ZAGREB, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- "I love (Croatian footballer) Luka Modric and when my cousin suggested that we come here, I thought it would be interesting and different," said Sivakumar Kaushan Ninthujan, a 22-year-old Sri Lankan national.
Ninthujan has been a waiter in a restaurant in the Croatian capital since January. He said he is happy with the job and the salary as the restaurant provides him with food and accommodation, thus he can send most of his earnings back home to Sri Lanka to help his family.
"I am just starting my career. Day by day, I am trying to improve myself, I am learning the Croatian language and gaining experience," he told Xinhua.
The performance of Asian workers like Ninthujan has earned thumbs-up from his boss, Antonio Condric, the restaurant's manager.
"Guys from Sri Lanka who work here are good. They are culturally different, but they are adaptable. Their English is decent, and they are conscientious, fast and accurate," Condric said.
Sazzad Hossain, originally from Bangladesh, is now working as a delivery boy. He said he arrived in Croatia last year and now he is happy to make 750 euros (797 U.S. dollars) a month, which is much more than in his home country.
"Each month I can send over half of my salary back to Bangladesh," Hossain said with a grin.
Ninthujan and Hossain are just two of thousands of Asians now working in Croatia in pursuit of a better life.
In recent years, Croatia has witnessed a remarkable influx of Asian workers, many of whom had never heard of the country before. As a result, the labor shortage, a lingering problem since Croatia joined the European Union (EU) in 2013, has been effectively mitigated.
The Croatian Bureau of Statistics (CBS) said that 11,874 Asian workers arrived in the country last year. In 2021, this figure stood at 4,358, and in 2017 it was a mere 400.
These new arrivals, most of them from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bangladesh or the Middle East, work mostly in the service industry as waiters, chefs, shop assistants or taxi drivers.
The influx of workers from Asia and from Croatia's neighbors -- Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has supplemented Croatia's labor force. The country has been struggling with a lack of workforce, particularly in the service industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of Croatians, especially young people, have moved to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy or other Western European countries, attracted by better salaries and opportunities. Croatia's joining the eurozone and the border-free Schengen area on Jan. 1 this year only made this momentum even stronger.
CBS data shows that the balance between immigration and emigration in Croatia was minus 4,512 persons in 2021, compared with 31,819 persons at the peak of the emigration wave in 2017, when 15,533 people settled in Croatia and 47,352 emigrated, although the negative migratory balance has been on the decline in recent years.
To cope with the labor shortage, the Croatian government has implemented policies to attract foreign workers and in 2020, the country's Parliament passed the amended law abolishing the yearly quota for workers from non-EU countries.
Asian workers, especially those from English-speaking countries, seem more welcomed by employers in the service sector due to their diligence and comparatively low salaries.
Petar Lovric, a member of the Croatian Employers' Association and owner of a recruitment agency, has called on Croatian employers to turn to labor markets in Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines or India. The interest of jobseekers from Serbia and Ukraine in Croatia has been declining, he was quoted by local media as saying.
Ninthujan's dream is to make money in Croatia to enable him to eventually return to his home country and open a restaurant there.
"Here in the restaurant, we offer a special dessert called 'fried ice cream.' It is something new to me and I would like to introduce that dish to my country. I plan to learn new and significant dishes, and then go back to Sri Lanka with all these recipes and prepare them in my own restaurant," he said.
In contrast, Hossain does not plan to leave Croatia because he enjoys his work and life there. He wants to bring his wife and child to Zagreb for a family reunion. "I like the city, it is safe and the people are nice," he told Xinhua. ■