“The money isn’t the best pay I’ve ever had but it allows me to live and send some home,” says Monguard, 40, whose friends paid for his flight to Morocco nearly two years ago as he drowned in bills after losing his job. “Experience and know-how are much more appreciated here than they are in Spain.”
Spain’s population fell last year for the first time in at least four decades as more than a quarter of the work force found themselves without a job. That highlights the turnaround in fortune for a nation that saw hiring surge during its economic boom. In the five years through 2007, Spain accounted for almost half the jobs created across the entire euro area.
Monguard describes the migration as an “economic, intellectual and cultural catastrophe” that’s driving out the country’s best educated generation. Before Morocco, he went to the Spanish island of Tenerife to start a small architectural practice, though that failed when his clients cut their budgets. That’s when a friend contacted him about work in the North African country; he now has half a dozen projects and is thinking of starting his own firm.
While Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says Spain is starting to recover from the crisis and the deepest austerity in its democratic history, it must still deal with the legacy of the recession: a 26 percent jobless rate. Almost a third of the unemployed in the 17-nation euro area are in Spain.
With the end of the real-estate boom that attracted foreign workers, annual migration into Spain has fallen by almost half in the past four years. At the same time, the number of Spaniards moving to Morocco last year was 32 percent higher than in 2008. After Latin American and European countries, it was the number one destination for Spanish emigrants.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry has urged Europeans coming to work to get permits in a country where the informal economy is estimated at 40 percent of gross domestic product. Labor Ministry statistics show only 10 percent of foreigners living in Morocco have one.
“It’s not just fantasy, there is a decline in migration from Morocco while native-born Spaniards are going south,” said Hein de Haas, co-director of the University of Oxford’s International Migration Institute. “It is linked to business cycles.”
In total, 477,000 people left Spain in 2012, or 1 percent of the population. About 60,000 were Spaniards, 80 percent more than in 2008, according to data from the national statistics institute INE. When those moving to Spain are taken into account, net outward migration was 162,400.
In July, there were 1.6 million foreign workers in Spain, down from about 2 million in 2008. About a fifth of all unemployed people in Spain are foreigners, reflecting the surge in overseas workers who moved there during the economic boom. Moroccans and Romanians are the two largest foreign groups in Spain and led the emigration of non-nationals in 2012.
“People will continue to leave as long as green shoots don’t translate into a significant increase in jobs,” said Jose Antonio Herce, associate director at Madrid-based consulting firm Analistas Financieros Internacionales. “This emigration is dramatic from a human point of view, but from a historical perspective this isn’t the first time this happened in Spain and it’s rather healthy.”
Unemployment in Spain declined for the first time in two years in the second quarter, INE said last month. The workforce fell for a fourth straight quarter as people gave up on job hunting or left the country.
Discouraged by a youth jobless rate of 56 percent, many are “disappearing” from the workforce, some to study or work abroad, according to a report this month by Spain’s Council for Youth. The proportion of those aged 16 to 29 available for work has fallen to 60 percent from 66 percent in 2008, it said.
Spain’s recession eased in the three months through June and the government is relying on exports and tourism to revive the economy after a six-year slump. Tourist visits through July increased 3.9 percent from a year ago, data showed last week.
“There are some positive indicators, but Spain’s economy remains too dependent on the outside world,” said Maria Yolanda Fernandez Jurado, associate professor of the Faculty of Economic and Business Sciences at Madrid’s Universidad Pontificia Comillas. “GDP may have contracted less than expected in the second quarter, but domestic demand and industrial production aren’t anywhere near growth and until that happens we’re not going to be able to create jobs.”
In Morocco, Monguard is earning half of what he was making at his mid-size architect practice in Barcelona. While he says he dislikes the lack of real religious freedom and rights for women, he has no plans to go back to Spain, where his partner remained after illness forced her to stop working.
“The political leadership is inept, nepotist, all it cares about is clinging to power,” he said. “The economic situation in Spain won’t improve before 2016.”