Have the tables of migration turned ?

The 16th century : the Spanish conquest provides 250 000 Spaniards with the chance to migrate to Latin America in search of the promises of the ‘New World’. The 21st century : the opposite occurs, with thousands of Latin Americans seeking a better life in Europe. Yet once again the trend seems to be reversing, as the economic crisis worsens.


In the ten years before 2008, Spain saw its population grow by nearly a fifth. Yet recent figures show a decrease in immigrants and loss of foreign residents (228,890 within the first 6 months of 2012). Moreover, the departure of Spain’s own younger generation has become increasingly worrying. They head anywhere the prospects are more attractive, meaning significant numbers (60%) of the departing Spaniards leave the EU ; many head for the emerging markets of South America. In 2011, 63 000 Spaniards left their homeland and, in the first half of this year, the number of emigrants has increased by 44%. Such figures have not been seen since the 1960s.

The INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística) predicts a loss of almost a million Spaniards within the next decade, a phenomenon the president of the non-profit Migration Policy Institute in Washington, Demetrios Papademetriou, described as, ‘a haemorrhaging of highly educated people’. With the youth unemployment rate passing 50% this year, it is therefore hardly a surprise that Spain has become a net exporter of people.

Yet worrying levels of ‘exportation’ of a young and auspicious generation are not confined to Spain ; in fact, much of Europe is facing a similar dilemma. Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia and Cyprus have also all become ‘net exporters’ and in Italy and Greece there are worries that a similar trend is beginning to show. In 2011, 2500 Greeks moved to Australia whilst an enormous and significant 40,000 ‘expressed interest in going South’, according to The Guardian ; the Portuguese population in Angola has doubled since 2005 ; in the year up to April 2012, Ireland faced a loss of 87,000 – 2% of the entire population.

In the UK immigration has long been a ‘problem’ which the government has been seeking to ‘solve’ by cutting numbers. However, the apparent drop of 36,000 immigrants in the last year and an increase in emigrants both affect net migration. In Manchester alone there have been nearly 3500 enquiries concerning emigration, a number topped in Belfast and followed shortly by Liverpool. This suggests the change in pattern has a lot to do with the economy in crisis, rather than government efforts and, as such, does not always positively affect the country. For example, the number of student visas issued has dropped 21%, showing the damaging effect these changes will have on British universities and therefore Britain as a whole.

Even Germany is witnessing changes. Spiegel Online discovered that Nordhalben, a rural Bavarian town, is losing its residents : 85 out of 820 houses are empty ; its previous count of 3000 inhabitants has fallen to just 1900 ; its elderly citizens pass away and there is no one left to replace them. This is in the wealthiest region of Germany. These migrants may be moving within Germany, transferring from the country to the cities, but a country may begin to struggle to support itself without an agricultural workforce to supply its ever-swelling cities.

In the past, for a European to hear of people leaving their own underdeveloped countries was anything but unheard of. But in the past, it was a distant threat, something that happened to countries outside the continent. The influx of Latin Americans which Spain witnessed in the build-up to 2008, mostly came with the intention of finding work and saving their earnings so, ultimately, they would be able to return. It seems in this sense the tables really have turned : many European migrants say their ultimate intention is to save a large amount of their earnings, in order to later return.

However,The Wall Street Journal’s example of Andrés Velarde and María Palencia, two young Spanish architects, could be a worrying snapshot of a longer-lasting effect of the economic crisis in Europe. Their prospects in Brazil are so promising that they have ceased to set deadlines. It seems increasingly likely that the loss of the young generation to prosperity elsewhere could be more permanent.


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Kirsty Walter

Kirsty is currently studying Italian and Spanish for a BA Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University where her interests and pastimes vary immeasurably, undertaking music, sport and anything else she can be actively involved in. Her (...)
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