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Mar 30, 2012 | 20:11 GMT

2 mins read

Emigration in the European Periphery

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For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, countries on the European periphery — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain — have experienced high emigration to other parts of Europe and the world motivated mainly by better economic prospects elsewhere. However, the economic stability that accompanied the entry of these countries in the European Union in the late 1990s and early 2000s changed their profile and turned them into immigration destinations. In the two decades preceding the international financial crisis that began in 2007, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Italy had rates of immigration that exceeded those of emigration. To a certain extent, the financial crisis has returned these countries to their "traditional" emigration profile. Most of the people leaving are foreigners, as unemployment rates are usually higher among foreign nationals. However, some reports suggest that substantial numbers of Portuguese, Irish, Italian, Greek and Spanish nationals — particularly highly educated young men and women — are moving abroad. In the short run, immigration offers some relief to social tensions generated by rising unemployment. As unemployed workers leave the country, labor supply decreases. Moreover, the emigration of unemployed people reduces short-term government spending on social programs. In the long run, however, high rates of emigration create at least two problems for these countries. First, there is the danger of a "brain drain," since these countries risk losing a significant highly skilled population. Second, increasing emigration may further deteriorate the already existing demographic problems of Europe — especially in a time when Europe shows low birth rates and an aging population. The waves of immigration from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s (young workers, sometimes bringing their families with them) mitigated this problem somewhat; the current emigration of young people (foreign and domestic) will compound it. The combination of high emigration, low immigration and population aging will mean fewer workers paying taxes and more retirees collecting pensions and using social services, which will make the budget-cutting plans currently being undertaken by these countries even more difficult.

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