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Eurozone crisis: will Spain's youth exodus weaken economy?

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The number of departures, which in 2011 tallied almost 62,500 Spanish-born citizens, should not be taken at face value. It is difficult to track migratory movements, especially within a borderless European Union. But the trend is indisputable. 

Brain drain?

When the official statistics came out last week, Spanish media, many politicians, and columnists took a pessimistic view and warned of a brain drain that would deny Spain its most promising engineers, doctors, scientists, and similar professions in the future.

Of those who left in 2011, one-third were aged between 22 and 35 years old. The data suggest that most moved to a country within Europe, and to a lesser degree to Latin America and the US. The number of Spanish citizens that left in the first half of 2012 increased by 45 percent.

In 2011, out of a half-million people who emigrated to other countries only 12 percent were Spanish-born. The rest were foreign immigrants going back home, mostly from the European Union, Northern Africa, and South America

Out of proportion 

But many experts warn that the issue is being blown out of proportion. There’s little that can be done to reverse the trend with Spain’s current dire economic forecasts. Moreover, experts warn many more will leave, an expected consequence of high unemployment, especially among those under 35 years old, half of whom are without a job. 

“I think [calling it a] brain drain is an exaggeration. It’s more like a loss of human capital, and very limited at that,” says Joaquín Arango, a migration expert at the Group of Population and Society Studies, a Spanish think tank, and a sociology professor at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “These are just estimates. Quantifying departures is very hard and carries a huge error margin.”

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