An abandoned construction site in Dublin. After years of astonishing growth, Ireland’s economy has backslid and caused increased emigration.
The emerging economies of Asia and Latin America continued to gain steam in 2011, fueled in large part by regional powerhouses China, India, and Brazil. Developing nations that were once primarily migrant-sending states are now experiencing a boom that is beginning to increase their attractiveness for highly educated and highly skilled migrants and beckoning their diaspora members home.
At the same time, Europe's post-recession debt crisis has deepened and escalated since 2010, with severe austerity measures, political turmoil, and government changeovers, and the downgrading of sovereign bond ratings in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. In response, emigration rates in many countries have begun to rise while immigration has slowed or declined. (See Issue #3: Immigration in United States and Parts of Europe Gives Way to Increased Emigration).
Mounting evidence indicates that highly skilled immigrant and native-born workers are leaving in search of better opportunities elsewhere: preliminary data indicate that about 76,400 people left Ireland this year, more than half of whom were native born. Greek professionals appear to be migrating to Australia at higher rates than seen before. Educated Germans of Turkish descent are returning to their ancestral homelands for better professional opportunities, despite Germany's high projected demand for skilled workers and its persistent inability to attract them. And recent estimates indicate that 70 percent of the 120,000 young Italians who moved abroad in 2008-09 were university graduates.
A related trend of return migration has also been observed in the United States, which is struggling to recover from the global recession. Highly skilled Brazilian, Chinese, and Indian immigrants and members of the second generation — many of whom were educated stateside — are increasingly returning to their countries of origin.
These two economic realities converged this year, inducing a shift in global migration flows. Overall, immigrant populations in more developed regions of the world are growing more slowly or in some cases even contracting, while fast-growing regions are drawing increasing numbers of foreign workers. The United States and Europe, with their struggling economies and debt crises, are poised to lose some of their brightest youth to countries that are able to offer better economic opportunity.
China, for example, has overtaken Japan as the world's second-largest economy, and some economists think it could overtake the United States to become the world's largest economy within the next decade. Westerners are increasingly recognizing the country as a viable place for business, and Mandarin has made a meteoric rise in popularity in European and American high schools over the past decade. China is now refocusing its patchwork immigration policies to attract larger numbers of skilled workers, host more foreign students, and lure overseas Chinese to return.
India could be one of the world's largest trading nations, together with China, by 2030 as its economy continues to grow rapidly, if unevenly. The country is now successfully attracting entrepreneurs and the highly skilled from the diaspora and second generation, particularly in its booming IT industry.
Meanwhile, jobs for engineers and other skilled workers are in ready supply in Brazil, which is rapidly building up its infrastructure but does not have the resident talent to rise to the occasion. With its large deposits of oil and booming industrial sector, Brazil could overtake the United Kingdom to become the world's sixth largest economy by year-end. Increasing numbers of Europeans are thus seeking employment in Brazil, and anecdotal evidence indicates that the country is particularly attractive to Portuguese wishing to flee their own struggling economy.
It is clear now that, as the balance of growth has shifted away from Europe and towards these fast-growing countries, the landscape of global migration has shifted as well. But unanswered questions about the future of this trend and its consequences abound. Who is moving, and how long will they stay? Is this trend a temporary reaction to the looming threat of a double-dip recession, or is it a more enduring shift away from the prerecession status quo? And if the trend persists, what will be the consequences for Europe's future and its ambitions to build and consolidate its knowledge-based economy?