ATHENS – Held down by a political system favoring party cronies and repulsed by the country’s notorious reputation for corruption, scores of thousands of Greece’s youngest and smartest, including entrepreneurs, fled to other countries in search of work and a better life and 18 percent said nothing would make them return.
Those were among the findings of a study published by ICAP People Solutions about the brain drain phenomenon that stripped the country of critical skills during a now more than eight-year-long economic and austerity crisis.
Greece has been relying since 2010 on three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($376.85 billion) to prop up an economy undercut by generations of wild spending by successive governments and runaway patronage packing public payrolls with needless workers in return for votes.
The county’s leaders have not promoted people with skills, critics have said, instead favoring their friends and others who could benefit them, which has seen some of Greece’s best talents joining a mass exodus.
The crisis has been another factor in their leaving but not as much as the inability to get ahead or deal with the endless corruption which requires payoffs and bribery and other wrongdoing as a means to prosper.
According to the study by the Athens-based business services group, the main conditions allowing for a possible return of younger expats is employment with corresponding pay and benefits, as well as an overall improvement in the country’s economy, both unlikely although the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been on a hiring spree of its loyalists and said as many as 45,000 could be put back on the books after the civil service was cut on orders of international lenders.
Respondents who said they emigrated for professional reasons, but then returned to Greece, cited “family reasons”, such as obligations with parents or children.
The profile of younger professionals who left Greece for jobs abroad showed that 92 percent are degree holders, and 60 percent said they emigrated after having first worked in Greece.
The majority selected the United Kingdom, followed by other European Union countries to continue their career although some have picked the United States as well as Australia, which has a sizeable Greek heritage population.
Most of those who departed left for jobs in the Information Technology sector, construction, energy and financial insurance, followed by education and health care the study showed.
Roughly half said they have worked abroad for more than three years, and one-third said they do not intend to return to Greece on a permanent basis.
The electronic survey of 1,068 Greeks living in 61 countries showed that 53 percent have Masters degrees, while 20 percent have completed undergraduate studies. Another 8 percent have PhDs.
Around half are under the age of 35, while 23 percent are supervisors, 10 percent are senior executives and another 10 percent are managers.
The overwhelming majority (88 percent) of those questioned have been living abroad for more than a year, with 59 percent having prior work experience in Greece.