After being out of a job for nine months, Monica Simoes, 31, will board a flight in Lisbon this weekend, leaving her native Portugal indefinitely in the hope of making a fresh start in Norway.
“I’m going in a spirit of adventure,” she says. “But I feel I’m being forced out of my country by a government that has failed to create opportunities.”
Ms. Simoes is joining a wave of young emigrants as tough austerity required under the terms of Portugal’s €78-billion ($103-billion) bailout program feeds into a deep recession. Unemployment is forecast to reach a record 19 per cent by December and the jobless rate among under-25s is close to 40 per cent.
Companies fear they are losing the best of a generation. “This is a much more serious structural problem for Portugal than the austerity measures we are currently experiencing,” says Antonio Neto da Silva, an economist and head of Deimos Engenharia, a software development company.
More than 100,000 are estimated to have left Portugal last year, an exodus from a country of 10 million unequalled since the mid-1960s, when droves of mainly unskilled workers sought jobs in France, Canada, Venezuela and elsewhere.
The difference this time is that many migrants are young university graduates with strong qualifications and language skills. An increasing number are also moving to fast-growing former Portuguese colonies such as Angola and Brazil, reversing a migratory flow that had long been in the opposite direction.
Carlos Loureiro, a tax partner with Deloitte, the professional services firm, in Lisbon, says “the big challenge is whether Portugal will be able to attract today’s young emigrants back in five or 10 years.”
Rita Jardim, 39, an international development director for a London law firm, says “this pattern of emigration is very different from the 1960s and 1970s.” One change is that women are often leading the way. “I know several Portuguese families who have moved abroad because the wife had a job opportunity.” Her husband, an artist, followed her to London with their three young children after she spent four months setting up a family base.
Ms. Jardim’s decision to leave Lisbon, where she worked for an international legal organization, was a career choice. “I was looking for a different challenge and wanted to move outside the comfort zone I had in Portugal.”
Ms. Simoes, who left school at 18 and was never without a job until last summer, feels Portugal’s economic crisis has left her with no alternative. “This is not an option or a decision I’ve made,” she says. With no job to go to, she will stay with friends in Norway while she looks for work.
Ms. Jardim misses work relationships that are “naturally fun, close and warm” in Portugal. “There’s an element of knowing how to live life that I do miss,” she says, including being outdoors “under the beautiful blue Lisbon sky.”
In London, she says, she never leaves her desk for more than a few minutes at lunchtime. But – overturning stereotypical views – she says her work-life balance is nevertheless “much better” in the U.K.
“Work is less structured in Portugal where, in professions like mine, you have to work very late hours without necessarily being more productive than people are here,” she says.
Since leaving university in 2006 as a maths and science teacher, Lara Pereira, 30, has only been able to find work as an after-school educator. “I don’t feel obliged to emigrate,” she says, “but if an opportunity for something better comes up abroad, I won’t hesitate to take it.”
Ms. Simoes is preparing for the long haul: “I know it will take years,” she says, “but I’m going to Norway to look for financial stability for my family.”