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Can you speak Italian?

Italian companies are increasingly turning to Albanian migrant workers who are going back home to work at their call centres. An EU-funded ILO project is helping employment centres in Albania to modernize and to assist migrant workers looking for a new job.

Article | 02 July 2014
Besmira Hysenberlliu
DURRES, Albania (ILO News) – The coastal town of Durres, Albania’s second city, has a dynamic business centre located just 30 kilometres from the country’s capital, Tirana. The local economy is mainly centred on the harbour, but the town is also a major hub for Italian call centres.

As many Albanians are fluent in Italian, the country has become increasingly popular with Italian companies looking to reduce costs in the follow-up to the economic crisis.

Similar trends can be seen in other European countries, with French call centres opening in Tunisia and Morocco, and British call centres located in India.

I have a law degree from an Italian University, but because of the economic crisis I could not find a job as a lawyer there."
On Durres’ main avenue along the Adriatic Sea, we meet with Besmira Hysenberlliu, a 28 year-old Albanian woman with a law degree who has just returned to the country after spending 13 years in Italy.

“I have a law degree from an Italian University, but because of the economic crisis I could not find a job as a lawyer there. Now I’ve decided to come back to Albania,” she told ILO News.

“I cannot work as a lawyer yet in Albania. First, I need to take a state exam. For the time being, I’m working part-time as an intern in a law firm, but I also need another job to support myself… So I was happy to find one at a newly-opened Italian call centre in Durres.”

Reducing red tape for returning migrants

Hysenberlliu found her job after visiting the brand new employment office in Durres, which benefited from the technical assistance provided by an ILO project financed by the European Union. One of the objectives of the project was to turn old employment offices across the country into modern, well-designed and user-friendly service centres for job seekers, according to the best practices in public employment services in the European Union.

When she visited the office, the young woman was given an appointment with migration specialist Alama Salataj, who quickly identified a job offer for her at a call centre that was just opening up.

Alama Salataj
“Because of their very good knowledge of the Italian language and culture, Albanian migrants coming back home are among the people call centres like to employ. Out of 200 people hired by the call centre that just opened, 30 of them were Albanian migrants coming back from Italy,” she said.

Hysenbelliu is happy with her new life in Durres. She still hopes to work as a lawyer one day and does not have any plans to move back to Italy.

“Call centres started to open up in Durres four years ago and since then some 2,000 new jobs were created,” said Majlinda Mema, head of the Durres branch of the Employment Office. “We are also seeing many Albanian migrants returning from Greece, so we expect Greek call centres to open up here in the near future.”

Low salaries, cheap cost of living

Salaries for people working in Albanian call centres are quite low by Western European standards (about 300 euros a month for a full time job). However, the cost of living in Albania is much lower and call-centre jobs also provide a way for students to finance their studies.

Maurizio Ribandone
Maurizio Ribandone is a consultant for the company in charge of opening the call centre where Hysenberlliu is now employed. He admits that the boom of Italian call centres in Albania has been fuelled by the economic crisis in Italy, but adds that call centres represent an important source for job creation in Albania, a country that – like Italy – suffers from high unemployment.

“We work closely with the employment office to recruit new staff, and we provide an opportunity for people to get new skills,” he said, referring to allegations of social dumping by the industry.

Ribandone also expects more call centres to open in Albania. He believes they will rely less and less on voice calls made to customers and switch to web-based help platforms and social media, which reflects a new trend in costumer services and will require a new set of skills. But Italian language skills would still be needed.

“The return of Albanian migrants from neighbouring countries hit by the economic crisis such as Greece and Italy is a challenge for Albania, which already faces a high level of unemployment, especially among young people,” said Maria da Carmo Gomes, head of the EU-financed ILO project "Human Resources Development" in Albania.

“The new branches of the Employment Offices have staff that has been trained to deal with specific problems faced by migrants, whether they are Albanian nationals returning home or foreign citizens looking for a job or to set up a business in Albania. They certainly increase the chances for migrant job seekers to find a job here,” she concluded.