Students in Lisbon, Portugal protest against austerity measures
Students in Lisbon, Portugal protest against austerity measures Creative Common

How times have changed.

In a stark reversal of decades of global migration patterns, unemployed young people for Western Europe are now seeking work in the developing world (in many cases, to the countries which were part of their former colonial empires).

According to a BBC report, college graduates in debt-stricken Portugal have been migrating in large numbers to its former colonies such as Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique to find work.

Ironically, for the past few decades, immigrants from those very countries have been moving to Portugal for opportunities.

Like its larger neighbor Spain, Portugal is mired in staggering debt, high unemployment and drastic budget cuts to social services.

On Wednesday, the Lisbon government unveiled a whole new spate of austerity measures, including higher taxes across the board. Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar has warned that GDP may fall 2.3 percent this year and 1.7 percent in 2012.

“Portugal, like Ireland, is a smaller country than Spain or Italy, with lower levels of debt, but also more insolvent,” said Laura Gonzalez-Alana, assistant professor of finance and business economics at Fordham University in New York.

The BBC report claimed one out of every 10 college graduates in Portugal is planning to emigrate. According to the data, more than one in four (26.8 percent) of Portuguese youth are unemployed; and a similar percentage of the working population are actually free-lancing.

This is the biggest emigration wave since the 1960s, said Filipa Pinho of the government's Emigration Observatory.

Pinho also noted that the number of Portuguese citizens registered in Brazilian consulates climbed by 60,000 from 2009 to 2010.

Brazil, one of the fastest-growing economic powers in the world, is reportedly very keen on hiring well-educated Portuguese engineers and architects, ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics in 2016.

The Brazilian economy jumped by 7.5 percent last year, the fastest pace in more than two decades.

Gonzalez-Alana noted that Brazil, a former colony of Portugal, has significant challenges ahead; but has been growing steadily, like other emerging market giants such as India or China.

“Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's government started [to crack down] on drug-related crime… [and has] controlled inflation with continuous growth [and delivered] improvements in public education,” she said.

“His successor, Dilma Rousseff, now faces the challenge of continuing the process, with reforms that are being slowed by the continuous revelations of corruption within her government with subsequent resignations.”

BBC also reported that almost 24,000 Portuguese applied for visas to Angola last year, a country that is the base of some 3,000 Portuguese companies.

The Angolan economy is expected to climb by 5 percent this year and 8 percent in 2012, primarily driven by high oil prices, according to World Bank economist for Angola and Mozambique, Ricardo Gazel.

A Portuguese businessman based in Angola told BBC: Most of [the new Portuguese arrivals] have good degrees, masters, even PhDs, and the new thing is that many of them don't want to come back. Right now Angola is developing really fast, it needs skilled people to build the infrastructure.

Portugal has about 3-million people living in the global Diaspora, BBC indicated, but most of those émigrés were blue-collar – the new wave of departures are largely college-educated.

Natalia Santos, a jobless young teacher told BBC: I feel very frustrated sometimes and very disappointed. But I won't give up. I'll go abroad because I am not going to wait for Portugal to give me something.

Portuguese are also migrating in larger numbers to traditional target countries, like the U.S., Canada and Australia.

“Young Southern Europeans can emigrate to Germany and other northern [European] countries that need specialized labor, particularly engineers and computer specialists, as long as they speak some English and start learning German quickly,” noted Gonzalez-Alana.
“For the other [potential Portuguese emigrants] who have diplomas in fields that are in less demand, or for those without education, the common histories and language of Portugal and Brazil opens another door for which they will not have to compete with Spaniards.”

Gonzalez-Alana points particularly to Germany as a desirable haven for skilled immigrants from places like Portugal and Spain.

“[German companies] provide good compensation packages. Their businesses need skilled and educated labor as the German population is aging quickly.”