International labor mobility datapoint of the day

By Felix Salmon
September 2, 2011

One of the main reasons for the euro experiment failing is the obvious fact that the eurozone doesn’t have a common language. An optimal currency area needs labor mobility — areas without jobs need to provide workers for the areas with demand for them. But it’s hard to get a good job in Germany if you don’t speak German. And so something quite astonishing is going on:

In 2006, only 156 Angolan visas were issued to southbound Portuguese, but in 2010, the figure was 23,787.

To put that number in perspective, total emigration from Portugal — to all the countries in the rest of the world combined — ranged between 12,000 and 17,000 a year in the 1980s. Portugal is a very small country, and it hasn’t seen this level of emigration since the 1960s.

One reason: for skilled workers, a job in Angola pays a lot more than a similar job in Portugal: for a civil engineer, we’re talking four times as much, according to one Portuguese entrepreneur in Luanda. And there’s similar demand for skilled workers in fast-growing Brazil, too.

From a global perspective, this is good news. Developing countries like Angola and Brazil get to leverage western European education, while underemployed Portuguese find good jobs abroad. It’s an example of the cross-border labor market actually working.

From a European perspective, on the other hand, there’s a lot to worry about here — the PIGS aren’t going to recover if they lose the highly productive workers they spent so much to educate. But they can hardly wall those workers in and prevent them from moving to greener pastures. The only solution is domestic job creation. And that’s hard to do when you’re on an austerity regime.


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It will be interesting to see if there is a corresponding increase in remittances back to Portugal. That could be quite helpful.

Also, time to go back to the Gordon Brown “teach the world English” plan.

Posted by right | Report as abusive

Interesting trend, with some potentially debilitating consequences for Portugal. If this migration pattern persists, Portugal may lose the cream of its youth. That is the young adults with both education and ambition. If enough leave, it could stunt Portugal’s economic and social development.

Posted by Kosta0101 | Report as abusive

One of the more frightening aspects of the emigration is they are just leaving, not just to look for work. they are highly educated, skilled,loyal and bright who tried and failed and are now angry and turning their back on their country. That means they likely won’t return when prosperity returns and as one person said, a lost generation. (which was once said about the world wars)

Quotes from the article:

“Banks. They made mistakes and now they say we have to pay. But I disagree, I don’t want to pay,” she says.

“I prefer to leave everything behind – family, friends, my culture – everything than to pay for a crisis I didn’t cause.”

@right who said it is time to learn English, the English countries are not the ones flourishing. Spanish and Portuguese share 80% of their vocabulary and together make a formidable amount of latin-based language spoken and Mandarin is still the most spoken language on earth. So, maybe it’s time we all learned more languages.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

I just read that Black unemployment is the highest in 27 years. Now, if this had happened during the Bushes, what do you think the Democrats, and especially the MSM and the CBC will be saying. But we don’t hear that now. Of course we all know that Obama is an idiot and is “stuck on stupid”. What Obama is doing to the economy, is insane. Many people think that Obama wants to see the USA relegated into a western european power, giving up all the influence we had. Of course, Obama is so stupid that he doesn’t realize that new powers like China, India and Brazil are waiting for this opening. Even a very dis-organized, irreligious Russia is trying to make a come-back all because Obama does not realize what he is doing. Our president is an idiot when it comes to foreign affairs, the economy, energy, transportation, trade, criminal justice. This guy is an all-round idiot.

Posted by Chrisiv | Report as abusive

“@right who said it is time to learn English, the English countries are not the ones flourishing.”

I suppose you don’t count India?

Australia is doing pretty well, I thought.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

@hsvkitty Gordon Brown said so a few years back. The adoption of a single global language (whatever it is) would obviously solve the problem Felix describes above, and that’s the only semi-serious proposal I’ve heard in this direction recently.

If you were going to choose a single language, I’m not sure how you could do better than English, given the US, UK, and India are among the world’s seven largest economies (to say nothing of Canada, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria, Singapore, and Hong Kong) and it is already by and large the lingua franca of international politics, business, and academics.

Spanish and Portuguese share 80% of their vocabulary in the same way that the 100 most common English words are German.

Posted by right | Report as abusive

plus Chinese is so easy to learn and has no cultural or political baggage

Posted by johnhhaskell | Report as abusive