Portugal's jobless flee

Thousands of young unemployed professionals are escaping Portugal's crippling economic crisis by finding jobs in form...

Thousands of young unemployed professionals are escaping Portugal's crippling economic crisis by finding jobs in former colonies, such as Brazil and Angola. The reversal of traditional migration patterns is fuelling talk of a "lost generation".

Natalia Santos has had enough. She occasionally laughs as she tells me her story but there is hardness in her olive-green eyes.

Nobody could accuse the 29-year-old teacher from Porto of lacking initiative. She has done more than most to find full-time work in Portugal.

_This is the biggest emigration wave since the 1960s_

Filipa Pinho Emigration Observatory

Over the past six years she has applied to 362 schools, yet despite glowing references, she has never landed a job that lasted more than nine months.

Natalia has been forced to accept a string of short-term contracts on the minimum wage of around 500 euro per month.

In the fallow periods in-between, she helps her unemployed parents to grow fruit and vegetables.

Brain drain

Natalia also went to Poland for a year, on the Erasmus European volunteering scheme. She wanted to work - even if it was unpaid apart from expenses.

She hoped that the experience would help her back in Portugal, but it didn't. So she applied for a position in Ireland but then the economy there crashed.

Undeterred, Natalia tried another tack and went back to university to train as a special needs teacher. 

But recent cuts in the education budget mean that most schools are now restricted to just one special needs teacher instead of four or five.

So no luck there either.

"I feel very frustrated sometimes and very disappointed," she says.

"But I won't give up. I'll go abroad because I am not going to wait for Portugal to give me something."

Natalia is about to join the growing brain drain.

One in 10 graduates now leaves the country, leading many to talking about Portugal's "lost generation".

"This is the biggest emigration wave since the 1960s," says Filipa Pinho of the government's newly established Emigration Observatory.

Dizzying growth

Portugal has traditionally exported some of its manpower - it has a diaspora around the world of three million. But in the past, it was blue-collar workers and villagers who left for a better life. Now it's the skilled and well-educated.

And if 50 years ago young Portuguese left to seek their fortune in richer parts of Europe, today they are packing their bags for booming Brazil, Angola and Mozambique.

It is a historic role reversal, because for decades Portugal lured immigrants from its former colonies in Latin America and Africa.

The Lost Generation

  • Youth unemployment in Portugal is 26.8%, with more than 95,000 people jobless between the ages of 16 and 25
  • About 6.5% of the country's population of 10 million left the country between 1998 and 2008, according to economist Alvaro Santos Pereira
  • About a quarter of the working population are freelance, even if they work full time
  • A protest picnic in March which brought 400,000 people on to the streets of Lisbon and Porto, was one of the biggest demonstrations in the country since the 1974 revolution

Ms Pinho admits that her agency's statistics lag behind trends, but according to the Observatory, the number of Portuguese registered at consulates in Brazil jumped by some 60,000 between 2009 and 2010.

As for Angola, in 2006, only 156 Angolan visas were issued to southbound Portuguese, but in 2010, the figure was 23,787.

Today, there are around 3,000 Portuguese companies in Angola. Some of these belong to Antonio Bagal, a 32-year-old entrepreneur from Lisbon.

Flushed with success, he's now got his eye on a much bigger emerging market - Brazil.

Back in Portugal for a family wedding, he explains that when he started working in the Angolan capital Luanda a few years ago, most of the expats were in their 40s and 50s.

Now, though, more young people are arriving.  

"Most of them have good degrees, masters, even PhDs," he says, "and the new thing is that many of them don't want to come back. Right now Angola is developing really fast, it needs skilled people to build the infrastructure."

A civil engineer earning 900 euros ($1,300, or __800) a month in Portugal could earn four times as much in Angola, he says.

But Brazil is also eager for Portuguese engineers and architects, he says, because there is a construction boom ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics in 2016.

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