Generation exit: Two surveys look into brain drain in EU’s crisis-hit nations

“My life has improved on nearly every practical level – work, free time, social benefits, health, family insurance – but it has mostly deteriorated on an emotional level,” says a man who was recently forced to leave Greece. “I feel disconnected from the rest of my family, from my old friends, from the country with all its charms and problems,” he tells, an online platform that crowdsources stories from Greek, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese expats.

On top of collecting personal stories of south-to-north migration among young Europeans, the five online media – Il Fatto Quotidiano (Italy), El Confidencial (Spain), P3 (Portugal), Radio Bubble (Greece) and Correct!v (Germany) – are also working to collect official data on what has become known as “Generation Exit.”

So far, more than 1,200 people, including 191 Greeks, have taken part in the study. Most of them now live in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, 85 percent have a university degree, and most have no plans to return to Greece – although they say they’d love to.

Meanwhile, another e-survey on high-skill emigration from five EU member states hit by the crisis – Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain – conducted by the Global Governance Program of the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence and supervised by professors Anna Triandafyllidou and Ruby Gropas, showed that the percentage of those who have completed tertiary education among recent intra-EU mobile workers grew from 27 percent in 2007-08 to 44 percent in 2011-12.

“Continued emigration of the youngest, best and brightest of these countries has triggered notable public debate and concern,” the study said.

The EUI researchers received about 7,000 responses from Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish people who have emigrated from their home countries. Of these, 8 percent held a university degree while 92 percent were under 45 years of age. A total of 919 Greeks took part in the survey and virtually all of them agreed that “there were limited or no opportunities for professional advancement and they were overall dissatisfied with the career opportunities and prospects that were being offered in their country of origin.”

Seventy-three percent of Greeks were employed in their country of settlement at the time of the survey. Meanwhile, 58 percent said they were happy with their income and labor conditions.

The main reasons Greek emigrants cited for leaving the country were lack of career prospects, lack of meritocracy, corruption, clientelism and lack of trust.

“I left Athens because I felt a suffocating stagnation, socially as well as professionally. I found more prospects abroad. When I left it never crossed my mind that I would still live abroad so many years later and, most importantly, that the crisis would be so deep as to prevent me from going back,” says another emigrant from Greece. More than half of Greeks who took part in the Generation E survey said they hoped to return to Greece one day. Meanwhile, the EUI survey found that 55 percent of Greeks said they plan to stay abroad for more than five years.

Unlike migrants from other southern nations, most Greeks appear to have a special relationship with the Greek communities in the host countries. Findings show they also have mixed feelings about living abroad. They feel frustrated over the reasons that made them leave their country in the first place, but they also seem to experience a loss of identity and a sense of nostalgia.

“I have not managed to fit in. Perhaps I stopped trying around 2010-12 when stories in the local media turned people against the Greeks. It was then that I felt what it is like to be the object of racism. Greeks were the object of endless insults. Some people avoided saying they were Greek,” a young woman told the Generation E forum.