Brazilian boom

Exodus of workers from continent reverses old patterns

Soon after Spain's real-estate bust put Andrés Velarde and María Palencia out of work, the young architects gathered their drafting materials and moved 5,000 miles to Brazil—drawn by a hope, but no promise, of employment.

Within five weeks the Spanish couple had jobs in the midst of a bonanza. The South American country was expanding its low-income housing program and scrambling to build stadiums, airport terminals and hotels for the 2014 World Cup of soccer and 2016 Olympic Games.

"The crisis back home is distant news," said Mr. Velarde, eight months into his new job in Rio de Janeiro. "In Brazil, there's growth and optimism, a joyful atmosphere totally at odds with what there is in Europe."

Australia is becoming the prime destination for Greeks looking to escape political turmoil and economic woes at home. The WSJ's Deborah Kan and Geoffrey Rogow discuss the latest immigration trend on Asia Today.

Economic distress is driving tens of thousands of skilled professionals from Europe, and many are being lured to thriving former European colonies in Latin America and Africa, reversing well-worn migration patterns. Asia and Australia, as well as the U.S. and Canada, are absorbing others leaving the troubled euro zone.

At the same time, an influx of Third World immigrants whose labor helped fuel Europe's growth over the past decade is subsiding. Hundreds of thousands of them, including some white-collar professionals, have been returning home.

The exodus is raising concern about a potential long-term cost of the economic crisis—a talent drain that could hinder the euro zone's weakest economies as they struggle to climb out of recession.

"This amounts to a hemorrhaging of highly educated people—the very people they'll need if they are to take off when circumstances get better," said Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

The toll is mounting in Spain and Portugal, countries losing skilled workers to their former colonies. More people are emigrating from Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia and Cyprus than are moving to those countries, and in Greece officials worry that a similar trend is taking hold there. The European Union has no overall data on migration, but concern about the impact of severe budget cuts is growing in the U.K., France, Germany and Italy, all grappling with losses of top research talent.

King Juan Carlos highlighted Spain's losses with a poignant remark while handing out scholarships to young Spaniards for postgraduate study abroad.

"I sincerely hope and wish that when your time comes to return home there will be more jobs for you and that you can stay here," he told the 121 assembled winners in March. "We really need you in Spain."

(Published by WSJ - January 14, 2012)

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