South America's Relative Economic Stability Attracts Immigrants

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, August 26, 2011 | Go to article overview

South America's Relative Economic Stability Attracts Immigrants


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


The crisis of the European countries, with the consequent massive loss of jobs and opportunities for the younger sectors of the population, is reproducing a phenomenon in South America that many thought was over: the arrival of small but persistent groups of Portuguese and Spanish immigrants. In general, the region's economies have indicators placing them among the best prepared to support the pounding from the global crisis, but this influx is beginning to cause concern, especially because those who are arriving--mostly professionals--come to compete in the labor market with a sector of the population that until now has not benefitted much from the economic upturn.

As their great-grandparents who emigrated a century ago and their grandparents 50 years ago--driven out as young people by hunger in Europe --the new generations from the Iberian peninsula began to follow the same route, this time as victims of a crisis that has already spread to a large part of the continent including all countries of the European Union (EU).

History is being repeated. Even the destinations are the same--the former South American colonies (Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, preferably)--although the Portuguese are also going to destinations unthinkable a few years ago, such as the former African possessions of Mozambique and Angola, which offer a growth dynamic that no longer exists in the former colonial powers.

Those who a century ago came by the thousands on ships emigrated to find food and to "make it in America," as they said. Those arriving by the dozens today on planes are emigrating to find work and professional development. Hundreds of thousands and dozens. One could say that they are not comparable, said Argentine sociologist Ignacio Gonzalez. Nevertheless, the researcher said, with the precedent of that earlier exodus, this 21st century wave comes leading an immigrant steam filled with symbolism--so much so that studies in the two European countries indicate that 50% of the young people who are looking for work say that they would leave their country to live wherever they are offered an equal, or even smaller but secure, income than they can find at home.

The Portuguese head for Brazil, where engineers and architects are scarce at a time when the South American giant is organizing for the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Spaniards, who also bring skills along with their luggage, are drawn for cultural and linguistic reasons to Spanish-speaking countries, where Eloy Capellan, a Spanish director of the international consulting firm Adecco, specializing in human resources, believes "the opportunities are limitless."

Young people see ample opportunities in former colonies

While demographers and sociologists say that it is difficult to measure the scale of this new emigration, because reliable statistics are still unavailable, some relevant data exists. Portugal's state Observatorio da Imigracao says that the number of Portuguese registered at the Brazilian consulates rose from 678,822 in 2009 to 705,615 in December 2010, an increase of nearly 27,000 persons. Although it did not give numbers, the Lisbon daily Correio da Manha also said that the migratory stream increased in the first half of the year.

Spain uses voter rolls to do its calculation. Since the crisis began in 2008, more than 120,000 people have left the country. Between December 2009 and December 2010, the number of Spanish citizens who emigrated to Argentina increased by 11% over the same period the previous year. For Uruguay, the increase was 16%, and for Venezuela, 24%.

In Spain, with the highest unemployment rate in Europe, where one in five persons is unemployed and that figure increases to more than two in five among young people, the opportunities that Latin America offers are a powerful magnet. In the first quarter of 2011, an average of 1,200 Spaniards a month were emigrating to Argentina alone. …

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