BRUSSELS, BELGIUM —
Young people from Southern European countries who migrated for work opportunities are unlikely to move back home anytime soon. Thousands migrated north after the economic crisis hit their countries hard. Unemployment rates in countries such as Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Portugal remain excessively high between — 25 percent and 45 percent.
Roberta D’amore left her home country of Italy in 2010. After graduating from university, it took her months to find a full time jobs that paid her only 500 euros a month without any benefits or health insurance.
She now works in Luxembourg at a recruitment agency and doesn’t think she will move back to Italy anytime soon.
“Every time I go back the situation is worse when it comes to work opportunities," she said. "It makes me sad that my country is not able to offer the young generation to start a life. If the situation would improve I could at least think about opportunities and go back.”
Most of the young unemployed move to countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, but also to smaller countries like The Netherlands and Belgium.
Portuguese software engineer Jorge Lima moved to England because of the language. “There was little work in Portugal in my field and the work the projects I get to work on here are much more interesting," he said. "Also the salary is more than twice as much. Most of my friends from Portugal have moved away to find better jobs.”
Only three percent of Europeans live in a different European Union member state, mostly due to language barriers. For years the European Union has tried to increase mobility within the bloc, but many of these young professionals migrating north feel their mobility is forced. More than 4 million young Europeans were unemployed in the year of 2016.
The efforts of the EU Youth Guarantee, an initiative established to assist those under the age of 25 with employment, education or internships, “falls short of the initial expectations raised,” according to a report by the Court of Auditors released in April.
Matthias Busse is a researcher at the Center for European Policy Studies. He says the Youth Guarantee had a positive impact, though the total number of unemployed youth remains too large.
“It’s not a drop in the ocean, but its not something that will have a huge impact on the macro number. One also has to have realistic expectations on what the EU can deliver on. In the end it comes down to the economic environment," said Busse. "And if domestic jobs are created, schemes can only be tools to facilitate positive trends, but the positive trends have to be there.”
The European Youth Forum lobbies the EU and policymakers on behalf of young people on issues such as employment. They were very much in favor of the Youth Guarantee, but also believe proper financing and less bureaucracy is needed to successfully implement such programs.
Allan Pall of the European Youth Forum says the current situation could lead to a so-called lost generation if no reforms are introduced.
“We see that young people are more likely to work in precarious jobs, unpaid, or zero-hour contracts or sometimes not even having contracts. We are now seeing that countries like United Kingdom and Greece have legitimized paying young people below the minimum wage, just because they are young,” said Pall.
One Spanish job seeker in Brussels says he prefers not to be named as he is actively applying for jobs, and he feels there is a negative bias against those who are not Belgian. After doing three unpaid internships at home there was still no prospect of finding paid employment.
The linguistic graduate says he faces several challenges, such as how to negotiate in his new cultural environment and not being able to speak the local language.
Despite these challenges he feels that even if he doesn’t manage to find a job within his field, he will stay in Belgium.
“This is something that I discussed with my family before coming here, there is a chance I don’t find anything. But it’s more worth it to being a Belgian waiter with a better salary and better conditions than being one at home. And that is a very sad thing to say.”
The Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Belgium assisted hundreds of Spanish people looking for work in Belgium and surrounding countries in recent years. Almost all are under 35 years old and 85 percent of them have a university degree. Despite the challenges with language, bureaucracy or even knowing where to find vacancies, it will be difficult to lure them back to Spain, says Ramon Lopez of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce:
“In Spain there were many qualified people fore few jobs so the wages were quite low. When the people from Spain come here, they are just happy with having a fair salary,” he said.
Ramon says the brain-drain of young professionals means that now activities with public money are initiated to attract those who migrated, to come back home.