American Think Tank Highlights European Brain Drain

A non-partisan and not-for-profit US think tank has said that Europe is “faced with a serious problem” because of the movement of highly skilled workers to North America and elsewhere. According to an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which is based in New York, the European economy is currently “on the brink of a catastrophic shortage of key skills.”

USA Brain drains the EU

The CFR – which is an influential organisation in the United States – published the claims in its regular news and comment magazine in mid-October, stating that European policymakers are still struggling to save the Eurozone’s common currency from disaster. The paper states that about a quarter of job vacancies created each year in the major European economies remain unfilled due to of a dearth of appropriately skilled applicants. “In the next six years, the continent’s digital economy alone will be shy of at least 900,000 professionals,” the paper states. It then goes on to predict the near future for the “dynamic” German economy which will experience “a shortage of one million workers with the necessary skills in science, engineering, technology and mathematics.”

The article goes on to cite Androulla Vassiliou, the outgoing European Commissioner for Youth and Education, who has been quoted recently as saying that the current lack of skills will damage, “the hopes of Europe’s youth and, consequently, our future prosperity.” According to the article’s author, the European authorities have taken steps to improve immigration policies in order to attract highly skilled migrants from around the globe. “However, it would be far more efficient – politically and economically speaking,” the article continues, “For Europe to focus instead on bringing back talented Europeans who have left to work elsewhere by attracting them back.”

The CFR has a long history of inputting into European affairs, having been founded in 1921 in the aftermath of the First World War. In its magazine’s most recent edition, it is argued that re-migration, as opposed to immigration, ought to be Brussels’ first priority. “Since the introduction of the central European currency,” the article argues, “more highly-qualified individuals have left Europe than have arrived in it.” According to the paper, this means that even before the global economic downturn and subsequent Eurozone crisis took hold, that the fifteen states which adopted the currency showed a net loss of migration. About 120,000 workers with further education qualification left their home countries each year, on average. In the years leading up to the worldwide recession, between 2000 and 2008, the problem became more acute. “Italy lost around 1.5 million professionals in this time period, many with very advanced skills,” the article states.

In more recent times, Europe has seen something of an exodus of qualified professionals from countries such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Many of these states, the paper continues, are the countries which have been the hardest hit by the Eurozone currency crisis. Perhaps it is only natural that people with skills and qualifications should search for better opportunities abroad. However, the article also points out that the search for work opportunities, “is no longer confined to the United States” in the main. European migrants are heading to Africa and South America in increasing numbers, too. The article even cites Portugal’s Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, and his now famous call that encouraged unemployed people in his country to move abroad for work. As a result, there has been a significant brain drain in Portugal, with “100,000 skilled professionals” leaving every year.

According to the CFR article, the European Commission’s attempt to reverse the trend by launching the Blue Card visa system in 2011 was little more than an abject failure. Modelled on the American Green Card programme – which grants visas to overseas migrants who want to work in the US – Blue Cards failed to attract the 20 million or so highly skilled professionals Brussels had hoped for. Designed with a particular focus on engineers, corporate strategists and bio-technology workers, over the last two years the scheme has attracted fewer than 20,000 skilled migrants, “a pittance compared with the ongoing number leaving southern Europe.”

Instead of an extension to the visa system, the article calls for more radical and structural reform of the Eurozone economy to make it more attractive to people who have already left and settled in the United States and elsewhere. This, it is argued, will entice talented migrants – both skilled professionals and entrepreneurs – to return to Europe where they will feel more like they will be able to “realise their potential”.

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