Official employment of non-Greeks in Greece has been in decline in recent years, contributing to a wave of departures by foreign nationals from the crisis-hit eurozone country and compelling many to seek work off the books, recent research by an Athens-based think-tank has shown.
The study on employment in Greece by the Center for Planning and Economic Research (KEPE) showed that while Greek nationals have seen hundreds of thousands new jobs opening up for them since 2014, foreign workers employed in Greece are declining at a rate of over 16,000 per year.
“Citizenship appears to have played a very significant role in employment over the last four years, as the recovery recorded since 2014 seems to concern Greek citizens only,” notes the KEPE report.
According to Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) data processed by KEPE, the total number of people employed in Greece rose from 3.54 million in the second quarter of 2014 to 3.86 million in the same period of 2018, meaning an increase of some 321,300 jobs. The April-June period this year was the 16th consecutive quarter of job growth in the economy, a trend that started in mid-2014.
However, the same four-year period also saw a surplus of around 385,000 jobs employing Greeks and a deficit of some 65,000 jobs among non-Greeks. The trend in the last 12 months that were examined (from July 2017 to June 2018) remained largely unchanged, with Greeks landing 53,000 new jobs and non-Greeks loosing 16,000, the report reveals.
The researchers add, however, that while at the start of the economic crisis eight years ago the unemployment rate among foreigners was one percentage point below that of Greeks, by the second quarter of 2014 it was over five points higher (30.3 percent against 25.1 percent for Greeks) and in June this year the difference stood at almost seven percentage points: 25.4 percent for non-Greeks and 18.6 percent for Greeks.
KEPE researcher Ioannis Cholezas, who authored the report, tells Kathimerini English Edition that the reduction in the number of jobs employing foreigners dropped as a result of a shift in the Greek economy’s characteristics, as non-Greeks were traditionally employed in sectors that have have been particularly hard hit by the crisis. “Male foreign laborers used to work primarily in construction, a sector that has crumbled in Greece, while women were employed in great numbers as domestic workers, a trend that is also in decline,” he says.
The difficulty of finding employment in Greece for foreign citizens goes hand-in-hand with the reduction of their population, Cholezas explains. ELSTAT’s Manpower Survey saw a 27 percent drop in the number of foreign workers in Greece, from some 558,000 in June 2014 to almost 405,000 in June 2018.
An increase of employment in tourism and commerce has benefited Greek workers, who, Cholezas adds, may have now become more open to taking jobs they would not have considered before the outbreak of the crisis.
He also notes that while there may be quite a few foreign workers in tourism, they may not count as residents in Greece, as “they may just fly into the country for the tourism season, utilize their skills – such as languages – and fly back home later in the year.”
The decline in figures may also be an indication of the number of foreign workers in Greece who have gone from legal employment to working off the books, argues Alexandra Tragaki, an associate professor in Economic Demography at Harokopio University, Athens.
“There is a sizable number of foreign workers who left Greece during the crisis, but this is not such a major factor, as some of them actually returned, particularly from Albania. We do not have a clear picture on that. Others may have not gone back home but moved on to a third country. What we do know is that there are many foreign nationals who have dropped off the list of the employed in Greece simply because they switched into forms of undeclared labor. This does not mean they lost their jobs but that their employment status is no longer legitimate,” she tells Kathimerini English Edition.
Growth-minded business not a priority
Another dimension of the challenges faced by foreigners looking to work in Greece concerns the obstacles to doing business, Tragaki stresses.
“Greece needs to attract potential entrepreneurs, not only in the sense of wealthy investors but also medium-level foreign professionals who would start a business in Greece that is not the usual mini-market or restaurant migrants tend to open in this country in order to to sell goods from their respective countries,” says the Harokopio academic.
“Non-Greeks in Greece go into business for themselves purely out of necessity and not as a matter of choice or because they are growth-minded. They are almost exclusively driven by the need to find employment because there are not enough jobs around. However, this is hardly beneficial for the economy. What Greece needs is for people coming from other countries to bring their creative skills, to join innovative sectors and find an incentive to participate in the growth of the economy,” Tragaki tells Kathimerini English Edition.
The academic compares Greece to the United States, saying that in the US one in every two new companies is set up by migrants, Silicon Valley included. Greece, on the other hand, does not offer the environment for such initiatives, she notes.