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Editorial: Labour migrants head North

| By Berit Kvam

Iro came first. She arrived from Greece to study. Then the crisis hit, Iro found a job and stayed. Now her brother Dimitris has joined her to look for work in Norway. Do they represent a wave of job seekers from crisis-hit southern Europe to the Nordic region, we wonder in this month’s theme.

This edition’s In Focus looks at what the numbers say about labour immigration to the Nordic countries. We talk to Eures consultants, job seekers and employers and Nordic embassies in the south:

“The number of people who come to us to ask about work has tripled in just a few years, and we also see different groups of people,” says Sofia Keramida at the Swedish embassy in Athens. The future is bleak in Spain too, says Antonio Alonso-Villaverde. He works with Swedish authorities to recruit doctors from Spain. But the motives for moving north have changed a lot since he arrived in Sweden in 2000 to finish his speciality training, he tells the Nordic Labour Journal: now people are driven by necessity rather than a dream to do something new. 

Iceland too has noticed an increase in the number of job seekers who want to escape the hardest hit southern European countries. “We think we have a financial crisis here in Iceland, but that is a misunderstanding,” says Friðbjörn Steinssos, product manager at the tinsmiths Stjörnublikk. Portuguese who worked with the company before but who lost their jobs when the crisis hit Iceland often approach him. Now several of them are back working there. 

The European crisis is not over. Latest figures from the OECD shows steady unemployment in the south of Europe and in Spain it is even rising. Should we expect a wave of labour immigrants to the Nordic countries?

Greek siblings Iro and Dimitris are typical labour migrants: they seek what they know. Contacts are important when choosing destination. Norway would not have been Dimitri’s first choice if his sister was not already there.

So far OECD’s figures do not indicate a wave from crisis-hit southern European countries. Not even to Norway where unemployment is lower than in any other Nordic country. 

“Despite the Euro crisis we see no immigrant wave from southern Europe,” says Norway’s Minister of Labour Anniken Huitfeldt.

Perhaps the recruitment measures reflect the actual situation: we want more workers as long as they have the desired skills. Ironically that is exactly what the crisis-hit countries also want when they recruit Swedish youths with language skills to their own tourist industry.

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