Date Publish: 
Friday, September 25, 2020


Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a country that depends heavily on inflows of remittances; in 2018 remittances accounted for 10.5 per cent of the country’s GDP1 making it the second most remittance-dependent country in Europe. Due to this, the economy is extremely vulnerable to foreseen declines in remittances. As the coronavirus pandemic hits jobs and wages in many sectors of the global economy, including those depending on migrant workforce, a decline in the amounts of remittances sent by these workers to their families looks increasingly likely as many of them have already lost or are at risk of losing employment. As they lose income, they will send fewer funds home which in turn will have negative effects on the country’s economy, migrants’ families and communities of origin.

As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, IOM’s mission in BiH conducted a rapid assessment to gather information on the impact of the pandemic on diaspora members from BiH and the consequent implications on their contributions to the home country be it through remittances, investments, return, tourism and others. Data was collected from a total of 217 respondents to an online survey during the period 2 June – 5 July 2020.

The main findings of the survey are as follows:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting diaspora members with irregular residence status more severely. With regards to the impact of the pandemic on diaspora members, the findings suggest that so far, the pandemic did not have a particularly severe impact on BiH diaspora community. However, it needs to be highlighted that specific groups were impacted more severely. For example, the most significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment status (i.e. jobs lost) among the BiH diaspora community was for respondents who did not have a regulated residence status, and many of them have already returned to BiH after losing their jobs. Moreover, the most significant impact of the pandemic on overall diaspora community from BiH was on the reduction of wages.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting negatively on remittances sent by diaspora members. When it comes to remittances, findings show that around 20 percent of respondents changed their plan and will reduce the amount of remittances originally planned to be sent in 2020. Still, 11 per cent of respondents reported they plan to increase the amount of remittances sent. More than half of respondents expect negative effect of reduction of remittances, anticipating that remittance receiving households will experience financial difficulties in the next period. More than 15 percent of respondents reported that they have experienced an increase in costs of sending remittances. A related finding is that now more individuals are sending remittances by money transfer agencies than in 2019, and fewer by banks and post offices and couriers. This can be attributed to the increasing costs of sending remittances through banks and reduced availability of couriers due to the travel restrictions.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting negatively on diaspora members´ contributions to the local economy through tourism. With regards to visits to BiH, the share of individuals planning to visit BiH is lower than in the previous year. The share of respondents visiting BiH in 2019 was 79 per cent compared to 65 per cent of respondents planning to visit BiH in 2020, according to their current plans. When it comes to permanent return, the findings suggest that the ones who were more/less permanent migrants are less/more likely to return, which is fully in line with expectations.
  • When it comes to other contributions, diaspora community contributed to address the COVID-19 crisis in BiH (in addition to regular remittances), mainly by sending more money to BiH (e.g. donations). Interestingly, the diaspora community, which has traditionally served as a further “network effect” that facilitated and encouraged further emigration, have received fewer requests for support for emigration from their relatives and friends during the pandemic. It is probably travel restrictions and additional uncertainty (particularly with job opportunities) brought by the pandemic that has delayed emigration plans by many people from BiH.

This research should be continued by conducting subsequent rounds of the survey in order to monitor further developments as a result of the likely second wave of the pandemic that occurred after the first survey round, looking into more depth not only at individual level, but also community and institutional levels, thus being able to propose an evidence-based integrated socio-economic recovery response.