Spain is now officially a net emigrant country, according to the data, returning to a situation that characterized the country in the low-income 1960s.
The depth of the recession and the terrible blow to the construction sector –which has lost more than 2 million jobs since the housing bubble burst in 2008 and is still destroying employment— are propelling Spaniards and foreigners resident in Spain to look for work abroad. According to the National Statistics Institute (INE), in 2011 507,740 people left the country, while there were only 457,650 inward migrants. This marks the first time the figure has been negative since 1996. The INE expects the trend to continue until 2020.
Although the INE counts only 20,484 Spaniards among the outward migrants, other figures lend credence to the picture of rising outward migration by natives. Germany´s Federal Statistics Office, for instance, has reported that Germany received 40% more Spanish immigrants in the first quarter of 2011 than the previous year (a total of 2400). FENAC, a consultancy association, says that more than 300,000 Spaniards have left the country seeking work since the crisis broke . INE data on the Electoral Census of Spaniards Residing Abroad show that the number of Spaniards registered with all foreign embassies rose by 6.5% in 2011, to 1.51 million; and had climbed by almost 26% since 2008. Eures, the European employment service, reported that it received 3,000 email responses from Spaniards in three days for jobs that the German branch advertised for engineers, medics, teachers and tourism professionals in Germany.
While the flow begins to look like the phenomenon of the 1960s, when 2 million Spaniards left the country to seek work, the characteristics of the Spanish outward migration are very different this time. According to FENAC and ADECCO, the majority of the young people migrating are highly skilled, in particular, engineers, architects, computer scientists, researchers, doctors, biologists and others. In the 1960s emigrating Spaniards found work in factories and restaurants, and they stayed within Europe. Now they are traveling much farther abroad. The countries where most Spanish emigrants were residing, according to the Electoral Census cited above, was Argentina, with 332,405; followed by France (171,113), Venezuela (145,872), Germany (88,248), and Brazil (87,126). Other countries receiving large numbers of Spanish emigrants were Cuba, Mexico, Switzerland, the United States and the UK (in order of importance). China registered 2,615 Spaniards in 2011, an 18.5% increase over the previous year. (These census figures should be interpreted with caution, since not all Spaniards register with foreign embassies, and at the same time some of those who register are foreigners who have obtained Spanish nationality.)
With 48.6% of those aged 16-24 unemployed in Spain at the end of 2011 , it is logical that workers with high skills and language competencies will look elsewhere for work. It could even be seen as a positive trend for the Spanish economy. Once the crisis is over and the new, less rigid labor market begins to create more equal opportunities for all rather than floundering in the permanent/temporary contract divide, the young migrants may return home, with a collection of skills and languages that will greatly benefit Spain and help it make the leap to a higher-skilled economy. There is hope for this scenario: Spaniards are passionate about their country and the labor market reform makes it more likely that attractive and more secure opportunities may emerge for the young once the economy recovers.
However, there is always the chance that Spain´s highly educated young will decide to stay abroad, where incomes may be higher and their careers are already started. In this case, Spain, which has invested heavily in higher education (38% of Spaniards 25-34 have attended college, compared to 37% for the OECD and 34% for the EU, according to OECD data), will have suffered a costly brain drain and have missed the opportunity to transition to a higher-skilled economy with the help of the best-educated generation in its history.