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Spain's brain drain 'worst in Western Europe'

The Local · 1 Sep 2014, 13:30

Published: 01 Sep 2014 13:30 GMT+02:00

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One of the most damaging aspects of Spain's economic crisis has been the departure from the country of university graduates and highly skilled professionals.

With jobs hard to come by and research and development funding slashed in many industries, anecdotal evidence suggests many people have decided to make the move elsewhere.

In 2013, Spain's Employment Minister Fátima Báñez talked down the idea of a brain drain in Spain, saying young people were simply exercising "external mobility".

But US-based Spanish astrophysicist Moro Martín responded with an open letter to Spain's government in which she argued the country's brain drain was no empty cliché. 

"Please let the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology know that the science I do will no longer be Spanish, nor thanks to Spain; rather I will keep doing science in spite of Spain," she said.

Now new figures from the European Union statistics office Eurostat may also give some statistical weight to the idea suggesting Spain has been harder hit by the brain drain effect than many other countries in Western Europe.

Figures show just 6,558 foreign workers applied to work in regulated fields including education, medicine, nursing and law in Spain from 2003 to 2014.

Some 84 percent of these applications were accepted, meaning a net gain of 5508 professionals, with Germany and Italy being the two main sources of those professionals. 

By contrast, some 18,408 Spanish professionals registered to have their qualifications recognized in other European countries.

It's not known how many of these workers who had their qualifications recognized overseas went on to practice their profession abroad, but the figures do reveal a negative balance of 12,940 people.

That's higher than any other country in Western Europe, and behind only Poland, Romania and Greece. 

The professionals most likely to seek to leave Spain were secondary school teachers, nurses and doctors, the Eurostat figures show.

The United Kingdom was by far and away the most popular destination with 55 percent of applicants choosing that country. Germany and Italy both received 10 percent of all applications. 

Of the total of 18,408 people with Spanish qualifications who had those recognized overseas, 6202 were recognized as secondary school teachers in the UK and 887 were recognized as doctors in the UK.  

A further 2,151 Spanish-trained nurses had their qualifications recognized in the European Union.  

While the figures represent only a narrow range of professionals leaving Spain, they add to the picture of a country leaking talent.

Some 36,511 Spaniards moved to Germany in 2013, according to Germany's statistics body Destatis. In the same year, 51,000 Spaniards, most under the age of 34, signed up to the UK’s national insurance scheme.

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"People have said to me that these people are not exiles — that exiles leave their country for political reasons," documentary filmmaker Ruben Hornillo told The Local in 2013.

"But I think it's naive to separate economics and politics. The Spanish Government is targeting debt reduction and a lot of the hardship experienced by Spaniards is a result of cuts to spending." 

However, the mobility into and out of Spain for these specialized workers is nothing in comparison to the situation in Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom in the same period.

From 2003-2014 Britain had 77,887 foreign doctors, teachers, nurses and others apply to work there, while 21,519 of its own specialized people made a move to go abroad . It was a similar story in Switzerland, which pulled in 24,150 professionals after just 2,541 from its trained workforce applied to go abroad.

Germany saw 39,373 foreign professionals in the specified fields apply to work in the country while 29,670 took steps to head abroad.

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