Recently, there has been much talk about a new wave of emigration in Greece. According to some commentators and media, crisis has opened Greece’s door widely and people are emigrating abroaden masse. Some even compare it with previous historical periods when tens of thousands of Greeks left the country to seek work and better lives abroad.
An open discussion on "The new emigration of Greeks" was held at the Onassis Foundation’s House of Letters and Arts. Above the panel of participants had been placed a picture typical of the early 20th century. It portrayed a group of Greeks on the deck of a transoceanic ship, who were smiling as if against their will and holding the Greek flag in their hands before starting the long journey to the cherished America.
Despite some expectations, the presentations made it clear that the majority of Greeks who are emigrating now are educated and are going abroad to work in their specialty; they are not people with secondary or primary education. There is no statistical data and therefore, recent available figures were presented.
"Emigration is not a new phenomenon. It is not due to the crisis. It has just made it more intense," said the Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki Lois Lambrianidis. To prove his words, he presented the results of a study he had conducted in 2010 to identify who has emigrated from Greece to foreign countries and why.
"It turned out that approximately 120 thousand educated Greeks were living and working abroad in 2010. This is 10% of the skilled employees in the country," he said.
Large migration flows occurred in the 1960s and they were most intense in the 1990s. This was because at that time, it became much easier to travel within the then European Economic Community. The survey shows that the age of those who emigrate is gradually increasing and today, the percentage of people above the age of 30 is very high.
"It is very easy for someone to look for a job in Europe or America today, because the development of technology provides this opportunity. Moreover, it costs almost nothing, because curricula vitae are sent to major electronic portals offering jobs."
What is the profile of Greeks working abroad? Professor Lambrianidis explained that they hold at least one university degree. Significant is the percentage of those who have completed several Master Degrees or a Doctorate. Nine out of ten have completed their education abroad and many of them are now working in universities, research centres or research departments of companies. "90.9% of the Greeks who graduated abroad have not even tried to seek employment in Greece. They remain in the countries where they studied or look for a job in other countries. They usually settle in the capitals or major cities, and the incentive for this is not just financial."
Many respondents indicated that their choice is connected with the desire to gain experience by living and working abroad. They do not even identify themselves as emigrants but as cosmopolitans.
According to Lois Lambrianidis, emigration of educated Greeks today is becoming more a "persecution." "It is due to the lack of career opportunities." Those emigrants, who had decided to return in 2010, did it to be close to their families, to have a better quality of life and other similar reasons, and work is in fifth place in the rankings.
"Interestingly, the so-called "elite" is more often inclined to return. These are people, who come from wealthy families with high social status. They studied in private schools, and then they immediately left to study in foreign universities. Usually, they return to Greece to take on the family business. In the so-called "proletariat," the situation is the opposite. These are the children of average families, who remain abroad after their studies to settle and develop there. This does not mean that they all have a "wonderful" job. The Greek market is simply unable to take them." The choice of spouse also plays a role in the decision to return. The rate of returnees having a relationship with foreigners is very small compared with those whose partner is of Greek origin.
"In all countries, the more the level of education is rising, the more the unemployment is falling. In Greece, the opposite is happening and this is not the only strange thing," said the Professor. Most of the enterprises in the country are medium-sized and they prefer to employ someone because of his or her practical experience rather than a highly educated person." What a youngster can tell an experienced master," is quite a common phrase. Another controversy is that the payment does not increase depending on the level of education. Not least is the unfairness in the appointment, the fact that you have no chance to fight, if your rival "has connections"; there is the corruption and all other vices of the Greek system.
"Of course, if the survey was conducted now, the results would be quite different," said the Professor in conclusion.
Manos Matsanganis, Professor at the University of Economics, noted that currently, there is a trend rather than actual emigration and this is mainly due to the fact that the global economy is stagnant. "This, of course, will not last forever. My personal opinion is that it is better for the young people to go. They find more opportunities abroad than in Greece due to the already mentioned lack of fair criteria. When my students ask me for advice, I always tell them to go."