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Greek nationals protest the decline of their country by emigrating, and Britain may be heading the same way

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Money and career prospects are no longer the main reason why skilled Greeks choose to move abroad, but rather the political and moral security offered by other countries, new study suggests. 

A team, together with Dr Joana Vassilopoulou, from Brunel University London’s Business School, analysed surveys of 150 migrants who moved from Greece to Germany in 2016 to understand why the respondents chose to head to Germany. Their findings challenge pre-existing theories of migration – and speculate that the UK could experience the same fate. 

The survey revealed that emigrating to Germany gave Greeks the chance to protest against how social and human rights had been eroded in their own crisis-stricken countrychallenging the assumption that migrants choose to move to a different country only to access a better-performing economy.  

“Almost half of the respondents didn’t have existing networks or contacts at their destination, and over half also indicated that the economic conditions in Greece were not the main motivator for emigration, saying that they would have left Greece regardless,” said Dr Vassilopoulou. “They were also already employed in skilled work in Greece.” 

“Generally, the participants said they assessed how a country was perceived to be treating immigrants before choosing to move there. When we look at this through the lens of Brexit, we can already see that people are choosing not to come to the UK.” 

Since the global financial crisis struck in 2008, many European governments have implemented austerity measures characterised by welfare cuts, reduced labour protection and regressive tax reforms. These often add to the negative effects brought on by the initial economic crisis.  

In the case of Greece, this has become a reason to emigrate for young skilled workers. More than 400,000 citizens left Greece from 2008 to 2016, with more than one third of these heading to Germany. 

“In some cases, austerity measures are undermining the very capacity of central and local authorities to deliver on the basic promises of a social welfare state while ensuring fundamental human rights protections for all,” says Dr Vassilopoulou. 

“The kind of politics we are re-experiencing right now in the UK, and other countries such as the USA, has unintended consequences. Britain's reputation of being caring, global and open has been tarnished.”  

“We must recognise the significance of declining institutions and human rights as crucial contributors to an individual’s intention to emigrate for work.” 

The research applies this thinking to the social-political situation in the UK for different sectors. As outlined in the study, a recent survey of 1000 UK academics, by the University and College Union, collated views on the impact of Brexit on the higher education sector. A staggering 42 per cent of UK academics and 76 per cent from other EU countries said that Brexit means they are now more likely to leave the UK.  

“It is not possible to account for migration movements from home to host countries purely based on economic factors, since the economic impact of the Brexit outcomes are yet to be felt. However, the erosion of social cohesion and loss of human rights appear as significant determinants of skilled worker’s intentions to leave a country, be it the UK or Greece.” 

The work concludes that emigration becomes a form of emancipation in times of crisis and shows that our perceptions of skilled migrants must change if we are to fully understand the new motives behind modern-day emigration. 

The full study can be found in the journal Work, Employment and Society. 

Reported by:

Simone McNichols-Thomas, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 265219
simone.mcnichols-thomas@brunel.ac.uk