Economic crisis sparks emigration wave from Portugal, Spain
By Sinikka Tarvainen and Emilio Rappold Jun 30, 2011, 12:22 GMT
Lisbon/Madrid - Cristiana, a 21-year-old Portuguese architecture student, is convinced she has no future in her country.
'I just want to leave,' she says. 'As soon as I finish my studies in the end of the year, I will pack my bags,' she adds, with tears swelling up in her eyes.
In neighbouring Spain, Jose, a 49-year-old engineer, is in similar spirits.
'There is simply no work here,' says the Colombian, who moved to Spain more than a decade ago.
'I am thinking of going back to Latin America,' he says. 'To Colombia, or maybe Costa Rica - anywhere I can find work.'
The economic difficulties of the two Iberian countries are creating a wave of emigration reminiscent of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when hundreds of thousands of Spaniards and Portuguese went to look for work in wealthier European countries.
Portugal and Spain had a long tradition of emigration to the Americas, but Western Europe's economic boom made countries like France or Germany increasingly attractive, and about 600,000 Spaniards went to work in Germany alone.
Today, the numbers of migrants are still much smaller, and the typical emigrant is no longer looking for a low-paid menial job. 'I have top-level know-how, and I expect to be paid accordingly,' Jose says.
The global crisis hit Spain and Portugal hard, revealing the structural weaknesses of their economies, such as an excessive reliance on low-tech sectors or rigid labour markets.
Portugal's debt levels and borrowing costs rose to the point where the country is now being bailed out by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The economy is expected to shrink by 2 per cent in 2011 and 2012, while unemployment has climbed to 12.6 per cent.
Spain has managed to ward off a bailout, but growth remains slow, and the 20 per cent jobless rate is the eurozone's highest.
The crisis has reduced Latin American and African immigration into the Iberian Peninsula, while encouraging indigenous residents to emigrate.
Portuguese experts say the country is experiencing one of the biggest emigration waves in its recent history, though it is not clear how many people exactly have left.
Thousands have moved to Germany, France, Canada or Portuguese-speaking Brazil.
'Staying in Portugal is simply not an option,' architect Filipa Castelao told the news agency Lusa. 'In Portugal, most of my former colleagues only earn between 300 and 500 euros (435 and 725 dollars) a month,' said Castelao, who now works in Beijing.
The number of Spaniards living abroad increased by nearly 130,000 in 2010. However, the figure does not reliably reflect the number of emigrants, because it also includes many Latin Americans who obtained Spanish nationality.
Hundreds of Spanish engineers are looking for work contracts in Germany, which has announced that it will need 100,000 more engineers within a decade.
'We also need health personnel, Spanish language teachers, and workforce for the hotel and catering sector,' said Walther von Plettenberg from the German Chamber of Commerce for Spain.
Germany offers considerably higher salaries than the Spanish market, but few Spanish professionals speak German.
Many Spaniards prefer Latin America, where there is no language barrier, and whose economies are growing at an average rate of about 6 per cent - much faster than Europe.
Latin America is also seen as a more dynamic working environment.
'I have achieved more in five years than I would have achieved in 15 years in Spain,' Arantza Hernandez, who works in Mexico for a company helping Spanish entrepreneurs get started in Latin America, told the daily El Pais.
Latin America's disadvantages compared to Europe include lower-level social security benefits and a longer distance from home.
Not all the Spaniards and Portuguese who emigrate are highly qualified. Spaniards working abroad include waiters in Dublin and construction workers in Switzerland or Algeria, according to media reports.
Emigration can also be a disappointing experience, Portuguese construction workers' trade union representative Albano Ribeiro warned.
Some French and German construction companies treated their Portuguese employees almost like slaves, Ribeiro said. He quoted cases of workers being paid much less than they had been promised, doing 12-hour days, and being lodged in 'subhuman conditions' in crowded rooms.
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