A growing number of young, well-educated Spaniards, dismayed at the long-running unemployment crisis in their homeland, are opting to relocate to Chile in search of better career prospects and greater economic stability.
Gerardo Cornejo, a 31-year-old telecommunications engineer; Margarita Gonzalez-Calvo, a 28-year-old architect; and Maria Angeles Pinilla, a 27-year-old with journalism and law degrees, are among those who have decided to take up residence in the South American country in pursuit of a brighter future.
The economic woes afflicting Spain, where 5.27 million people are unemployed, among them almost half of all willing workers under 25, have sparked an abrupt shift in demographic flows and made these young people the new emigrants of the 21st century.
Escaping the financial crisis that has been battering Spain and most of Europe, they are fixing their sights on South America and finding in Chile - which grew at a clip of more than 6 percent last year and boasts a relatively low unemployment rate of 6.6 percent - their best choice in terms of political stability and quality of life.
“I ruled out Europe because of the crisis. The United States was attractive but it has the visa problem. So then I considered Latin America. I looked for countries that were growing, that were safe,” Cornejo, a native of Malaga who arrived in Santiago six months ago, told Efe.
It is difficult to quantify how many Spaniards have settled in Chile because registration with Spain’s consular officials is voluntary, but it is clear that many of Cornejo’s compatriots have also relocated to the South American country over the past two years.
A total of 48,031 Spaniards are currently registered with Spanish consulates there, compared with 44,109 a year ago.
According to the Chilean Interior Ministry, whereas 388 “subject-to-work-contract” visas were issued to Spanish citizens during all of 2010, that figure rose to 464 between January and October of last year.
Among the Spanish expat community in Chile, it is common to see more and more new faces and to receive e-mails or phone calls from friends and acquaintances inquiring about work and living conditions in South America’s most prosperous country.
For example, Gonzalez-Calvo, who was hired by an architecture studio, said that after arriving in Chile she encouraged her 30-year-old brother to find work in that country as an enologist.
“Chile is a very good place for us right now because there’s economic stability and a lot of work. Every Spaniard who wants to work can do so,” Gonzalez-Calvo, who has been in the Andean nation for 15 months, said.
Chilean Deputy Labor Secretary Bruno Baranda echoed that assessment, telling Efe that his country has a need for both laborers and qualified professionals in the mining, construction and agricultural sectors.
But doors are not as easily opened in other industries. “It’s the same in Chile as in Spain. The financial sector is very insulated,” said Cornejo, who has been unable to find work despite his extensive experience in the field.
Being far from home also is difficult challenge, Gonzalez-Calvo said. “It takes a lot of effort on a personal level because we’re more than 13,000 kilometers (8,075 miles) from home. There are two weeks of vacation time a year and the salaries also aren’t all that high.”
Even so, the encouraging employment prospects partially make up for the separation from one’s roots.
“No doubt the worst thing is living far from family. You always miss them, but you take it as something practical and the fact you have work and are learning” eases the feelings of separation, Pinilla said.
This young Madrid native arrived in Chile in 2010 to complete an internship for a post-graduate degree program and returned home after it was over.
But due to bleak employment prospects in Spain - which even before the 2008 global financial meltdown was struggling to contain the damage from the bursting of a decade-long real estate bubble - she decided to return to Santiago and found a job at an economic information agency.
“I saw that there were possibilities here and that my peers from high school, university, the Master’s program were leaving Spain or continued to look for work for months (if they stayed),” she said.
Many others also have opted for the same path, one that may be just a temporary solution but which also could be a one-way ticket to a new permanent home.