Greek brain drain looming

Eleni, age 30, has been living abroad for several years. She enjoys her studies in advertising and one of the reasons why she decided to go on to a higher academic level – presently in New York – was that she thought she could return to Greece one day and get a job easily. That safety net, as she puts it, is now gone. «Why should I return home and be a potential burden on my parents who are already struggling? I have sent out applications to companies in the USA and Europe. The best choice for me at the moment is to stay abroad, even if at times I get a little homesick.» A new wave of migrants from Greece to other countries is building up gradually and it is composed of university students who have decided to stay abroad and professionals from all fields who see little to no prospects in Greece. What was once a trickle of the country’s work force due to unemployment and unfavorable working conditions has become, because of the present economic crisis, an all-out exodus. A growing problem It is estimated that in the last 10 years, some 550,000 Greeks have moved abroad to work or decided to remain abroad after completing their studies. The downturn is only expected to exacerbate the problem. There are presently 7,849 applications from Greek nationals for positions with the European Union, ranking Greece 14th globally in demand for EU employment (Spain is first with 77,283 applicants, followed by Italy with 61,677). At the same time, a study conducted by human resources company Manpower reveals that nine out of 10 Greeks have considered emigrating to find a job. Indeed, four out of 10 have relocated in Greece for professional reasons, while 30 percent of these subsequently moved abroad. The same study shows that four in 10 are willing to live elsewhere for a period of one to three years. It is not surprising, therefore, that 37 percent of Greek employers are having trouble recruiting, especially when it comes to highly specialized personnel. AIESEC is an international student organization that helps graduates looking for employment in other countries than their own. A spokesman for the group, Yiannis Christidis, said that he has noticed a changing trend at the Greek branch. «Over the past three years, we have seen the interest of Greeks participating in the program increasing while at the same time the number of foreign applicants interested in working in Greece has dropped. «Recently the inclination to move abroad has become much stronger, as is indicated by the fact that many Greeks are now willing to work abroad even on a volunteer basis. They are beginning to realize that their CVs need to show that they are able to adapt to new circumstances. A great many of our members say they are inclined to remain abroad and not come back. Greeks are becoming more reasonable in their expectations and this is perhaps the most striking of all the current changes.» Stathis Tsengos, vice president of the Greek Technical Chamber, notes that «until recently, many of my colleagues were unwilling to work in countries like Dubai where demand for engineers is high – it was simply too much of a hassle for them to move there. Now it is evident that the imminent wave of emigration will include a large number of engineers. Moving abroad is the only option, especially as universities keep pouring out new engineers. The establishment of new technical colleges was totally unregulated without an overall national plan.» It is impossible for 105,000 engineers to be absorbed by an economy and a sector that are in the midst of a severe economic crisis. The next stops for engineers, therefore, are the Balkans and the Middle East. Nurses & doctors Meanwhile, some 10 nurses a month are applying to the national nurses’ union for the required documentation in order to work in other EU countries. «There is indeed a growing trend toward leaving the country,» says Aristides Daglas, general secretary of the union. «The shortages of hospital staff in Greece are well known, as is the fact that the hiring of new personnel is unlikely.» Currently, 3,000 of the 28,000 registered nurses are unemployed. «We fear that this will increase the numbers of those choosing to move abroad,» added Daglas. It is estimated that 80 percent of Greece’s nursing work force will head for the UK. For doctors, the flight is happening en mass. With the country’s two largest medical schools, those of Athens and Thessaloniki, producing 1,000 doctors a year and with only 800 doctors retiring in the same time period, the waiting list for new positions is growing longer. According to figures from the General Confederation of Greek Labor, there are presently about 62,000 doctors in the entire country, or a per capita ratio of 1:185, while the European average is 1:350. There are presently 22,000 members in the doctors’ association of Athens, 11.2 percent of whom are unemployed. This is perhaps why, as official statistics reflect, each year roughly 500 newly qualified doctors leave Greece to work abroad. Added to this, as findings of recent studies show, 70.3 percent of medical students in Greece are considering specializing abroad, mainly in the UK, Germany and the USA, and perhaps even moving there permanently. As one such medical student posted on the Internet, without a giving his name, «I live abroad, I am studying to be a doctor and there is no chance of me returning to Greece – no chance!»