migrant rights.

For more information, please contact the IOM Serbia at