Three in four Greek university graduates have left the country in the past six years in search of better job prospects abroad, and most intend to settle down in their new place of residence for good, a new study looking at past and present trends has found.
The path of migration has never been easy, though, and many educated Greeks may spend several months in a foreign country without a job, relying on support from their parents back home, a trend that was even more marked before the start of the crisis in 2010. Moreover, the profile of the migrating Greek has also changed dramatically today compared to the massive migration waves in the first two decades after World War II.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Macedonia and supervised by Lois Labrianidis, a professor of economic geography and Greece’s general secretary of strategic and private investment, of the 185,388 Greek university graduates who departed the country from 1990 to 2015, 139,041 have left since 2010. Also, up until the late 1980s, the majority of migrants left only with their middle school diploma, while in the 1990s most had a high school diploma, and from the start of 2000 to the present, almost 75 percent had at least one university or technical college degree.
The study, which was funded by the London School of Economics, found that in the 2010-15 period, wealthy Greeks constituted 9 percent of the total number who migrated abroad, even though this category of household made up just 2 percent of the sample surveyed. Migration, experts stress, is an expensive process that requires funds. However, the decline in incomes and the rise in unemployment over the past few years has led to a spike in migration by low-income Greeks, who constitute 28 percent of outflows since 2010.
Moreover, while the unemployed made up only a small percentage of outflows before 2010, this has now shot up to 50 percent.
The majority of emigres find a new job relatively quickly abroad, the study found, with 81 percent securing employment within the first six months of moving. One in five, however, were unable to find work and either returned to Greece or stayed in the hope that something would come up.
For 72 percent of Greeks who moved abroad, their new jobs were based on their academic qualifications, while 21 percent have found work in unrelated fields.
The study also found that while the most popular countries for Greeks looking for work abroad in the post-WWII years were Germany, Australia and the US, today they are willing to try their luck further afield, moving to the Middle East and Asia, though European Union countries are the most popular choice.
Up until 2009, the majority of emigres were 30 years old or under and did not have any dependents, meaning it was easier for them to make the move. In the 1970s, in fact, this category represented 95 percent of the total. Since 2000, though, there has been a steady increase in the number of Greeks aged up to 30 leaving the country, making up 46 percent of total departures in 2010-15.
The Greek state pays an average of 95,000 euros for every student who graduates from the Athens School of Medicine, making it the most expensive degree among Greek universities. The cost of studies at the National Technical University of Athens, meanwhile, comes to above 50,000 euros. Moreover, in the 2010-15 period, the number of emigres with costly university degrees shot up compared to the 1960-2009 period, yet just 13.7 percent of the country’s work force is made up of university or college graduates.
“Greece cannot possibly compete with countries with low production costs or with those with a high specialization in technology,” Labrianidis notes. “Therefore, there is a high rate of unemployment among specialized people, particularly scientists, who go on to leave the country. The country’s production model has reached it limits.”
The expert says that much of the present situation can be attributed to structural characteristics of the economy, such as the small size of businesses, the absence of synergies between companies, poor performance in innovation and low exports.
“It will take bold steps and daring decisions to allow the country to produce more complex products and services so it can hold a better spot in the international division of labor,” Labrianidis says. “A growth strategy is set to be completed soon, which will outline the prevalent situation and mainly propose development strategies to help Greece exit the crisis.”
Labrianidis says that the emphasis of the new strategy that will be presented to the government will be a departure from the model of high-intensity, low-innovation sectors and a greater focus on exports.
The study made some more interesting findings, such as the fact that in the 2010-13 period, of the total of 454,177 who left Greece, 223,885 were Greeks and the remaining 230,232 were migrants in Greece. Foreigners, in fact, started the outgoing trend, as in 2010, of the 119,985 people who left, 76,663 were foreign nationals, the majority Albanian.
In the 1960s, moreover, 67 percent of Greeks who had emigrated worked to send money to help their families back home. Today, just 18 percent of Greeks working abroad can afford to send money to their families in Greece.