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Monday, October 24, 2011

Economic Crisis and Migration - Europe

There is a good article up this month on the blog Gestion des Risques Interculturels by Benjamin Pelletier called L’Europe en crise et la fuite des cerveaux (Europe in crisis and the Brain Drain).  Since the world financial crisis in 2008 some European countries are experiencing very high levels of emigration.  These countries - Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy- have all had large numbers of emigrants in the past so this is not new but this time around a few things have changed.

The first change is, according to M. Pelletier, that all these countries started to see emigration rise at the very same time which makes it a European problem as opposed to a national one.  The second is that the numbers are less important than the kind of person who is leaving:  the young and the talented - those highly-skilled, well-educated workers that are the darlings of selective immigration programs everywhere.

Let's take Greece and Portugal as examples.  Already more than 70,000 Greeks have left for the United States and another 15,000 have relocated within Europe (France, Germany, UK).  The "push" is, of course, the economic situation.  The "pull" is the possibility of doing better elsewhere in a more stable country.  Greece has lost 5000 doctors in three years.  Portugal has a similar issue with large numbers of emigrants headed for Brazil, Mozambique, Angola and Germany. Pelletier says that if this continues the number of Portuguese in Angola will soon reach the half million mark - a whopping 500,000 Portuguese emigrants of which 100,000 will have arrived within the last three years.

Is this really a problem?  There is a perfectly good argument that says that people are voting with their feet and moving from troubled areas to places where there is more opportunity - a kind of rational redistribution of a mobile and highly-qualified workforce to meet labor needs in other regions.  Greece and Portugal's loss is clearly a gain for the Brazil, the United States, France, and Germany (and the last has bad enough demographics that they need the workers).

On the other hand, this mass movement of outbound people will exacerbate the already difficult economic situation in these sending countries and make the necessity of a bailout by some of the very countries that are on the receiving end of this emigration even more crucial and costly.

Quite a conundrum for Europe's leaders who have yet to agree on the best way to resolve the Euro-zone crisis.  Whatever they decide now I hope they are aware of the numbers and have enough imagination and intelligence to project themselves into the future.  It would be a shame to solve the Euro-zone crisis only to discover that parts of Europe no longer have sufficient human capital to rebuild their economies.

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