Spaniards, Portuguese look to former colonies for work

File d'attente.

File d'attente.

Many young Spanish and Portuguese citizens are leaving their homeland in search of better opportunities abroad, with former colonies being among the more popular destinations, reports say.

In the first half of 2012, 40,000 Spaniards left home – almost twice as many as in the same period last year, figures from the National Statistics Institute show.

The numbers are even higher for foreign nationals in Spain, of which 229,000 left during the last six months.

As such, Spain has seen its overall population drop by 33,162 people this year to 46,163,116, newspaper El Pais reported Wednesday (18 July).

The latest report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said labour migration to Spain from outside the EU also declined by 90,000 over the last year, adding to fears that the country could suffer a ‘brain drain’.

“If the wealth of a country is its people, we are losing wealth”, Antonio Izquierdo, a sociology professor at Coruña University, told the newspaper.

Portugal has witnessed a similar trend, with an estimated 120,000 nationals moving abroad in 2011, news network Al Jazeera reported in March.

The OECD estimates that 70,000 Portuguese emigrate every year, half of whom are under 29 years of age.

The sovereign debt crisis has seen youth unemployment reach its highest level in years on the Iberian peninsula. More than half of all young people in Spain and a third in Portugal are out of work.

The job market squeeze has pushed Iberians to other European countries less hit by the crisis, with 7,756 Spaniards moving to the United Kingdom and 4,408 to Germany.

But many in search of work have seen their prospects limited due to imperfect foreign language skills, so they are trying their luck in the former colonies.

An ‘oasis’ in the former colonies

Last year, 4,182 Spaniards moved to Ecuador, and about three thousand to Venezuela and Argentina, regions which have seen their economic growth rise to near 'recession proof' levels.

Marta Septién, a geological engineering student, is a case in point.

Despite being told there was zero unemployment in 2003 for her course of study, Septién has since been unable to find a job in Spain. She is currently working in London as a waitress but has considered leaving Europe for a job.

“Maybe in Latin American countries like Panama, Brazil or Colombia”, she told El Pais.

The most significant flow of Portuguese has been to Brazil, partly due to the country's booming economic performance.

Brazil’s National Secretariat of Justice said the number of applications for permanent residence filed by Portuguese rose from 276,703 to 328,856 between December 2010 and June 2011. That figure is separate from the many temporary work, study and research visas that were issued.

Statistics for 2010 revealed that 91,900 Portuguese nationals were living in Angola, where oil has created a boom economy.

Promising levels of growth in Portugal’s largest former colony in Africa have seen it described as an "oasis" of opportunity for the Iberian country’s unemployed.

“For every shipwreck in Portugal, there is a lifeboat in Angola,” Lisbon weekly magazine Visão said.

High illiteracy levels mean Angola has been crying out for an educated workforce, and experts from Portugal are in high demand, said German magazine Der Spiegel.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho – who grew up in Angola – has advocated emigration, having suggested in December last year that Portuguese move to other Lusophone countries like Brazil or Angola to find work.

But the comment was condemned by Portuguese newspaper Publico in a 20 December  editorial, which claimed it was turning him into “a laughing stock”.

If skilled workers continue to leave the country the situation in Portugal “will be even more miserable”, the editorial went on to say.

The unemployment rate in Spain hit 24.4%, the national statistics agency said at the end of April 2012.

The country has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union and it is expected to rise further this year because of the worsening sovereign debt crisis.

Portugal's jobless rate is forecast to peak at 15.9% by the end of 2012.

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