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The Great Escape: young Spaniards see the UK as a land of opportunity as 'la crisis' takes its toll

Por: | 24 de enero de 2013

“Well, I did my first degree in Audiovisual Communication, so I guess I kind of coached myself not to have a strong accent,” Rocío explains when asked as to why she only speak with the softest of Andalusian twangs, “then afterwards I did a post-graduate teaching certificate, and then my Masters in European Studies.” It takes a moment to register; yet the sad truth is that hers is an all too common story.

“I was unemployed in Spain for two years, which is just too long,” says the 28-year-old originally from Seville, “I wasn’t just looking for jobs in my city, I was applying for jobs all over Spain, Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, but I was barely even offered an interview. I went eight months without even receiving one phone call in relation to all my applications, and after that I decided that I had to leave.” The pain is etched all over her face. 

Of de emp
As the job queues increase in Spain, so do the numbers of those leaving the country (Photo: EFE via El País)

Indeed, the number of people leaving Spain is increasing dramatically. The Insituto Nacional de Estadística recently released figures showing that over 40,000 left the country in the first six months of 2012; a 44-percent increase on that time in 2011. Many of them are seeking pastures new in the United Kingdom, where the Spanish population has increased by a third in the last five years, and the volume of National Insurance Number applications received by the Department for Work and Pensions by Spaniards over the last 12 months was second only to those made by Pakistani’s as the highest number of foreign national requests.

“It was a difficult decision to leave, of course it was,” she adds. “I have my friends, my family, and my boyfriend. He’s lucky. He works in an industry that hasn’t really been affected by the crisis, and hasn’t come to England with me. But sometimes you to make decisions and sacrifices for yourself, for your career, for your life. Two years of being unemployed is just demoralizing, I really wondered at times ‘Rocío, what are you doing with your life?’ So, I came here to improve my English, and I’m looking for a job as a waitress, barmaid, housekeeping…anything really, and then in the future we’ll see if I’m able to go back to Spain or if I will stay here and get my English to a level where I can work in marketing or communications … Who knows what the future will bring.”

This uncertainty is a reality now facing many, as those young and old are finding it ever-harder to find a job in a country where 52.3% of 16-24 year-olds are unemployed, and overall unemployment has risen to over one-in-four people.

Her friend Ferran joins us. He is 22 and graduated with a degree in Human Resources Management last June. “There’s just no opportunities for young people,” he says explaining the decision to swap his native Barcelona for Leeds in September. “I mean, you can work as a becario (intern) but you get paid next to nothing, and in a big city it doesn’t even cover the rent. I’m earning more as a barman here than I would be back home interning in a big company. Here I can improve my English, earn some money and then start looking for a more permanent job. I want to stay here for a long time.” I try to put myself in his shoes. We’re the same age, have similar interests, and although I have lived abroad for a period before, it was always going to be a temporary measure as part of my degree before I returned to the security of Blighty.

They both scoff when I suggest that Britain too has high levels of unemployment, “For you maybe seven or eight percent [unemployment level] is high, we have twenty five percent, and it’s worse for younger people like me,” Ferran retorts. By this time I have realized it is impossible to even contemplate being in the same, or a similar situation to what is being called la generación perdida (or, lost generation) by some people in Spain. These are highly educated, skilled people moving out of necessity.

Portobello in London is an area that has traditionally had a small, sociable Spanish community. There are a couple of Spanish delicatessens, selling chorizo, vino and more. There is the Spanish School Instituto Vicente Cañada Blanch, from which a stone’s throw away is La Bodega tapas bar. Proprietor Antonio Carrera has been in England for 45 years and used to struggle to find Spanish-speaking staff; not anymore. “I probably get around 25-30 CV’s a week minimum, and at least half of them are normally from Spaniards,” he tells me, with a tone of sorrow that reflects the gravity of the situation his homeland now finds itself in. “I only have room for about 10 staff, and yet I keep getting these applications from people with degrees, and masters in difficult subjects looking for what they can get – waiter, chef, washing dishes, even cleaning the restaurant. They are just forced to do anything to be able to go on with their lives, and it really is sad.”

La bodega
Antonio Carrera's 'La Bodega' Tapas Bar in London (Photo Ewan-M via flickr)

Back in Leeds the sentiment is shared, “It’s tough for Spain because there is a whole generation of people without work, and they are leaving,” Ferran explains. “I came here with my best friend, and we both have friends who have gone to Germany, France, and other cities in the UK like London and Dublin. We’re trying to be as English as we can; we pay our taxes, and do our shopping in the supermarket, even if the food is not the best,” he laughs. “And don’t even get me started on the weather,” as we jovially look out of the window into the thick, grey clouds, something which in retrospect is a seemingly pertinent metaphor for the economic situation these two young professionals have left behind in Spain.

 Suddenly the laughter stops. “But you can’t blame us, right?” Ferran says solemnly, “there’s just no future for us in Spain at all.”  



Hay 6 Comentarios

Interesting article. The situation for young peope here in Spain is desperately sad, and you constantly hear them say there's no future for them here. Good luck to those looking for work in the UK and elsewhere. Can I point out that Dublin isn't in the UK, it's in Ireland, and I believe that youth unemployment in Spain has risen to 60% now.

No olvidemos los años de hambre en los cuarenta y las décadas de los 50 y 60 cuando el trabajador español tuvo que dejar la patria para ganarse el pan de cada día en las fabricas de Alemania, los restaurantes suizos y en las minas belgas.

So sorry to read this about Spain. What a terrible shame. Thank you El Pais for letting me read this in English!

Deseas tener la oportunidad de expresarte de una manera diferente en la red y a su vez ver como se expresan otros usuarios, cada uno con su propia esencia? Escribir y escribir es lo único que se hace en esta plataforma: [Dentro de poco estará el espacio de usuario] [para darse de alta hay que escribir!!]

Una vez dominada la península y nuestras colonias en Sudamérica, España declara la guerra a Canada para proteger a nuestros aliados ingleses.
En clave interna, el partido comunista lucha por no perder su posición hegemónica. 
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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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