unemployedYouth unemployment in Europe is causing significant demographic shifts as qualified, university educated young people look overseas for meaningful work.  In particular, large numbers of Spanish and Portuguese youth are finding better opportunities abroad, with former colonies being among the more popular destinations.

Euractiv.com reports that twice as many Spaniards left the country in the first half of 2012 than in the same period last year (40,000), and 229,000 foreign nationals also went elsewhere.  Portugal has witnessed a similar trend, with an estimated 120,000 nationals moving abroad in 2011.

It is shocking that more than half of all young people in Spain and a third in Portugal are out of work at the moment.  Some reports say the real situation is even worse because half of those who have jobs are in fact on uncertain short-term contracts and others are on unpaid or poorly compensated “internships”.  Some Spaniards have been able to find work in Germany and the United Kingdom, but for those that can’t speak a foreign language the former colonies are a more viable option. 

It is heartening to hear that there are jobs for young people even if they do have to look abroad, but interesting how such movement could affect the demographic makeup of Europe.  Euractiv.com further reports:

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…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.

More Spanish and Portuguese parents will have to get used to having children, and potentially grandchildren, living overseas if the trend continues and Spain and Portugal may well experience a ‘brain drain’ of their best and brightest.  This is not a new problem for New Zealand, whose young people have long sought overseas jobs, often in London, in order to travel and earn more money (despite New Zealand having jobs on offer).  However, for the Spanish and Portuguese youth at the moment, there seems little choice.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...