Many Spaniards are heading abroad to look for work as the economic crisis worsens
Mariano Rajoy’s announcement last Wednesday 11 July of a new, €65 billion austerity plan means Spaniards look set to be hit harder than ever by the economic recession that is ceaselessly ravaging the country. With unemployment figures even higher than Greece at 24%, there is a stagnant feeling among many that the situation is likely to remain this way for a very long time. With the light at the end of the tunnel growing dimmer and dimmer, young graduates and older professionals alike are setting their sights beyond Iberian borders in search of work.
When I arrived in Madrid last October beggars here looked like beggars you might find in Paris, London or New York. Hard on their luck men and women, disheveled and homeless, they would wander the metro or sit on street corners asking for money. More recently though, another category of beggar has become more noticeable. Last week on the metro man got on. He was wearing trousers and a shirt, smart, but creased and fading, as if they had been worn for a few days in a row. His face was tired and the bags under his eyes weighed heavy. He explained, almost embarrassedly, to the carriage that he was out of work, received no benefits and had a family to support. Any help would be most appreciated. Passengers averted their gazes awkwardly, many, I’m sure, not wanting to confront what the recession is doing to people, and could quite easily do to them.
While many average Spaniards are getting by with a sharp tightening of their belts, the new wave of people being driven to beg surely points to a worsening situation, one that is becoming precarious for many families. Especially those without savings, who could go from relative comfort to poverty in a matter of weeks if the main breadwinner loses his or her job. The sense of doom at an unknown future is causing many Latin American immigrants to return to their home countries - figures for emigration are now higher than immigration - and many professionals to look for jobs abroad. Lots of people are already teetering on the edge, and many would prefer to jump into the unknown of working abroad than wait and see how bad the Spanish crisis gets.
Noelia Soriano, 24, has just graduated from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid with a degree in Nursing. She has been unable to find a job related to nursing or otherwise, and estimates that only around 20% of her classmates have been successful, “It is practically impossible to find work when health workers are being made redundant throughout Spain,” she says. For Noelia’s classmates, further study seems to be the best option, as most are currently pursuing postgraduate qualifications. But, however well qualified you may be, the situation in Spain is worrying, and unemployment figures are set to continue to rise with the new bout of cuts.
“Moving abroad is definitely something I haven’t ruled out,” says Noelia, who acknowledges the importance of language skills in making the decision to move, “Knowing more than one language definitely means you are likely to find work abroad that would be impossible to find here in Spain.”
One language in particular is top of the list for Spaniards looking for work abroad - English. There had been a huge surge in the number of professionals taking English classes during the economic crisis. Parents, more than ever, want their children to learn English from a young age in order to give them better chances in life, while English after school clubs and summer camps are more popular than ever. In fact, the teaching of English is perhaps the only sector in Spain that is flourishing rather than suffering.
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The number of Spaniards looking for work abroad has risen by 22% since 2008, when unemployment figures reached record levels. The top destinations for Spaniards seeking work abroad are the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland; the United Kingdom having seen an increase of 16% in the number of Spaniards moving there since 2008. Browse the internet and you will discover the array of websites and companies now offering to help Spaniards relocate and find work abroad, the business of moving itself is one that is booming.
The United Kingdom is, without doubt, the top destination for Spaniards. They can legally work there under EU law, unlike the USA or other English-speaking countries. It is also close enough and has good enough air links that they can regularly return to Spain, for you find that Spaniards, on the whole, are moving out of necessity and not because they want to leave their beloved country.
Spaniards are particularly attached to their country and the Spanish way of life is one that can be difficult to emulate abroad, especially in radically different countries like Britain or Germany. According to a Spanish friend of mine, Spaniards would much rather stay in Spain earning less money, but retaining the same lifestyle, friends and family than move abroad in search of higher salaries.
But with last Wednesday’s news of yet more cuts, Spaniards will find it increasingly difficult living in their own country and inevitably, the number of Spaniards leaving Spain will only continue to soar.
Photograph 1 Kuster & Wildhaber Photography (flickr)
Photograph 2 Contando Estrelas (Flickr)