Foreign Policy Blogs

Reversing the Immigration Trend for Economic Migrants

Recently I had a conversation with a civil engineer from Greece. He asked me directly if my country accepts economic migrants. As someone who has worked in the immigration system and has followed recent changes to the system here, I had found it odd that people who apply to immigrate would use the term economic migrant, a term that was only used by policymakers in previous years. With economic issues in Southern Europe, many highly skilled citizens of countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal have been moving to places like Germany, Canada and Latin America for work. In a BBC report this past weekend, Spanish citizens moving to Germany for steady employment were interviewed regarding the situation in Spain. None of the candidates wished to leave their family in Spain, but many took to moving to Germany, taking six hour a day German intensive language courses and working jobs well below their skill set in order to not become a lost generation for Spain. With EU membership, EU citizens have the right to work anywhere in the EU without restrictions as long as they can fulfill the main requirements of the positions offered. For my country, I had to tell the Greek civil engineer that economic migrants are often not accepted for work visas unless there is a deficit in a specific employment sector in the country. Recent changes to the immigration laws re-enforced the limitations on economic migrants for all employment sectors.

In a recent AP article, the situation for many Spaniards moving to Latin America was highlighted. While thousands flock from the Iberian Peninsula to the healthier economies in Chile, Brazil and Mexico, the system for accepting European migrants into the Latin American economy has not been able to keep up with the relatively new demand for employment. Getting permits for legal work visas is a highly convoluted process according to the author of the article. Many are limited to working under the table, a situation that promotes a lack of stability and lack of pay in their new employment situation. This becomes even more absurd for newcomers, especially when the jobs are available but the legal status is not for many Spanish in Latin America. Often such a problem could be limited by the employer, and with nearly 43% of South America’s trade being linked to the EU, it would be logical to assume that a company that operates in Spain and Chile would be able to facilitate employment in both countries and both immigration systems. Since 2010 however, the number of émigrés from Spain has increased and changed the flow of migration, resulting in many young Spaniards moving to Latin America without a systemic shift to accommodate the new demand. While one source of the problem could be the recent shift in migration patterns and immigration systems in Latin America that have not been tested since the early 20th century, it might also have something to do with the last few years of Latin American immigration to Europe, Spain and Portugal, where the system in Europe has failed to respect many Latin Americans coming to live and work in the EU. With such a large shift in migration patterns in such a short period of time, any resentment and problems felt my Latin American migrants to Spain recently could be reflected in the Latin American immigration systems for Spaniards coming to the region. As a result, talks between Spain and Latin American leaders will have to take place so that both systems become efficient and respectful of citizens working between nations.

To be a successful economic migrant, there are a few simple things one should know when trying to make their big move to another country. In the summit between Spain and Chilean leaders there has been a recognition of education and skills across borders. The recognition of skills is extremely essential, as it promotes a healthy competition of skills so that the right people fill the right positions and reduces bias against skilled foreign workers in a modern economy. In that way, citizens of a community benefit from the best skilled professionals, and are not forced to go to poorly equipped local talent while the highly skilled foreign talent drives their taxi between appointments. It is essential for an individual to find out what training will be valued in the new economy, and it is also the responsibility for local agencies to be fair and equal in the treatment of foreign skills. If possible, a good method to move to employment in another country is to get a formal transfer from your country in a multinational company to a position in the same company in the new country. Often larger companies who value their skilled workers will also facilitate legal assistance for their employees in the new country and get them settled and working quickly after the move. In addition, become aware of the job market in the sector you wish to work in as much as possible, as in many countries there are many informal barriers to new immigrants in the employment sector that only become apparent after a move, and leaves immigrants for years without employment or the means to survive economically. What this means is that you should find work before moving if at all possible, and if not, make sure there are no informal barriers to employment in the field you desire before moving and immigrating to a new country. Even some legal services who claim to assist new immigrants often take more money than offer any real assistance, or charge for services the new immigrant could easily do on their own. Even the best countries can result in a very poor living situation for new immigrants; never assume great success just because a country has a good reputation, even if the country is a rich one with great opportunities.

  • Jose Diaz

    Migration of skilled or talented professionals between countries has increased in recent years, a trend that is likely to continue growing. As competition increases and educated professional find themselves in situations where job that match their skills or preparation are oversaturated in their native country, but abundant in others, employment opportunities for highly skilled professionals may arise in seemingly unexpected locations. This is essentially a win-win situation for both the individual and the country or organization that can offer employment.

    However, political loopholes between countries, whether they are meant to protect their citizens or not, as discussed in this article, may do more harm than good. In a global economy, it may be sensible for countries to see the benefits of recognizing education and skills across borders. Unbiased policy reform should be able to achieve a balance between protecting local talent as well benefiting from foreign talent that essentially contributes to the economy.


Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration