For Some Europeans, Latin America Is Once Again A Land Of Opportunity

In the early 20th century, European migrants headed in droves to Latin America in search of work and to escape wars and poverty. A century later, the ongoing euro zone crisis is prompting a new generation of Europeans to set out across the Atlantic.

For Some Europeans, Latin America Is Once Again A Land Of Opportunity
María Enrile

SANTIAGO - We know the 20th century storyline well: European migrants crammed into ships headed for South America's principal cities, eager to leave the impoverished, war-stricken continent behind. On a different scale, and in a very different way, history is repeating itself as business executives from Europe are increasingly choosing to test their luck in Latin America and, in doing so, put some distance between themselves and the current economic crisis complicating matters back in the "Old World."

Clearly, this 21st century migration is of a very different nature. Unlike the "huddling masses' of yesteryear, today's European migrants are shirt-and-tie-wearing executives who come equipped with postgraduate degrees and speak two or three languages. And yet in one basic regard, people like André Da Costa Bernal - a Portuguese ex-pat who works for a consulting firm called Vivo - are seeking the same thing the last wave of European migrants did: better job prospects. "The big difference now is that I earn much more than I did in Lisbon," he says.

Others see a stint in Latin America as a curriculum booster that will hopefully serve them later, when - and if - they return to their countries of origin. "If I went back to Spain I'd probably end up working in a department where I'd be in charge of dealings with Latin America," says Pablo Fernández de Castro, director of the consulting firm Development Systems in Brazil. "Once you leave your country, it's difficult to separate yourself from the international experience you've had."

In Fernández de Castro's case, the international experience he's gained on this side of the ocean has already helped him advance. The Spaniard originally found work in Chile. From there he moved to São Paulo, where with his current job he has 15 people working under him.

Right now the European market is saturated with professionals. There are few available posts and competition is fierce. "In Latin America it's the opposite situation," says Roberto Machado, a regional manager with Michael Page, a recruitment firm. "Here there are plenty of jobs and not enough qualified executives to fill them."

Statistics compiled by Michael Page suggest that the top Latin American destinations for European professionals are Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina.

Barriers to entry

According to Machado, a Brazilian, approximately 95% of the multinational companies Michael Page is in contact with are expanding into Latin America and Asia. Emerging countries like Brazil, in other words, are now an investment priority for these companies. That, in turn, impacts labor demand, lowering unemployment and pushing up salaries. "Companies are in urgent need of people with the right training and education," he says.

Like the previous century's European immigrants, this new wave faces certain cultural hurdles that come with adjusting to life across the ocean. Even people who speak the language – as is the case for Portuguese in Brazil and Spaniards in most of the other Latin America countries – can find the experience challenging. Upon arriving in Brazil, André Da Costa Bernal was struck by how "superficial" people there are. "It's difficult to keep up a conversation about anything other than dieting or going to the gym," he says. "It's the same whether you're talking to men or women."

Although they try to integrate, executives from Europe often end up forming groups of friends with other foreigners. Europeans say they are initially received with a warm welcome, but that relationships with locals tend to cool off quickly and can in fact be stressful.

Moving abroad can also include a fair share of logistical problems. In most Latin American countries, tourist visas last just three months, meaning immigrants must act quickly to acquire working and residence papers. That usually requires the sponsorship of a particular employer, meaning the immigrant ends up relying on that company in order to remain legal in the country.

But even with all the hassle and cultural barriers, Fernández de Castro of Spain isn't considering going home, at least not yet. "My experience tells me that those who go back tend to end up worse off," he says.

Read more from AméricaEconomía in Spanish

Photo - jorpcolombia2007

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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