A Future of Immigration

Greece has always played a starring role in the history of human migration. Depending on whatever socioeconomic and political conditions exist, Greece’s population has provided some valuable examples in regards to the incentives behind immigration and emigration. These are widely known as “push factors” (reasons to emigrate), and “pull factors” (reasons to immigrate).

According to the mainstream human migration theory, the aforementioned factors are categorized into four groups: environmental (natural disaster), political (war, dictatorship), economic (poverty, lack of employment opportunity, low wages) and cultural (barriers to education, religious persecution). In Greece, both economic and political push and pull factors have been strongly apparent over the course of the 20th century, especially prior to the restoration of democracy to the country in 1974.

In almost every Greek family there is at least one immigration story, and in every rural village in Greece, there circulates at least story about a man who made his fortune abroad. During the last three decades, cultural ‘push and pull factors’, mostly educational, have caused large numbers of Greek young adults to flock to Western, more advanced countries.  Universities and colleges in Germany, France, UK, Italy and the U.S.A. have become more than alternative higher-learning destinations; they are now lifestyle choices. Occasionally and in a sometimes distorted way, young Greeks use their study abroad to simulate the life they’ve always wanted to lead. Away from their “nests”, Greek students experience an unprecedented sense of independence, free to experiment with their social behavior, sexuality and academic interests, to travel to unknown territories, and to be in charge of their lives. By the end of their studies, they are not the same people anymore; they have higher expectations from themselves and from their native country.

However, in Greece, good job opportunities are becoming scarcer and Greece’s national economy is awkwardly situated currently. For the last twenty years, many businesses have bloomed due to the funds provided by the EU. Now, Greece is about to receive the fourth and last round of subsidies from the European Community, and economic consultants have already cautioned the population that if the Greek government doesn’t facilitate the necessary procedures for the funds’ absorption and manage these funds properly, the economy in Greece will begin to resemble the economies of the former Soviet countries just before their transition to the market economy. Added to this comes the relatively low wages, rising taxes, high commodities’ prices, and stricter fiscal regulations.

So, some describe the Greek economy as still in its “puberty”, and in this environment, Young Greeks who studied abroad feel relatively deprived. Despite their prestigious and expensive studies, businesses treat them as though any comparative advantage acquired during their time abroad is irrelevent. They have to start from “point zero”, meaning around 800€ in monthly wages, (approximately 1,145.00 USD; 646 GBP), while their studies cost them much, much more.

Discussing this issue with young Greeks like myself who studied abroad, I can’t help but notice their discouragement. They feel exploited, believing that ‘meritocracy’ is an absent virtue in the Greek business realm. Sometimes, they have to work twice as hard to prove their value, while others, simply because they “know someone” in a high position, get a high jump up the corporate ladder.

Under the pressure of these circumstances, many young Greek seriously consider moving back to their “alma matter” countries, where they believe that they can find better jobs and larger salaries.

As my grandmother (an immigrant to the U.S.) says, “History is repeating itself”. But this generation of immigrants will not come from the poor, uneducated families of Greece; they will be highly-skilled, well-educated and worldly. As the U.S. outsources services to Mexico and India, Greece will outsource a high-quality labor force, while immigrants to Greece will continue to cover entry-level job positions and manual labor needs.

Yet, the dreams of young Greeks could collapse like a tower of cards. In our era, the economy has globalized dimensions, and its health is based on interdependent dynamics. Currently, the global economy is in crisis and many countries have been hit by a wave of recession. For my generation of Greeks, the dream of a better life seems more distant than even countries away.

Photo:  “Broken Mirror and ‘I am Beautiful’ in Greek”, courtesy of writer

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