This chapter focuses on the group of women who migrated internationally. To distinguish them from the women who migrated abroad for education (Chap. 7) but to avoid limiting this group to only women who migrated for work purposes, I refer to them as international migrant women. Common to this whole group is that after their international migration experience, they returned to Tirana instead of their hometowns. The majority of the women in this group are married, while two are single, and two are divorced. The women who form the core of this chapter are the following:

Marta is a 34-year-old woman from the city of Fier. Marta had finished high school in 1996, but she had been unable to find paid employment since graduating. So in 1998, she migrated to Switzerland with a fake passport to join her husband, who had migrated there earlier through illegalised ways, and together they requested asylum. During her stay in Switzerland, Marta was exclusively in charge of housework, as well as caring for her husband and her daughter. In 2006, Marta returned to Tirana with her child after failing to obtain asylum in Switzerland. She divorced from her husband a few years later. Her ex-husband still lived in Europe as an illegalised migrant, though he had left Switzerland. In 2012, Marta was self-employed and lived with her daughter in a rented apartment in Don Bosko.

Migena is a 40-year-old woman from the city of Pogradec. She lost her job in the early 1990s and migrated to Greece with her fiancée in 1994. She migrated on a regular, short-term visa but could not obtain a long-term residence permit and stayed there in an illegalised way. In Greece, Migena worked mostly as a babysitter and domestic worker, while her husband was in construction. After failing to regularise her long-term residence in Greece, she returned to Tirana in 2002. In 2012, at the time of the interview, she lived with her husband and her child in an owned apartment in Don Bosko and worked for a private bank in Tirana. Migena has a master’s in economics.

Elona is 39 years old, comes from Lezhë and first migrated to Greece in 1994. Upon graduating from high school in 1991, Elona started work in the flour mill factory in Lezhë. She left Albania on an illegally purchased visa to follow her boyfriend to Greece. During her stay in Greece, Elona first worked as a domestic and care worker in a village, while her partner worked as an agriculture worker. Later, she was employed in a bakery shop. In 2004, Elona and her husband returned to Tirana, where they ran a bakery together. She lived with her husband and children in an owned apartment in Komuna e Parisit.

Juli is 38 years old and from a village near the town of Tepelenë. In 1993, she had already graduated from high school and was jobless. That year, she migrated to Greece with her husband, his brothers and their wives, crossing the border through hidden pathways in the mountains. In Greece, Juli worked as a domestic and care worker, a cleaning lady for various businesses and later as a hairdresser. While in Greece, she divorced from her husband, who remained there. She returned from Greece after 13 years and lived with her child in Tirana, in an owned apartment in Komuna e Parisit, where she ran a hairdressing shop. Juli had obtained Greek citizenship.

Denisa is 45 years old and from the city of Gjirokastër. In Gjirokastër, Denisa worked in local government but lost her job in the mid-1990s. In 1996, she migrated to Greece on her own, while her family (husband and child) stayed in Gjirokastër. Denisa migrated in a legalised way based on her Greek ethnicity. She engaged in a pendular movement between Greece and Albania, working as a domestic worker in a tourist village 6 or 7 months a year and returning to Gjirokastër for the rest of the year. In 2007, Denisa, her husband, child and parents-in-law moved to Tirana. In 2009, she emigrated again. This time she went to the United Kingdom with her child, while her husband and his parents stayed in Tirana. She returned to Tirana in 2012, while her child remained in the UK. She and her child have obtained Greek citizenship. She has a university degree, and in 2012, she worked in Tirana as a domestic worker and lived with her husband and parents-in-law in an owned apartment in Komuna e Parisit.

Arlinda is 46 years old and from Kukës. She earned a professional high school diploma and worked as a nurse in the regional hospital in Kukës. With her family, husband and two children, she migrated first to Tirana in 1999, where she was unable to find a stable job, and then to Greece in 2002. A Greek employer vouched for them, making their migration possible. In Greece, she worked as a domestic worker and cleaning lady. In 2007, she returned to Tirana with her husband, while her children remained in Greece to study. In 2012, she had retired from the labour market and lived with her husband in an owned apartment in Don Bosko, while her children lived abroad.

Mimoza is 44 years old and from Saranda, the southernmost city in Albania. She left for Greece in 1993 with her husband, who belonged to the Greek minority population in the country. In 1993, Mimoza had graduated from university and worked as an accountant in a factory in her native town. She and her husband migrated with regular visas. In Greece, she worked as a cleaning lady at several places, as well as a domestic worker. Mimoza, her husband and her child returned to Tirana in 2004. In 2012, she ran a dry-cleaning business with her husband. Mimoza, her husband and her two children obtained Greek citizenship through her husband’s Greek ethnicity. Their family lived in an owned apartment in Komuna e Parisit.

Irida is 36 years old and from a village near the city of Shkodër. In the early 1990s, she migrated with her parents and brothers to the city of Shkoder. In 2000, Irida migrated to Italy on a regular work visa after graduating from the University of Shkodër and not finding a job. In Italy, she first worked as a domestic worker, then as a hairdresser and undertook professional training in body care and hairdressing. She returned to Albania in 2007. In 2012, she was single and lived alone in Tirana in a small, owned apartment in Komuna e Parisit, where she ran a beauty centre. Irida had a long-term Italian residency permit.

Rovena is 42 years old and from Fier. She migrated to Greece in 1993, after graduating from the professional nursing high school of Vlora and working as a nurse in Fier. Rovena migrated alone with an illegally purchased short term visa, while her parents stayed in Fier. In Greece, she worked first as a domestic care worker and later as a nurse. She returned to Tirana 14 years later. In 2012, Rovena worked as a nurse in a hospital in Tirana, was single and lived alone in an owned apartment in Don Bosko. At the time of this research, Rovena had a Greek long-term residency permit.

5.1 Leaving Albania

5.1.1 Multiple Motivations to Migrate Abroad

These women’s migration projects were triggered by diverse, entangled factors. First, challenging economic situations and loss of employment appear to be significant motivations for migrating abroad. Family and kinship relations were essential drivers in the decision-making process to migrate, as highlighted by Julie Vullnetari (2012). Decision-making involved negotiation with household members, rather than being individual choice. Family is the institution where the interplay of gendered power relations is most substantial. The interviews showed that these women held different positions in this interplay. Some women have the same say as their husbands or parents in the decision to migrate. Others bypassed their parents when they posed an obstacle. Some used the support of their family to be able to migrate and achieve their objectives. Others were relegated to a marginalised role in the interplay of the gendered power relations behind the decision-making process.

Focussing further on the specific reasons these women decided to migrate abroad, the interviews discussed here show that diverse and entangled factors trigger these women’s migration projects. Irida, aged 36, had first migrated with her family from a rural area to a city when she was 16 years old:

The economic situation of my family was awful. We had moved from the villages to the city of Shkodër, but we were in even a worse position as my parents were unemployed, and we lived on only the salary of my brother.

In Irida’s story, the first internal move did not translate into a bettering of the family’s financial situation, which in turn prompted an international movement. This time, Irida migrated on her own to Italy, at the age of 24. International migration is often the next step when internal migration does not accomplish the expected outcomes. A second research participant, Rovena, recounted a similar story: she had left on her own for Greece early in the 1990s, when she was aged 23, because of her family’s difficult economic situation. But unlike Irida, when Rovena decided to immigrate to Greece, she made no mention of her plans to her parents.

I told them nothing about my plans ... I told them a few days before that I was leaving. I was 23 at that time. My poor mother, she was terrified by this idea. She was expecting me to marry and settle down, and now I was telling her that I was going away alone. I told them only once I had prepared everything, as otherwise, it could have been harder ... Me, that young, a young woman migrating alone, how terrifying that would have been for my parents if they knew beforehand. Them not knowing about my plans was more comfortable for them and me.

Rovena’s account showed how her migration on her own to Greece transgresses the pre- vailing gender expectations regarding marriage and settling down. So they would not impede her plans to migrate, Rovena sidestepped her parents and prepared to relocate with the support of her cousins who had already settled in Greece. Irida, in contrast, said she had taken the decision together with her parents and brother, in a consensual way due to their shared financial hardship.

Irida and Rovena stand out as young, single women who migrated internationally intending to help their families who faced financial hardship. Cases like this do not usually figure in the common imaginary of Albanian migration, but they do exist. Economic migration and the need to earn a living for a family is associated with masculinity, but these roles are not exclusive to men; single women, too, migrate to support their parents financially, as shown by these interviews. In the challenging economic and social conditions of post-1991 Albania, the decision to relocate seems to have been inevitable for many women, as well as men.

Loss of employment also provides the primary motivation for Denisa, who has Greek ancestry and whose parents had already moved to Greece in the early 1990s. She says that after she lost her job, and her husband downgraded in a less paid position, the family’s economic conditions deteriorated. Denisa migrated on her own to find work in Greece, while her husband, daughter and parents-in-law stayed in their native city of Gjirokastër. Similarly, Migena was pushed to migrate to Greece and work as a babysitter after losing her job after the fall of the communist regime:

I was unemployed. … I had worked at an elementary school, but some of the positions were eliminated. I was young and a new hire, so I was also among the firsts to be dismissed. … In Pogradec, there were no opportunities in sight.

Nevertheless, even though the acute economic crisis was often what motivated these women to migrate, it was by no means the exclusive reason to do so. There were a multitude of other reasons that pushed women to migrate. Mimoza left for Greece in 1993, at the age of 25, as a young married woman. Her husband was a minoritar – a member of a Greek ethnic minority in Albania. They benefited from this as they were able to get visas to enter Greece quickly and obtain residency permits and even Greek citizenship, which was quite impossible for those of Albanian ethnicity (Vullnetari, 2012). Mimoza pointed out that the couple were not in bad economic shape at the time. She says:

I was working in a factory as an accountant. It was a good job, an excellent job indeed for the time. However, at the beginning of the 1990s, things changed, and what was previously considered a fantastic job, it wasn’t anymore. … Many of the people we knew, friends, relatives, they had already migrated or were planning to leave for Greece. I think it was more this environment that pushed us to go, rather than proper financial reasons.

According to Mimoza, more than ‘proper financial reasons’, it was the environment of widespread migration around them that pushed her to leave with her husband. As many Albanians migrated to Greece post-1991 and international migration became a mass phenomenon, this reinforced the sense of relative deprivation. In relative deprivation, individuals and households migrate not only and necessarily to maximise their total income but also to improve their position in comparison to other reference groups (Stark & Taylor, 1991). Mimoza’s case reveals the influence of what is called the ‘culture of migration’ (Massey et al., 1993, 452) that emerges within sending areas. In essence, migration drives further migration because people’s values and cultural views shift as it becomes commonplace, increasing the probability of future migration.

Another reason for migration is to use it as a strategy to escape constraining gender expectations in women’s home towns. Elona reported:

I didn’t want my family to know about my boyfriend as a lot of troubles would come of it. I didn’t know if they would agree, so we preferred to keep it a secret. If they knew they could separate us or force me to marry someone else or not ... I didn’t know what could happen if they knew ... When he told me that he was thinking of leaving for Greece, I immediately felt that I should go with him. So we could solve our situations with our families. If we left together, they wouldn’t be able to oppose us anymore but would have to accept our relationship.

Migration thus becomes a means of salvation not only from economic hardship but also from gender constraints, particularly the fear of arranged marriage. John Davies (2009) and Adriana Baban (2003) both highlight the persistence of arranged marriage in contemporary Albania, and John Davies (2009) reports young women leaving the country through the practice of elopement due to fear of arranged marriages by their families and the social control of their kin. Arranged marriage continues to be present in Albania, especially in rural areas, where gender norms and expectations for young women and girls are more prevalent and have a higher restraining power.

For other women, like Juli, their decision to migrate was also tied to the geographical imaginaries related to migration, as highlighted in the previous chapter. Julie speaks about the motivations that pushed her to migrate:

The idea that I had about ‘abroad’ was lovely. … The young female dancers on TV, the clothes that other emigrants were sending back to the village … I am not sure I was thinking about … making money. It was more about some beautiful dresses and hair models [laughs] and this kind of things that I had in mind before leaving for Greece.

Juli’s story illustrates how the migratory project is shaped by imaginaries, fuelled both by earlier migration (e.g., the clothes sent to Greece by earlier migrants) and by television. The glittering imaginary of abroad seen on tv, influences the migration processes of young Albanians, as explained in the previous chapter and by Mai (2004) in her research on the role of television in Albanian migration. Television depicts an imaginary of ‘alternative lifestyles’ (Mai, 2004, 18), ‘beautiful clothes and hair models’ that, for Juli, contrast with her life in her hometown.

Finally, I present the case of Marta, a case which centres on family unification: she migrated to join her husband, who had previously migrated abroad. Women’s migration for family reunification purposes is a well-known aspect of late 1990s Albanian migration (King & Vullnetari, 2012). Marta says that she had no specific reason or desire to migrate, but her husband insisted that she join him:

My husband was telling me on the phone that we needed to be together as couples do and also that he needed me there as migrant couples in Switzerland received better treatment.

Moreover, she adds that her father told her that by migrating, she could help her parents who were in a difficult financial situation. Marta found herself in a situation where both her parents were pushing her to relocate so that she could support them and her husband was pressing her to migrate so that he could improve his own living conditions.

To conclude, the cases analysed in this section fit into the framework of those studies that approach migration as a process that cannot be explained by a single motivation (Vianello, 2009; Kihato, 2009; Riaño & Baghdadi, 2007). These cases demonstrate, instead, that the migration process is triggered by various entangled reasons and factors related to both the sending and the receiving countries.

5.1.2 Crossing Country Borders – The Role of Social Networks

Before going into the details of the role of social networks and the different migratory regimes undertaken by these women, I need to talk about the factors that push these women to migrate abroad and not to Tirana, like the women in Chap. 4 did. Expanding on the roots of this migratory choice gives us further insights that can deepen our analysis of the role of social networks and migratory regimes themselves. The interviews reveal two primary reasons that drive the decisions to migrate internationally instead of internally. First, Greece and Italy appear to offer better financial opportunities and living conditions than Tirana. These are quite significant reasons for those women migrating for economic reasons, as their statements indicate:

Denisa: In Greece, I could work and earn money, which was impossible in Albania.

Rovena: I had no [economic] opportunities in Albania, for sure.

Irida: I just wanted to go to another country and work there to help my family and myself.

International migration to Greece and Italy was and is considered to be a solution for improving complicated economic situations and can be considered to be a diversifying and risk-minimising strategy for households.

However, not everyone has the same opportunities to migrate internationally, which brings us to the second main reason that determines the type of migration these women undertook: the feasibility of the migration project. Almost all women in this group state that they chose an international destination where they had family or friendship or acquaintance networks that were already settled in these places. Similarly to internal migration (Chap. 4), international migration appears to be achievable due largely to pre-existing connections. Various types of social networks—friends and acquaintances, family and parents—are mobilised to enable the move to Greece, Italy and Switzerland by taking care of logistical details for crossing the border, accommodations and employment, for instance. In Albanian migration, social networks stand as critical factors determining the decision to migrate and the choice of destination (Vullnetari, 2007).

In the following, I go into more detail about the role of these social networks in leaving Albania and entering other countries. I elaborate on the legalised and illegalised ways used by these women to cross national borders. Boyd and Grieco (2003) and Wihtol de Wenden (2015) say that the decision to undertake a migratory project is not the same as being allowed to exit or to enter a particular country. Nation-states enact policies and affected the gendered international migration process through constraining the crossing of borders. This also arises in the context of Albanian migration. As mentioned in Chap. 3, since 1993, Albanian citizens have not been legally impeded by their own government from freely leaving the country. Still, to enter another country, they have to comply with its generally strict migration policies and visa regime. When confronted with the impossibility of entering some countries with regular documents, many Albanian migrants made the choice to enter through illegalised ways, especially to two neighbouring countries, Italy and Greece.Footnote 1 Migrating through illegalised ways (e.g., mountainous paths to Greece and speedboats to Italy) has further shaped perceptions of Albanian migration as a male affair, with men seen as more likely to take on these risks.

The women in this chapter had mixed experiences of crossing borders and entering other countries. Social networks play roles in all the interviewees’ narratives, so let us first consider the cases of those women who migrated through legalised ways. Irida immigrated to Italy on a regular work visa after her close kin succeeded in finding her a job with a standard contract and an employer available to sign documents for her. Denisa and Mimoza migrated to Greece on legal documents due to the minoritar status of their mother and husband, respectively. Minoritars have advantages over Albanian citizens of Albanian ethnicity in getting entry visas to Greece and obtaining residency permits and even Greek citizenship (these are quite impossible for those of Albanian ethnicity) (Vullnetari, 2007, 2012). Again, kin networks lend significant support. Denisa took on the project of working in Greece after her parents’ migration as she could find a job through their acquaintances. Mimoza says that her husband’s relatives waited for them at the Albanian-Greek border checkpoint and took them to Athens, where they provided accommodations for several months. Also, Arlinda and Migena migrated to Greece on regular visas made possible by their kinship and networks of acquaintances. For Migena, her father’s acquaintances enabled her to get a short-term visa and find a job as a babysitter in Cavalla:

My father had established some networks with Greek business people who were coming to Korçë and Pogradec, and he found me this opportunity in the city of Cavalla in Greece. They also helped him with my visa.

Similarly, Arlinda recounts that her husband’s relatives who migrated earlier to Greece facilitated their move to the same country, helping them secure the documents necessary for a visa and getting jobs for Arlinda and her husband. Parents, relatives and acquaintances networks are mobilised in the cases of the interviewed women migrating through legalised ways.

Other women have migrated through various illegalised ways, according to their interviews. Juli speaks about her migration to Greece:

We left together, my husband and I and his brothers with their wives. … We went illegally through some border villages near Gjirokastër. … What I remember is that we could not carry much with us as we had to walk and climb a lot. … We took with us some byrek and a little milk and water; that is what I remember. A villager from the near villages who was often doing this thing for money took us near the Greek border. I have no idea where it was exactly. If you told me now to go and find the place, I could not. I think I was very much shocked by what was happening. The only thing I remember is that we had to walk and hide in some woods for a couple of days until we met the guy who would pick us up on the Greek side.

Juli states that people from their village who had already migrated to Greece helped them contact local smugglers who knew how to navigate the illegalised mountain paths. These smugglers from nearby villages in Gjirokastër also collaborated with residents of the Greek border villages. Juli adds that during her family’s first months in Greece, their co-villagers who had already settled in the country hosted them.

Fake documents and illegally purchased visas are among the other ways these migrant women used to leave Albania. Elona, Rovena and Marta left with illegally obtained visas or counterfeit passports. As Elona says in her interview, she migrated 2 years after her boyfriend left via the mountain border. With the money he sent, she arranged for a Greek visa through a visa dealer in Tirana. Elona had to handle all the paper and preparation in Albania by herself as her family did not know about her plans:

The hardest part was to go to Tirana for the visa because I had to go in secret, without telling my family.

Likewise, Rovena says that she had to deal with the passport and visa issues herself. She had no passport at the time, so she had to apply for a new one, which was not accessible due to bureaucracy. To pay the bribes for the passport and to buy a Greek visa through a dealer in Tirana, she borrowed money from her cousins in Greece. Marta says that she migrated with a fake passport arranged by friends of her husband. She flew to Switzerland through Italy and was ‘frightened to hell’ as she had never left her hometown, and now she was travelling with a fake passport, and ‘anything could happen’ if the border police caught her. In addition to the support of partners, husbands and relatives, the networks mobilised to migrate through illegalised ways included co-villagers who had previously migrated and networks of visa dealers and migrant smugglers.

Juli, Elona, Rovena and Marta show that young women also migrate through unsafe, illegalised channels. Although these women might be fewer than men, the image of the Albanian man who migrates through risky, clandestine ways does not provide a complete picture of Albanian migration. Women, too, have undertaken risky migration projects. In the context of Eastern European migration, Andrijasevic (2003, 256) explains that the persistent absence of women from visual depictions of border-crossing emerges in a discursive scenario that figures migrant women not as protagonists but as characters endowed with little or no agency. In sum, Albanian women who cross borders through risky, illegalised ways remain under-researched and under-documented but certainly exist.

5.2 Life Abroad

In this section, I analyse some particular elements of the economic experiences of the interviewed women while they were abroad. Their experiences abroad are far more expansive than I can present in this section. Due to space constraints and the need to focus on their post-return experiences, here I concentrate particularly on their economic activity that builds a unique, yet still familiar story of these women’s bargaining power and capacity to adapt to new social realities. The section also highlights some migration trajectories mostly invisible in the broader picture of Albanian women’s migration, such as pendular migration.

5.2.1 Filling the Care Gap in Greece and Italy

Greece and Italy seemed to be the most accessible countries for finding a job for Albanian migrants, at least until the mid-2000s when the first signs of the global economic crisis emerged. While these two countries’ proximity to Albania accounts for a significant portion of their attractiveness to Albanian migrants, equally important is the structure of each country’s labour market and welfare systems that allowed Albanian migrants, men and women, to find jobs. In particular, Southern European countries were attractive to migrants due to their extended informal sector (Vaiou, 2002; Vianello, 2009; Lyberaki, 2008), employing men mostly in the construction industry and women in the domestic industry. Accordingly, most women discussed in this chapter work in the domestic sector, and this subsection focuses on domestic care workers.

Three main points regarding these migrant women’s economic activities in the destination countries emerge from the interviews. First, Albanian female migrants appear to fill a care gap in Italy and Greece, often allowing Italian and Greek women to engage in productive work. For instance, Elona’s first job in a Greek village consisted of performing housework and babysitting. She says that her employers were a Greek couple who owned the property where she and her boyfriend worked. After Elona’s arrival, the wife, who previously dealt primarily with the household, started to work with the husband, in the production and sales of olive oil and jam. The arrival of Elona enables her Greek female employer to shift from housework and care duties to business-related tasks. Rovena also says that she cared for an old couple, allowing their daughter to return to her productive employment as a full-time lawyer in a law firm. After the mother’s illness, and prior to Rovena’s arrival, her Greek employer had shifted to part-time work while caring for her parents, but Rovena’s position allowed her to resume her full-time job. Migela describes a similar situation:

I was working as a babysitter for a young couple in Cavalla. I was also teaching some English to the two little children I was caring for. ... They were quite a wealthy couple; they were both dentists and had their own dental cabinet. The wife had stayed at home for some time as the children were little and only one year apart. … They were looking for a young, educated woman to care for the children regularly. She [the female employer] returned to her job, and they both were at work all day long.

These cases illustrate and confirm the results of other research showing that most women migrants in Greece have filled the care gap left by women entering the domain of productive work. In the context of ‘rudimentary’ (Lyberaki, 2008, 18) or ‘insufficient and inadequate’ (Vianello, 2009, 187) welfare states in Greece and Italy, the productive work of Greek and Italian women created a vacuum of domestic and care work that needed to be covered. Migrant women then served as the ‘deae ex machina’ (‘just-in-time goddesses’ Lyberaki (2008, 12) performing domestic and care work and facilitating Greek women’s entry into the productive sector.

A second common point is the interviewees’ engagement in informal jobs and bargaining within their informal economic activities. Almost all report working informally. Sometimes, they combined informal and formal employment to comply with the procedures for their legalised stay in Greece, as Arlinda highlights:

I was doing two jobs, one with a regular contract and the other informally so that I could get some extra cash that we were just putting aside.

The interviewees explained how they bargained with their informal employers for their work status with the intention of increasing their financial resources:

Mimoza: Both jobs [Mimoza was doing] were unreported as it was better for the employers and me. They were paying me directly in cash.

Similar setups arise in the accounts of other interviewees, such as Rovena, Denisa, Elona and Migena, who state that they were paid in cash for their informal work. Rovena reports that working informally suited both her and her employers best, as they did not have to pay taxes. She knew that if she were a declared employee, then her salary would be lower, hence this mutual arrangement. As Vaiou (2002) elaborates, the informal sector of southern European countries attracted migrants, and the state allowed the informal sector to fill the care gap. Working in the black created arrangements that allowed migrant women to save more money, but such an arrangement became necessary as many of these women were illegalised migrants Lyberaki (2008, 16). In this context, female domestic care workers emerge as active subjects in a continuous process of bargaining.

However, informal domestic care work also entails many disadvantages, starting with the fact that it is not regulated by national labour codes. Women involved in this sector are deprived of any labour right and access to the social security scheme (Michel, 2011) and may be subjected to low pay and long working hours. Furthermore, the lack of regular contracts and payment of social insurance contributions keeps them from applying for residency cards. For instance, Migena explains how the process of getting a residency card was complicated for her. She had mostly worked informally and did not have the social security stamps necessary to apply for a residency card. As explained by Hatziprokopiou (2006), these stamps prove that employers have registered the employee and paid contributions to the employee’s social insurance. Consequently, only applicants who were formally employed could obtain residency permits, and the women, who mostly worked in the black, were disadvantaged in this regard (Hatziprokopiou, 2006). For example, in 1998, in the first regularisation programme conducted by the Greek government, Albanian migrant women made up only 17 per cent of the Albanian migrants who applied (Vullnetari, 2012, 71).

Moreover, Migena, Juli and Elona report that often they had to work extra hours and sometimes had no days off during the week. Nevertheless, they also mention that they needed this extra work to save money and gain their employers’ much-needed support to find other jobs or ‘even a respectable and not expensive paediatrician’ as Elona says. Employers also helped migrants manage administrative issues and the difficult application procedures for obtaining residency permits. For instance, Rovena reports:

It was necessary to have a good relationship with her [Rovena’s employer]. She and her husband knew a lot of people, and I needed their help if I wanted to apply for my residency card. … I didn’t need holidays back then but rather a good relationship with my employers…. After her [Rovena’s employer] parents passed away, she and her husband helped me find another job, as a nurse, with a regular contract and paid insurance. … If it weren’t for them, I could never have gotten a residency permit. … I still keep regular contact with her [Rovena’s employer] and her daughter.

Rovena’s case illustrates the bargaining between working informally (with no labour rights and social security) and the advantages of the employers’ support in a wide range of issues. Female migrants and their employers have a negotiating relationship. Bonizzoni (2016) has analysed similar accounts of combining informal with formal jobs as a means to make money and obtain legalised residency permits among migrant women in Italy.

The third main point concerns the low-skilled jobs these women take on, such as positions as domestic care workers, cleaners in offices and factory workers. These jobs are beneath the educational level of most women interviewed. Among the interviewees, the lowest school degree obtained by the women was a high school diploma, while four women had university diplomas. Nevertheless, these jobs appear sufficient to grow their financial capital. The figure of the skilled migrant working in low-skilled jobs that is beneath their educational or professional qualifications appears in much of the literature on migration (Morokvasic and de Tinguy, 1993; Gërmenji & Gëdeshi, 2008; Kofman et al., 2000). Parreñas (2001) refers to this situation as contradictory class mobility, as women undertake less socially valued but better paid jobs for a reduced social status and improved financial situation.

Similarly, Vaiou (2002) reports that migrant women in Greece worked in positions that were below their skill level and education but were better paid than jobs in Albania. This contradictory situation of Albanian migrants may also be described by what Nieswand (2011, 3) calls the ‘status paradox of migration’: migrants’ qualifications are undervalued in their destination countries, and they accept lower, informal positions, resulting in a loss of social status in the receiving country. At the same time, amid growing global economic inequalities, the higher financial capital in the receiving state gives migrants higher status in their native countries as they send remittances or when they return. Similarly, the women at the focus of this research bargain with their qualifications by doing informal, low-skilled jobs and bargain with their informal employers to increase their financial capital. Their experiences fit within the frame of the status paradox of migration, as is further observed upon their return to Tirana.

5.2.2 Engaging in Pendular Migration Practices

As already shown in this research and other studies (Vullnetari 2012; Olsson 2014) Albanian women are much more present in the migration process than represented the imaginary of post-1991 Albanian migration. As seen in this study, Albanian migrant women not only migrate internally and internationally but also engaged in multiple migration trajectories, combining internal and international migration, and even circular migration practices, as illustrated in the case of Denisa. In fact, Denisa embraces pendular migration, travelling back and forth and spending several months a year in her country of origin as defined by Fokkema, Cela and Witter (2016, 142). Though this is one particular case, I think it is important to go more in-depth into her experience and highlight some moments of her migration process.

Denisa reports that she worked with several families, Greek and foreigners, in a coastal area, where many people owned summer houses. With her primary objective being to save money, she says that she was fortunate as she could live for free at her parents’ home. She worked only from March to October, and during the winter, she stayed with her husband, child and parents-in-law in Gjirokastër:

That was an excellent solution as I could work [in Greece]. On the other side [in Albania], I was spending about half of the year with my family, so that they would not forget me [laughs]. … I could take care of my daughter… and I was quite serene as the money was not lacking, and I knew I had a job, quite a fruitful career indeed.

Pendular migration is appropriate for Denisa as it allows her to be the primary breadwinner in her family but also continue, as much as possible, to perform her role of mother and caregiver. Denisa’s accords with research on pendular migration by women who move without settling in the destination country. Pendular migration with a neighbouring country is related to constructed gender roles positioning women as caregivers (Morokvasic, 2003; Dahinden, 2010) and allows them to combine productive work and caring for the family (Dahinden, 2010; Morokvasic, 2003) and to be a ‘transnational mother’ (Hondagneu-Sotelo & Avila, 1997, 549). This position of transnational motherhood is possible as Denisa’s parents-in-law have stepped into her caregiver role by taking care of her child while she is away. In most cases, this transference of the caregiver role enables migration by mothers, as highlighted in the findings of Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila (1997) and Olwig (1999). The case of Denisa, a breadwinner in Greece and caregiver in Albania, exemplifies the notion of transnational double presence (Morokvasic, 2008; Vianello, 2013) when women have a presence in two different realities, the public and the private sphere, paid labour and the family, the destination and the sending country. Through pendular migration, Denisa thus can combine the breadwinner and the maternal role.

Denisa can move between Albanian and Greece as she has obtained a residency permit based on her mother’s Greek ethnicity. With a Greek residency permit and later a Greek passport, Denisa can quickly move between the two countries and construct a transnational double presence. Doing so would be very difficult if she were staying illegally or if she were in the process of legalising her stay in Greece. This would entail a very complicated process of re-entering Greece, as shown by Olsson’s (2014) work with migrant women in Greece. Women without a legalised presence in Greece cannot go back and forth between Greece and Albania due to the physical difficulties and high costs of the illegalised border crossing (Olsson, 2014). The case of Denisa is particular as most of her migration project follows a pendular trajectory. Nevertheless, other circular trajectories may be observed among returnee women upon their return to Albania, as shown in the next section.

5.3 Return from Abroad and Life in Tirana

In this final sub-chapter, I elaborate on the participants’ reasons for returning to Albania and settling in Tirana rather than their hometowns. The interviewed women returned before the economic crisis of the late 2000s in Greece and Italy. Thus, unlike other recent research on return migration in Albania, the financial crisis in the destination country does not appear among the reasons for return.

These international migrant’s relocation back to Albania was not a straightforward case of return migration. Rather, it was also entailed a move to a new settlement – Tirana, the capital of the country – which makes it challenging to define their movement as a simple return. In the interviews, it became clear that the women’s double move is a complex process precipitated by various reasons which pushed these women to return from international migration and move to Tirana rather than their native cities or villages. The variety of significant reasons that drove the women to leave their destination countries and return to Albania included: the desire to invest in their native land; the need to care for family members; and the impossibility of staying legally in the destination country. They preferred Tirana over their other hometowns as it offered better opportunities for entrepreneurship, employment, and their children’s education.

5.3.1 Returning from Abroad

Let us first observe the reasons behind the decision of these migrants to leave Greece, Italy and Switzerland and return to Albania. First, based on the interviews, some women returned to Tirana to invest in their own business. As Elona says:

We [Elona and her husband] were planning our return. … We wanted to start our business … We thought that probably it was time to return and begin this adventure of ours.

Returning to invest in Tirana was also the reason that motivated Mimoza’s return. She says that she returned to Albania with her family (husband and children) as she and her husband had saved some money and wanted to invest in Albania. They now run a dry-cleaning shop. Juli also says that she returned to invest in her own business as a hairdresser, knowing that she could have more opportunities in Albania than Greece. Plus, Juli needed support to care for her child. Juli says that after divorcing from her husband, she lived in Greece with her child and had difficulty working and caring for the child at the same time, as she had no other support. In Albania, she could more easily devise a solution to her child care and housework problem: she could hire a domestic worker. Juli’s return project is thus supported by the opportunity she had in Albania to transfer her caregiver role to a domestic worker who required a lower salary than a domestic worker in Greece would require. The migration trajectories presented here are linked to women’s constructed roles as caregivers. Irida, reasons for returning are double-edged too: she wanted to invest in her own business and also care for her parents. Irida adds that she needed to build a successful business to continue to help her parents in Shkodër financially and at the same time, be closer to them.

That brings us to the women’s second main reason for returning from abroad: caring for family members. In addition to Irida, Rovena and Denisa also mention this reason as one of their motivations in their interviews. Gender affects the return project as caring for relatives (in this case, parents), is considered women’s responsibility. Following Sri Tharan (2010), being close to an ageing parent is often a main motivation driving migrant women to return to their native countries. Rovena clearly states that her main reason for returning to Albania was to take care for her parents because they were quite old. Sine Tirana is close to Fier, where her parents lived, she visit them almost every weekend to check on her parents’ needs. Similarly, Denisa reports that after an additional migration trajectory to England, she has returned to Albania to take care of her parents-in-law:

And I came back last August. … My parents-in-law are quite old now. They have more health issues. It is now a time when they need more care and attention. They need me here now.

In the case of Denisa, having Greek citizenship serves as significant capital, facilitating her various migration trajectories.

Here, we come to the third motivation for returning to Albania: obtaining (or failing to obtain) legal residency permits or passport. Similar results are noted in other research on Albanian return migration (e.g. Mai & Paladini, 2013; Gemi, 2015; Kopliku, 2016). Marta recounts that she returned to Albania with her child because of the impossibility of obtaining legal residency in Switzerland:

My husband moved to another European country illegally. We could not obtain the residency permits, so we had to leave Switzerland.

Arlinda says that it was difficult and expensive to continue the process for the regularisation of the documents for all the family members, so Arlinda and her husband decided to return. At the same time, their children remained in Greece with student documents. Similarly, Migena and her husband returned to Tirana because she could not succeed in regularising her residency permit. She had worked informally, as mentioned in Sect. 6.2.2, and was unable to get a Greek residency card. She adds:

The situation in Albania [in 2002] was not as bad as during the 1990s, which made our return not that painful. … In Tirana, we could do a master’s to complete our education and find a good job, an office job. … There seemed to be many opportunities as a lot of Greek banks and companies were already established in Tirana. … We thought it could be easy for us to find a job in these companies as we knew Greek and English very well.

In 2012, Migena worked for a Greek-owned bank. Her statement illustrates the complexity of the motivations to return and the difficulty in determining clearly, in some cases, whether the return is voluntary. On the one hand, these women have to face the constraining conditions of being an illegalised domestic worker migrant in Greece. While, on the other hand, there is the attraction of working in a better, more prestigious job in Albania.

In contrast, migrants with long-term residency permits and passports often return to Albania to open businesses, find jobs in their professions or stay close to their families. These migrants are somewhat secure in their standing as they can quickly leave Albania again if the need arises. Rovena presents a typical case. She returned to Albania after obtaining a ten-year residency permit in Greece that allows her to move again to Greece if she wanted. Similar, Juli decided to return after securing legal documents in Greece so that, as she says, ‘in case of disappointment in Albania’, she could return to Greece or leave for another country. Irida and Mimoza narrate familiar stories: they have returned with ‘the reassurance’, as they say, of moving again if their return does not work. Possessing so-called ‘regular papers’ is considered to be a ‘safety valve’ for many Albanians (Mai and Paladini 2013, 50). Becoming a citizen of the European Union (or a Schengen area) country is regarded as the most valuable status as then migrants can return to Albania, but also leave it quickly if they wish.

5.3.2 Return by Moving to a New Destination, Tirana

These women’s return entails a double move, as it also includes their relocation to a new city, Tirana, instead of their hometowns. The conceptualisation of return migration as part of a broader migration process, as a movement to another place in which the migrant has to re-adjust, becomes concrete (and literal) for most women discussed in this chapter. They return to their country and a new destination. Here, I focus on their reasons for choosing to go to Tirana rather than returning to their hometowns. In the interviews, the women indicate that they moved to Tirana due to the significant opportunities the city offers compared to their hometowns, particularly with regards to investment, employment and children’s education. Let us examine their reasons for moving to Tirana in more detail.

First, they consider Tirana to offer more opportunities for setting up businesses. For instance, Juli says she knew that a low demand made it not worthwhile to open a business in her native Tepelenë, whereas Tirana was a growing, developing city:

My cousins [in Tepelene and Tirana] had told me not to attempt to open my parukeri [beauty salon] in Tepelenë as it would soon fail. People are leaving Tepelenë, and you see, Tirana is growing every day, and there are so many women and girls here who go to beauty salons.

For Juli, moving to Tirana was not a matter of luck, but a deliberate, informed decision based on her social relations in Albania. That fits with Cassarino’s (2004) and Ley and Kobayashi’s (2009) emphasis on preparedness as a significant pattern of return migration; return is thus anticipated, and transnational connections contribute to the preparation phase, as mentioned by Juli. Irida too shares that she knew that she could build a more successful business in Tirana ‘because people in Tirana are in a better financial situation so they can spend more money on beauty care’. Mimoza also says that they decided to come to Tirana as ‘it is only in Tirana that you can invest well, as there are more opportunities.’ She also adds that Tirana has the best schools. Second, Migena and Rovena say that they decided to move to Tirana to find good jobs that better match their education and skills. As a growing city with numerous private, state, and international institutions, Tirana appears to offer more employment opportunities than the women’s towns of origin, Pogradec and Fier, respectively.

Rovena highlights the third reason for moving to Tirana: she also returned to Tirana as she wanted to continue to live independently. After so many years spent apart from her family and relatives, it would be challenging to have them ‘all-around’, she says. Boccagni and Decimo (2013) explain that migrants’ increased personal autonomy or the individualisation of migrants may create social tensions between them and their families and communities in their hometowns. Similarly, Irida moved to Tirana not only for the business opportunities but also for the ability to live on her own and be near her parents at the same time. In this context, Tirana emerges as a ‘middle way’ between living abroad and in one’s hometown. This locus allows one to be closer to one’s parents while preserving some of the autonomy constructed through international migration.

Marta’s case is a bit different. She moved to Tirana instead of her native Fier as her parents-in-law had moved to Tirana while she was abroad. Following a patrilocal family structure in which wives move into the house of the husband and the parents-in-law (Kaser, 2014), Marta returned to Tirana to live with her in-laws.

5.3.3 Manifesting the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Economic reasons and investing in Albania are among the main reasons for returning from abroad for some of the women in this chapter. In this section, I expand more on their entrepreneurship experience as this experience involves specific gender patterns. Most women interviewed here exhibited a clear entrepreneurial spirit, much more visible upon their return to Tirana, challenging the dominant post-communist configuration of gender relations: entrepreneurship for men and domesticity for women (Heyns, 1995). The cases examined in this section challenge these cultural, gendered expectations and highlight the tactics and strategies mobilised by these returnees to succeed in their entrepreneurship efforts. Interviewed women in this section mobilise three types of resources upon their return to Tirana: social networks, know-how (e.g., their new skills, work experience, and language), and financial resources.

Elona, Juli, Mimoza and Irida saw investing in their own businesses as their main reason for returning to Tirana. Elona says that when she and her husband returned from Greece, they knew that they wanted to open a bakery as she had worked in a bakery for many years and knew ‘how to do things’. Investing their savings and know-how gained while abroad seems to be a common strategy for some returning migrants, both couples and women alone.

Mimoza’s story is similar to Elona’s. Using their savings and the know-how they had acquired in Greece, Mimoza and her husband had planned to open something ‘of their own’ in Tirana. They decided to open a dry-cleaning shop. Juli and Irida returned from abroad, one divorced and the other single, with the wish to establish hairdressing and beauty centres. They had both explored the possibilities of opening businesses through preliminary contacts with their relatives and friends living in Albania. They, too, made use of their savings and professional knowledge they had acquired abroad. It appears that they actively participated in the process of migration by gaining professional expertise with the aim of opening up better opportunities for their lives and work. As found by other researchers (Kopliku, 2016), family businesses are common investments for returning migrants. Service businesses dominate among return migrants’ entrepreneurship initiatives as they offer good self-employment opportunities, are more affordable financially and are less risky (Kopliku, 2016).

Let us turn now to their concrete entrepreneurship experiences, particularly the process of registering a business, doing paperwork and following bureaucratic procedures. Juli and Irida report significant bureaucratic difficulties while trying to start their respective businesses.

Irida: You cannot imagine the time I spent going from one office to another to obtain documents and for other procedures. … It was impossible to sign the rental contract as the owners said that they could not trust me, where my money was coming from. … Sometimes similar doubts were being raised even in state offices. Sometimes my brother came with me. It was easier to have him with me as they did not consider me to be an unaccompanied young woman anymore.

Irida using the tactic of bringing her brother along to overcome the discrimination and constraints imposed on her as a woman.

Juli, for her part, says that she ‘had screamed louder than a man’ with the team building her beauty centre as they were not taking her seriously and delaying the works. She adds that what she ‘hated’ most was the oft-asked question: ‘Why does not your husband come to deal with this’? She heard it while she was handling the needed documents to get a licence to open her business and to register in various tax offices.

I got so angry sometimes; it’s unbelievable. … I was at the tax office for some registration, all this stuff, you know. And I was just dragged from one desk to another, unbelievable. … I was talking angrily mostly to myself, you know, as I didn’t know whom to shout to. And one of the ladies working there came close to me and said to me, with a low voice, you know, ‘Why doesn’t your husband come to deal with this? … It’s easier for a man to deal with “office issues“. … My God, at that moment, I just went crazy, and I thought, ‘No more smiling and politeness. I’m just gone yell at everyone here. Otherwise, it’s in vain’.

Juli also says she often faced mistrust when she claimed that it was her project and her own money:

I needed some documents at the Labour Office, and I was explaining all my story and everything… The employees at the office there started to ask me ‘Oh, that’s so good your husband is giving you the money to open the parukeri’. And I said, ‘No, it is my own money. I am divorced’. You cannot imagine the look in their eyes, and the smiling, you know what that smile that meant ‘Yeah, yeah, as if we believe you’. The worst of thing is that you feel angry and humiliated at the same time, as I had been breaking my back working so many years to save this money, and now instead of some support [for investing], I face a wall because I don’t have a husband. … I’m offering people a job, but this is not important; the important thing is that I don’t have a husband. … Oh, I just get angry now that I’m talking to you. … Do you hear my voice? [Laughs] I’ve practiced to make it sound like this, raucous, smoking has helped me a little [laughs]. … I need such a voice so that I can sound like a man [laughs loudly].

Unlike Irida, who brings her brother along while dealing with the procedures to open her business, Juli uses the tactic of adopting a masculine behaviour, or yelling with a raucous voice, as she says. Gender influences the process of establishing a business, putting women in an unfavourable situation compared to men not only in informal relations but also in state institutions, whose laws and strategies presumably promote gender equality. Statistics (INSTAT, 2016) show that women made up 31.3% of entrepreneurs in 2015. However, the majority of these enterprises are small enterprises (1–4 employees). That means that despite the growth indicators of women entrepreneurs, their businesses may face the risk of stagnation or even failure in a short or medium term.

Moreover, almost half (43 per cent) of the female-owned or -administrated enterprises are concentrated in Tirana. Albania had no state policy or programme promoting female entrepreneurship until the Action Plan for Women Entrepreneurs 2014–2020 was drafted in 2014. In an analysis of women’s entrepreneurship in Albania, Beqo and Gehrels (2014) recount the difficulties women entrepreneurs face in Albania. Discrimination against women occurs during the process of opening a business, navigating the bureaucracy and handling financial issues. Women have more difficulty getting bank loans than men as they own less property. In this context, Juli and Irida say they used their savings from abroad to open their businesses in Tirana. Although investing in their own companies was not initially a part of their migration plan, the investment opportunities in Tirana were among their reasons for returning. Their savings in Greece and Italy took an added value in Albania, where labour and start-up costs are cheaper, and they could envision opening a business.

Mimoza and Elona did not report any gender-related difficulty during the initial phases of establishing businesses as they largely passed this task to their husbands. As Elona illustrates:

Altin went to the notary offices and the license office and everything. I went there only to sign. Why lose all that time when nobody would listen to me but him anyway? I had so many other things to do with the preparation of the venue and so on.

Mimoza and Elona overcome gender constraints merely by avoiding them, which is a tactic adopted by them in an unfavourable context. They anticipate, as Elona states, that ‘nobody would listen’ to them, so they shift the task to the male figure. Like Irida, who uses her brother, Mimoza and Elona appoint their husbands to handle the unfavourable gendered environment of undertaking business procedures. Similarly, Beqo and Gehrels (2014) report that in the absence of fair treatment for women, women entrepreneurs often find a male figure to help them move forward the process of opening a business.

I end this section with the case of Marta, which is somewhat different from that of the other women. She returns not with the aim of investing in her own business but as she was unable to regularise her stay in Switzerland. Marta was a housewife throughout her stay abroad, but she learned tailoring from the daughter of her Albanian neighbours while in Switzerland. Almost a year after her return to Tirana, she started a small, informal tailoring business:

That [tailoring business] was significant to me. First of all, as I could finally have my work and have some income but also as I got to know other women and interact with them. I was tired of staying at home all the time, doing housework and watching TV.

She adds that her husband’s family was not very happy with this decision and action on her part, as according to them, she needed to care for the child, and the family did not need money. Marta’s husband helped her financially at the beginning after she explained to him that the space for the tailoring business was in the same building where they lived. It was also a private space, not visible to the public, where she could also bring their daughter and care for her.

Marta engaged in twofold negotiations. To open this business, she had to assure her husband and his family that she would continue to care for their daughter and that the space where she worked was private. This twofold negotiation reassured her husband and his family that the traditional gender roles, Marta as the domestic caregiver and her husband as a breadwinner, would continue. The negotiation process for Marta as she attempted to open her small business took place in the family sphere. Her shop was an informal one, and she did not attempt to register it or seek a permit. It was more an extension of her domestic space and a way for her to earn some income and establish connections with other women. As in Eleni’s case in Chap. 4, we see here how women’s skills take on a new value in the post-socialist market environment and how women mobilise these skills to increase their income (Gal and Kligman 2000) and their connections, as in the case of Marta.

At the time of the interview, Marta had shifted from the informal status to that of registered self-employed worker. She continued to work as a tailor and lived alone with her daughter after divorcing from her husband, who was then living abroad. She recounts that her parents and the connections she had made through tailoring helped her overcome the challenges of the divorce and formalise her business.

5.3.4 Tirana as a Space of Entangled Care Chains

Here, the focus goes to the negotiations and tactics these women undertake in their role as caregivers. Most interviewees stress this particular element, so it is worthy of further development. As mentioned above, the possibility of transferring the caregiver role to another woman gave Juli one reason for returning to Albania. Other interviewees also shed light on the complex care chains among migrant women. Let us look at the care chain configurations brought out by the women discussed in this chapter.

In a first care chain configuration, the returned international migrant woman hires an internal migrant woman as a caregiver. Juli says:

Now that I have my beauty salon, I spend most of the day working there. This is what I have to do if I want this to continue. … My family lives in Tepelenë, and here in Tirana I’m alone with my son, so I hired a woman who is also from Tepelenë. She is a lovely person, and she cooks and cleans. She practically does everything in the house until I return from work.

Juli’s case involves a complex care chain in which internal migrants work as domestic workers for return migrants who are engaged in productive work. This also indicates a status paradox of migration: in Greece, Juli worked as a domestic worker, and now as a returnee, she employs an internal migrant to take on her care work. Mimoza also claims to have hired two internal migrants to work primarily in the house but also in the shop if she needs support. These two internal migrants are from poor, rural families, and Mimoza tries to help them as much as possible, as she was aided when first came to Greece. Migrant women who once required work and support in a new place are now in a position to give work and support to other migrant women.

A second configuration is illustrated by Denisa, who previously worked as a domestic care worker in Greece as well. Returned from international migration, Denisa still finds employment as a domestic worker for a wealthy family that migrated to Tirana from southern Albania. We see here a configuration that is the opposite of the one above but that again intertwines internal and international migration trajectories. Denisa says:

I have a very relaxed work schedule. I need to go to work only during the mornings, do all the housework, pay the bills, electricity and water, shop for the groceries or anything else they ask me for, cook, leave everything ready for the family when they return from their jobs. … It is very appropriate for me as I have the rest of the day for me and my family [husband and parents-in-law].

Denisa’s case not only illustrates a particular care chain: a return international migrant working as a domestic worker for an internal migrant; her case also demonstrates the family solidarity configuration of care as she takes care of her parents-in-law.

The third and final type of care chain on display here is the intra-familial care chain. We saw earlier that when Denisa migrated to Greece, her parents-in-law took on her caregiver role. Next, Denisa returned from abroad principally to care for her parents-in-law, who were getting old and needed closer care and support. Likewise, Migena says that both her parents, who lived only a few minutes away, helped her, transporting her child to school and doing cooking and shopping. As Vullnetari and King (2016) highlight, there is an intersection of mutual care within the family: grandparents take care of the grandchildren but later will rely on the care of their children. These cases show how complex the care chains configurations are and how the place migrant women occupy in these configurations may vary by the migration phase.

5.3.5 Circular, Return and Remigration Projects: What’s Next?

From the interviews, I draw three main points concerning the returnees’ future migratory plans. Some express no wish to migrate again, while others articulate a strong desire to do so. Yet others, primarily those possessing residency permits from other countries, do not exclude the possibility of migrating again and engage in circular migration with their destination countries.

Arlinda and Migena say they do not plan to emigrate again. Arlinda reports that she has already settled well in Tirana, and her children visit her and her husband often, so she has no particular reasons to think about migrating again. It appears that Arlinda’s primary motivations for migration—her financial situation and her children’s education—have been satisfied, and no other reason pushes her to reconsider the option of migration. Likewise, Migena reports that she worked in Greece for a long time and did not want to do ‘those kinds of a job’ again.

Caring for one’s parents is another reason that prevents plans for long-term international migration. Denisa, for example, says that her daughter lives in the UK, so ‘the biggest issue is solved’. She adds that she lives in Tirana with her husband and parents-in-law, who ‘need more care now than before’. Similarly, Rovena states she cannot leave Albania as long as her parents are alive as she could not bear to leave them alone at this age. However, she adds that later, she could quickly return to Greece. Caring for family members again emerges as a significant gendered factor informing the migration project. Additionally, Rovena says that she visits Greece regularly with a long-term residency permit. Possessing the long-term residency permit allows her to both care for her parents and maintain her networks and contacts in Greece.

Here, we come to the second topic in this section: returnees who engage in circular migration trajectories and transnational experiences. This activity is made possible by the fact that they possess regular residency documents in their host countries. For example, Irida says she maintains her relations in Italy and goes there a couple of times a year to keep up with new fashion trends and hairstyles and products. She adds that she does not want to cut all her ties with Italy and needs to renew her residency permit as ‘one day it is possible that I return to Italy for good’. Like Rovena, circular migration allows Irida to combine caring for and being closer to her parents while running her own business and maintaining her transnational ties with Italy. According to Mai and Paladini (2013), documented returnees—migrants with Italian citizenship or a permanent/long-term residency permit—return to Albania as they feel that they have completed their migratory experience but still maintain structural links with Italy. In this case, Irida’s circular migration is enabled by her Italian legal documents and driven by her need to advance in her new profession.

Furthermore, the cases of Irida and Rovena confirm Black and King’s (2004, 80) claim that return migrants ‘continue to value the professional contacts and other social networks they have made abroad after their return, and indeed in many cases continue to travel overseas’. In research on return migration to the city of Shkodra, Kopliku (2016, 112) contends that distinguishing the permanent returnee from the transnational migrant can be difficult as often migrants organise their lives between their home and host countries. Having regular papers from another country serves as capital. It allows return migrants to make more flexible plans, knowing that, unlike other Albanian citizens, they can leave Albania at any time. None of the women who possess these documents expresses any concrete wish to migrate again but leave the possibility open.

A third point arises in connection to Marta, who is the only returnee to express a wish to emigrate again openly. Marta says that she would like to migrate due to her daughter and the pressure she feels as a divorced mother:

My work is going well, and I have many clients, but I am not happy here. My parents are in Fier, and here [in Tirana] I am alone with my daughter. It’s not easy for a woman alone with her child, especially when you are divorced. … I always have this feeling that people know that I am divorced. Someplace else could be better. We would be on our own, and in western countries, they support you when you are a divorced woman with a child. … I don’t want my daughter to be raised here. I’m trying to gather some information where I could migrate so that I don’t have to migrate illegally or with fake documents as I did before. Now I have my daughter, and I have to think about her first. I’ve heard that the American lottery seems to be a good idea. … I would like to leave together with my daughter so that she could go to better schools … and not go through my experiences.

Interestingly, Marta’s professional and economic situation is not the primary motivation pushing her to migrate again. Instead, it is the gendered prejudices and the social weight that she feels as a divorced mother, in addition to her desire to raise her daughter in a place other than Tirana, that drives her to consider migrating again. Paradoxically, Tirana—that is often imagined as modern and free city—exhibits many gendered prejudices towards a divorced mother, along with young women living on their own. Monika Kocaqi (2013), a researcher on violence against women, emphasises that divorced women in Albania are stigmatised more than men, primarily as marriage remains a highly socially accepted value. Similar accounts about divorced women are reported concerning Chinese (Lévy, 2015) and Turkish female emigrants (Erel, 2009). These analyses show how, in addition to economic reasons, escaping from prejudices and discriminatory contexts is another motivation for divorced women to migrate.

Additionally, Marta’s interview reveals how the migratory project for her daughter and her is based on the contrast she draws between ‘equal western countries’ and Tirana. Against Tirana, Marta projects a less prejudicial and more supportive ‘abroad’. Her case again illustrates how the ‘imaginaries of equality’ influence and shape women’s migration-related projects and actions, as highlighted by Riano (2015) in the case of Latin American women’s migration to Europe.

5.4 Conclusions—Discussing the Findings

This chapter analyses the experiences of female migrants who returned to Tirana after migrating to the neighbouring countries of Italy and Greece for other reasons other than education. In what follows, I start with the overall findings and then emphasise three particular findings.

Overall, the narratives of the women engaged in a double trajectory migration, returning from abroad by moving to a new destination such as Tirana, shed light on their multiple, overlapping reasons and motives for migration. In contrast to the dominant portrayal of Albanian international migration—men migrate to help their families economically, and women only join later through family reunification—the narratives in this chapter show that single and married women migrate on their own to support their families financially. When relocating internationally, women not only transgress the borders of accepted gender roles. Moreover, faced with the impossibility of entering other countries legally, they also cross the boundaries through illegalised ways, contradicting the dominant figure of Albanian migration that attributes risk and physical strength to masculinity.

In the interviews, we observe that the women’s double move is a complex process precipitated by various reasons which pushed these women to return from international migration and move to Tirana rather than their native cities or villages. The participants’ multiple principal reasons for leaving their destination countries and returning to Albania are the desire to invest in their native country, the need to care for family members and the impossibility of staying in a legalised way in the destination country. These women choose to move to Tirana over their other hometowns as it offers better opportunities for entrepreneurship initiatives, employment and their children’s education. It also serves as an intermediate space that allows the women to be closer to their parents while preserving the autonomous life to which they became accustomed while abroad. Some of the cases analysed also show that their return is not permanent but may be part of circular migration trajectories and transnational relations with the destination country. These trends accord with the findings from other research on migration (Cassarino, 2004; Black & King, 2004; Dahinden, 2010; Ley & Kobayashi, 2009), particularly on Albanian migration (Mai & Paladini, 2013; Kopliku, 2016).

I now turn to the three particular inputs of this chapter. First, these women display bargaining power about their economic activity abroad and the status paradox of migration. Their bargaining power first emerges in their complex relations with their employers abroad that involve both dependency and support. Dependence arises from the absence of regular formal contracts and the need for regular work contracts for those wishing to legalise their status. Albanian migrant women depend on their employers for their salary, working hours and holidays. At the same time, (in)formal employers assist the migrants in overcoming administrative issues and creating new social networks. Sometimes, employers are mobilised as a resource in the process of residency permit legalisation, as also examined by Bonizzoni (2016) in the case of Italian immigration.

Moreover, informality is not a one-direction relation benefiting only the employers but also gives certain advantages to migrant women, who prefer to increase their income by not declaring it formally. They acquire negotiating and bargaining skills in their relationships with their international employers. All these bargaining processes account for the agency exhibited by women in their migration trajectories.

Second, the financial and knowledge resources these women earn while abroad indicates what Nieswand (2011) calls the status paradox of migration. During migration, female migrants often experience a devaluation of their social status, accepting jobs in low-income segments of the labour market, including the informal sector. Nevertheless, the acceptance of these positions involves a bargaining process. Upon returning to Tirana, these women’s economic and social status increases again due to their financial capital and knowledge, which they often invest in enterprises, self-employment and employment. Confirming the status paradox of migration, they regain and even exceed the status they once left behind.

A further point in this change of status through migration can also be illustrated by the complex care chain configurations in which some interviewed women occupy various positions. The interviews show that these women take on care jobs in Greece and Italy to fill the care gap and allow other women to engage in productive work, putting themselves in an international care chain. After returning to Albania, some of these same women are still in care chain nets but now in the position of employer, not employee. To fill the care gap in Albania and engage in productive work, entrepreneurial initiatives in some cases, these same women hire internal migrants as domestic and care workers. We see here Tirana’s embeddedness in entrenched global care chains. We also see how the women’s regained status in Albania is based primarily on their increased financial capital. Care chain configurations frequently appear in this analysis, with women often situated in various positions within them at various points in their lives and migration trajectories.

In this chapter, we see that the state is a significant actor in women’s migration process. Boyd and Grieco (2003) argue that the decision to undertake a migratory project is not the same as being allowed to exit or to enter a particular country. These constraints affect men and women differently, as frequently highlighted in this chapter. The policies of nation-states are the main actors in the gendered international migration process, limiting the pathways of border crossing. Likewise, internal labour and welfare policies influence the types of jobs male and female migrants may access, as shown in the case of migrants engaged in informal care work—a sector dominated by women.

However, there is more to consider about the role of the state, and I now turn to the core of this second input: the masculine state that returnees face upon their return to Albania. Whereas their experience abroad is characterised mostly by informal negotiations with employers, and only a few interactions with the state bureaucracy, the challenges they face back in Albania differ. Advancing a feminist theory of the late modernist state, Wendy Brown (1995) examines how gender marks state power. The masculine state described by Brown (1995) is diffuse, encountered and experienced by subjects on different scales. In deepening involvement with the government, women exchange dependency on individual men for regulation by contemporary institutions and processes of male domination (Brown, 1995, 173). Protection codes are significant technologies in which the state extends its masculine powers. For the returned female entrepreneurs discussed in this chapter, bureaucratic institutions are sites where the state becomes tangible. As shown, when encountering state institutions, women require protection by and from men. They employ tactics such as being accompanied by a male relative and embodying masculine behaviours. Paradoxically, they instrumentalise the same power whose dominance they attempt to challenge.

Third, and finally, most women interviewed exhibit a clear entrepreneurial spirit, much more visible upon their return to Tirana, challenging the dominant post-communist configuration of gender relations: entrepreneurship for men and domesticity for women (Heyns, 1995). In the post-communist space, women employees are associated with the public sector, which is perceived as more secure and relaxed, offering a fixed job schedule more appropriate for a caregiver—meaning a woman. Thus, entrepreneurship is mostly related to masculinity and the culturally defined masculine values, such as risk, competition, independence and aggression (Gal & Kligman, 2000; Meshcherkina, 2000). Entrepreneurship is a matter of cultural expectations. In this case, after the fall of communism, women are expected to withdraw to the domestic sphere or stay in the public sector, and men to undertake entrepreneurship initiatives in the new, capitalist private sector.

However, women show their capacities and entrepreneurial spirit in mobilising their skills and resources to achieve their initiatives, even when small scale (Gal & Kligman, 2000). In the same line, the analysis here shows that women continuously negotiate the spaces between public and private gender constraints to achieve their entrepreneurship initiatives. Not only do they handle structural and state masculinity, as mentioned, but they also challenge their relationships within the household, with their husbands and parents, by deciding to embark on entrepreneurial initiatives. The interviews also show that these women strategically activate their know-how and financial resources earned during migration to accomplish their entrepreneurial objectives.