Society Migration and populations

Emigration: Indignado generation finds happiness abroad

19 April 2012
Polityka Warsaw

Thousands of young people, often educated, are leaving Portugal and Spain. Europe doesn’t need them while Africa and South America receive them with open arms.

Ana Ferreira oozes optimism. She is twenty six, comes from the Azores and for almost four years now has been based in Africa, first in Angola, now in Mozambique. Contrary to what could be expected, she is not a volunteer but a paid employee at a corporate human resources department.

“When I look at my friends in Portugal, living on student grants, doing short-term jobs, completing successive graduate or postgraduate courses, I think they are detached from real life. I live in Maputo where I’m doing great and actually advancing career-wise. What am I supposed to be returning to?”

Gonçalo Jorge, a twenty-eight year old marketing executive from Lisbon, fought not for work but against frustration. After obtaining his degree, he got a job with a public transport company. “I wanted to do great things but all that was waiting for me was a sinecure”, he says. When he finally found an interesting opening at a private company, it was the terms of employment, with a contract for just a year, that proved a problem. So he moved to Angola and today is country manager for a Portuguese wine producer. He is responsible for the company’s entire operations in Angola and earns four times what he did in Portugal.

Portugal has already lost one in ten of its university graduates. The exodus has continued for several years now because the crisis and high unemployment hit the country much earlier than the rest of Europe. Youth unemployment in Portugal is at over 34 percent today and in Spain at over 50 percent. If it weren’t for emigration, it would be much higher.

New World Welcomes

Those made redundant in Europe – engineers, architects, construction workers – are received with open arms in Africa and South America. Brazil is at full steam preparing for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games. Engineers and architects are being recruited on a great scale for public projects, including $200 billion-worth projects in the power industry. Brazil’s economy grew by nearly 3 percent last year. Argentina saw 8 percent growth and its unemployment rate at 7 percent is more than three times lower than Spain’s.

Rich in oil, diamonds and other natural resources, Angola is one of the fastest growing countries in the world today. Annual GDP growth reaches 15 percent here and 3,000 Portuguese companies operate throughout the country, building roads, bridges, skyscrapers, railroads, pipelines. The country, for thirty years ravaged by a civil war that ended just a decade ago, is short of specialists, while Portugal suffers from a surplus of skilled labour.

“For some years ago job offers from Angola can be found in every Portuguese newspaper,” says Pedro Góis, migration sociologist at the University of Coimbra. “Two groups are primarily leaving: older people who want to save some money, and young ones seeking professional development and fun.”

Lust for life

If the Portuguese feel at home in Angola, it’s even easier for them to adapt to life in Brazil. According to estimates by Lisbon’s Observatório da Imigração, over 700,000 emigrants from Portugal currently live and work in Brazil.

In Spain, which for the last ten years received some 5 million immigrants from South America, Africa and Asia, Spanish emigration to the former colonies in South America is a subject so new few experts are able to discuss it. But the figures speak for themselves; according to Spanish consulates in Argentina, some 1,200 Spaniards settle there every month.

“The typical emigrant is a man aged 25-35, often an engineer, architect or IT professional”, says Marta López-Tappero, international mobility expert at Adecco. “In brief, a young man with an appetite for new experiences and challenges.”

In the former colonies the language barrier doesn’t exist and cultural adaptation is smooth. Especially in Buenos Aires. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, some 2 million Spaniards came to Argentina as third-class passengers, mainly from Galicia, the country’s poorest, farming region, which is why Spaniards are called gallegos in Argentina today. In the second half of the 20th century, first the dictatorship and then the crisis of the 1990s brought Argentinians to Europe. Now the trend has reversed again.

A “European invasion”, “new Eldorado”, “thrill-seeking expedition” – such concepts are familiar and must sound disturbingly to the European ear. “No, there’s no reason to talk about another colonisation,” Mr Góis says firmly. “Rather, we are witnessing the birth of a new global class of migrants who will never settle permanently anywhere. Sooner or later, they will either go back or move to another country where the offer will be better”.

But perhaps the reversed migration is the consequence of much more profound changes taking place in the world. The balance of power between the West and the rest of the world or, if you will, between North and South, is shifting.