Skip to main content

New European Mobilities at times of Crisis: Emigration Aspirations and Practices of Young Greek Adults

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EUMIGRE (New European Mobilities at times of Crisis: Emigration Aspirations and Practices of Young Greek Adults)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2017-06-30

In the context of the debt crisis, recession, austerity and their socio-political consequences, Greece is experiencing a new major wave of out-migration. Emigration has become a survival strategy for many people who are finding it hard to make ends meet, while, at the same time, it has also emerged as an increasingly appealing option for others in less pressing need, who see their career chances severely reduced. There is extended media coverage of this new emigration, which is presented as a one-way option for certain population segments, notably the young and the highly skilled. Despite this media attention, however, little is actually known about the characteristics of the emigration flow, as well as the experiences of the country’s new ‘crisis migrants’. Aiming to fill this knowledge gap and to contribute to migration theory, EUMIGRE systematically assessed the magnitude and dynamics of the new crisis driven emigration and explored the motivations and aspirations of the key actors, the emigrants themselves. How are different mobility options considered and pursued in times of crisis? What are the experiences of those who emigrate and how do they assess their decision in retrospect? What is the impact of their migration on the Greek economy and society and on the hosting countries, and what lessons can be drawn about intra-EU mobility and migration more broadly from their experiences and viewpoints?
The research adopted a mixed-methods approach and was organized in an incremental way in three phases. In the first phase, we set the scene drawing on available statistical data. The aim was to provide a global picture of the new emigration wave from Greece by assessing its size and its demographic makeup while exploring its pre-crisis and current dynamics. In the second phase, 48 in-depth narrative interviews with a diverse group of emigrants were conducted in London and the Netherlands and ethnographic material was further collected in those two localities. By analyzing this qualitative material we explored various structural and individual factors, and the ways they interact in the biographies of the respondents ultimately shaping their emigration aspirations as well as mobility practices and experiences. In the third and final phase, using the knowledge generated from the second phase, we designed an extensive online survey (N=996) that was conducted in both the Netherlands and London. Due to the lack of a sample frame, transnational populations (such as those addressed in the present study) are impossible to reach using traditional survey modes. To account for this limitation, EUMIGRE adopted an innovative sampling strategy based on the respondent-driven sampling methodology. The questionnaire covered a multiplicity of fields such as migration decision making, day-to-day experiences and interaction with the local societies, employment trajectories, social networks, contacts and ties with Greek society and economy, the flow of remittances, as well as future aspirations and plans. The dissemination of the project’s findings started from an early phase and was pursued through a various means such as the publication of academic articles and book chapters; the presentation of academic papers in conferences, workshops and seminars; the writing of press articles; media interviews; meetings with civil society organizations; and the organization of policy and academic workshops.

Approximately 400,000 Greek citizens emigrated after 2009 and to that number we should add an approximately equal number of foreign nationals, who returned to their countries of origin or migrated again. Thus post 2009 outflows have critically increased being comparable in size with the so-called guest worker migration of the post-war decades. However, there are significant qualitative differences starting from the fact that they take place alongside ongoing immigration to or through Greece while the macro-structural causes triggering emigration at present are different, as is its context and infrastructure. Moreover, there are significant differences in the socioeconomic, educational and demographic profiles of today’s “crisis” migrants. While the post-war emigration was largely about low-educated young males moving to Northern Europe to support an expanding industrial machine, the current emigration concerns diverse groups of people comprising primarily young graduates taking a similar route to seek opportunities and prospects in dynamic sectors of the knowledge but also service economy in North European cities. At the same time current outflows differ from the low scale emigration of professionals taking place in the years directly preceding the crisis. Emigration is now less often shaped by career considerations and more often imposed by need or shaped by a generalized mistrust towards institutions and disillusionment from the political system in Greece.

Free movement within the EU makes emigration an easier mobility strategy to pursue, as people increasingly move spontaneously and provisionally, looking for potential opportunities mostly in Western and Northern Europe. At the same time people are not supported by state institutions and their socio-economic background and social capital shape their emigration trajectories. These, in turn, like the backgrounds of migrants themselves, are characterized by considerable diversity. People specialized in fields for which there is high demand can easily secure employment abroad, in many cases even before they actually emigrate. However, people with lower education, or education not valued highly in the labour market of their destination countries, or for which fluency in the language of that country is needed, find it much more difficult to find employment matching their qualifications. If they lack the necessary economic resources to invest further in their training and education or to support themselves until they build their social networks in the receiving country and better their language skills, they may end up working for extended periods in jobs below their skills. Through time, however, the broad picture is one of progress, as the majority of the migrants eventually do upgrade their living conditions while acquiring new experiences, skills and knowledge, which they are very eager to transmit to their home country.
EUMIGRE generated rich empirical material on the new Greek emigration informing the public discourse which was previously lacking reliable evidence and scientific grounding. In addition, the findings of the research proved valuable for policy making in Greece and were turned to concrete recommendations on how to potentially turn Greece’s brain drain to a brain gain. Finally, EUMIGRE provided an assessment of intra-EU mobility at times of crisis through the perspective of the EU mobile citizens themselves. It helped assess the degree to which emigration is seen and experienced as a step forward, a sign of personal development and an opportunity to advance one’s life, but also a disruptive force, a necessary evil to survive in a period of neoliberal deregulation and economic uncertainty in which flexibility and nomadism are praised and migration paradoxically resisted. Analysis of such material is paramount in designing appropriate policies at the EU level enabling mobility but also making it profitable for the migrants themselves as well as member states of origin and member states of destination.