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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
MarĂ­a 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

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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