Dr. Grigoris Argeros: We Are Witnessing a Greek Brain-Drain to U.S.

The National Herald Archive

Dr. Grigores Argiros. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Grigoris Argiros)

NEW YORK - Grigoris Argeros, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University, has written an article entitled “Greek Immigration to the United States, 2010-2015: A Descriptive Analysis” which was recently accepted for publication by the Journal of Modern Greek studies. The article focuses on Greek immigration to the U.S. following the economic crisis in Greece in 2008. He spoke with The National Herald about the article and his findings.

Follows the interview:

Ι am the child of Greek immigrants who came to the U.S. in the mid-1970s from a small island off the west coast of Corfu called Othonous (part of the Diapontian Islands). I am a first-generation college educated person of my immediate family – my mom still has no idea what Sociology is other than being a college professor.

While the majority of my life I have lived in the U.S., the country where I was born, I did go to school in Corfu, Greece from 6th-12th grade. Upon returning to the U.S., I went to Queens College/CUNY for my bachelor’s and master’s, and then to Fordham University for my doctorate with a full scholarship.

One of the main reasons I left Greece is because during my time (in 1993 when I graduated high school), it was nearly impossible to enter a university. Given that I was born in the U.S. it was easier for me to return to the U.S. to continue my studies. I initially came here to get a bachelors and then return to Greece, which nearly happened at some point, but decided to remain in the U.S.

All my degrees are in Sociology and my specialization is in urban sociology, race/ethnicity, immigration, and social demography. I’m currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University.

Why did you decide to conduct this research?

Briefly, intellectual curiosity. Given my interest in the Greek-American community and reports of Greeks migrating to the U.S. after the crisis, I decided to start looking at Census numbers – one of the main and official statistics agency in the U.S.

What is importance and what were your feelings when the Journal of Modern Greek studies accepted your study for publication? 

Given the high rate of rejection in academic peer review publishing (trust me it’s high), my first reaction was joy, relief, and where’s the closest bar to have a beer!

At the same time, I feel honored that my research will be part of the Greek-American studies canon, joining the group of scholars who have contributed to this field and the study of the Greek-American community in general.

Of course, I also have to express my gratitude to the editors of the journal who have been extremely helpful in the review process.

Given the fact that you are a prominent scientist in the United States, what is your opinion of Greece's  so-called "brain drain" problem?

This is a very important topic that needs to be further studied empirically, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. In brief, I believe we are witnessing a brain-drain, especially during the post-2008 economic crisis in Greece; however more studies are needed on this topic.

My research findings also empirically support the above claim in that newcomers have higher levels of education than their longer-term counterparts. Contrary to previous Greek immigration waves, post-2010 arrivals are more likely to be college educated (have a bachelor’s degree or beyond, such as a master’s, professional, and doctoral degree).

Do you think that the presence of the new Greek immigrants ( 2010-2015 period) in the U.S. is going to be temporary or permanent?

This is the million-dollar question! Based on research conducted for other immigrant groups it depends on a multitude of factors, such as the traditional push-pull factors of immigration both related to the socioeconomic and political context of both the sending and receiving countries.

My study’s findings tentatively suggest that a third wave of Greek immigration, albeit smaller in size relative to the previous two (1890-1924 and 1968-1979), has been occurring since at least 2010.

While Greek immigrants represent a small share of the overall immigrant population in the U.S., their population size has significantly increased between 2010 and 2015.

Specifically, the census recorded just over 773,000 Greek immigrants between 1980 and 2009, as opposed to the nearly 1.1 million newcomers recorded during the 2010–2015 period. In the period 2010–2015, they constituted 58% of the total Greek immigrant population arriving to the U.S. since 1980.

To the extent that the socioeconomic and labor market conditions in post-2008 Greece do not improve, there is a strong likelihood that new Greek immigrants in the U.S. will increase. Also, we must not forget that immigration is highly selective, which adds another element of uncertainty.

Last century's Greek immigrants faced a great deal of racism and discrimination. How is the U.S. society accepting this new wave of Greek immigrants?

In brief, I believe U.S. society is definitely more accepting of this new wave of Greek immigrants, compared to the conditions Greek immigrants faced in the early-20th century.

It depends on which level one examines the issue, either on an individual or aggregate (group) level. While instances of individual, both direct and indirect, discrimination/racism against Greek immigrants will definitely be present in various domains, I believe U.S. society is much more accepting of Greek immigrants as a group in the 21st century.

How is the integration of the new Greek immigrants with the already established Greek communities in the U.S.?

I believe the Greek-American community has well established institutions to help new Greek immigrants on all levels, such as helping with finding work, housing, and with language barriers to name a few. At the same time, the already established Greek-American institutions will also need to take into account the new realities and needs of these newcomers.

Another important factor to take into consideration, and which is supported by my findings pertains to the newcomers’ geographic distribution. The results suggest that recent immigrants are more geographically dispersed than their predecessors. While descriptive and tentative, the above finding hints at the possibility that post-2010 arrivals may be avoiding the traditional Greek-American ethnic enclaves. Future research should examine in more detail the residential settlement and geographic distribution of recent Greek immigrants.

In what ways can highly educated people like you contribute to improving Greece's future?

One of the most important ways is for the motherland to be more proactive with Greek-Americans living abroad. For example, by (further) promoting programs for either the repatriation of Greek immigrants to the motherland. Or for the motherland to tap into the vast amount of intellectual talent of all those who decided to leave their mother country – a very difficult task to begin with. In other words, more collaboration on various sociopolitical, economic, and cultural levels. We cannot deny that a brain-drain is occurring, so we might as well make use of it in productive and sustainable ways.