Over the last few decades, many Greek professionals have emigrated to look for professional, academic, and research-related employment. Today and as a result of the decade-long 2008 economic crisis, the number of professionals that work abroad is estimated to be more than 250,000 professionals.1Now, with the first signs of economic recovery in Greece, connecting with those individuals and offering pathways through which this highly educated human capital can collaborate with the domestic academic, research, and entrepreneurial system would be beneficial for the country as a whole. Enabling this kind of mutual beneficial networking is the prime objective of the “Knowledge and Partnership Bridges” (Gefyres Gnosis kai Synergasias) initiative. This new initiative aims to connect Greek professionals around the globe to form an e-community that can enhance the potential for national growth as well as provide opportunities for the individuals involved. We propose that a Diaspora Knowledge Network enabled by “Bridges” can enhance Greece’s bilateral and multilateral relations and bring together a global SΤ workforce to address challenges that extend beyond the capabilities of separate countries.
Greece's Economic Crisis and Outmigration
In 2008 Greece entered a prolonged economic crisis. It was the worst-hit country in the European Union (EU), losing more than 25% of its GDP. Recession, weak demand, and declines in output undermined job creation; unemployment was nearly 30% at the peak of the crisis, and approached 60% among youth.
Although the old development model (based on consumption and imports, public and private borrowing, state employment, limited competitiveness, rent-seeking activities and extensive tax evasion) seems to be a thing of the past, the performance of the new growth model (based on the knowledge economy, aimed at sustainable and inclusive growth) remains to be proven.
This crisis has turned Greece into a significant exporter of highly skilled labor to other countries. Greek scientists and professionals have long left the country in search of better career opportunities and prospects abroad, but this phenomenon has become more pronounced since the 1990s. 2 Over the last ten years of economic crisis, the outmigration of professionals further intensified as job opportunities shrank.3 As of 2017, more than 250,000 first-generation professionals were working abroad, of whom 200,000 had left the country after 2010.4 Emigration was a survival strategy for many people who either found it hard to make ends meet or saw their chances of a career severely reduced. A large portion of those professionals have more than one degree in higher education, and have graduated from fields of study that are in high demand in destination countries, such as medicine, engineering and IT.
A general perception exists that brain drain is a result of the oversupply of graduates in the internal labor market; however, this explanation is not borne out by international comparisons 5 On the contrary, migration of professionals from Greece is mostly a result of low demand for graduates in the private sector. This can be attributed in part to the country not occupying a higher position in the value chain, a position with more innovative products and services in knowledge and technology intensive sectors. 6
Luring emigrants back to help boost the country’s long-term growth is critical, but it is not a simple task, given that some of the underlying conflicting dynamics. For example, it is to citizens’ benefit to attempt to maximize their career prospects within the context of policies that emphasize free movement of labor, especially within Europe. This is also the case in the United States where the acceptance of immigrants is partly a function of their education levels (e.g. those who enter on F-1, J-1 visas). Are more prosperous countries to be blamed for offering attractive work packages and making use of these highly skilled workers for their own national technological and industrial strategies? How best can Europe collectively address the growing imbalances between countries that have a net gain of professionals and those with a net loss, in a manner that advances cohesion across the EU? Finally, if such workers are willing to return to Greece, what are the conditions that facilitate their employment at this time?
Despite signs that the economic crisis is largely over, the recently migrated are also in no hurry to return. A 2017 survey of Greek migrants living in England and the Netherlands found that fewer than 10% of them planned to return in the next three years and only 20% planned to return in the long term.7 Moreover, better conditions for employment are still not in place, as domestic unemployment remains a problem. According to the Hellenic Statistical Authority, 8 a significant portion of the domestic population remained out of work (18.6%) in 2018, and while most do not fit the same job profile as those abroad, one must avoid creating a divide between those who remained in the country and those who emigrated when addressing human capital and growth policies.