Spain prepares return strategy as “southern EU countries want their talent back”

The Spanish government is preparing a plan for the return of Spaniards who went to work abroad during the financial crisis. About a million people have left the country since 2009. Many decided to move because they did not have professional opportunities at home. Now they are seen as a resource for the Spanish economy.

The initial strategy, to be fleshed out in the coming months, was presented in November. The main objective is to connect citizens abroad with businesses and local authorities in Spain. Another element of the plan is the simplification of administrative procedures to facilitate returns.

Based on consular data, 2.5 million Spaniards live outside the country. The number has increased by almost a million (949,302) since 2009. The largest group went to other European states, especially Germany and the United Kingdom. The Spanish population in Germany jumped from 77,962 to 154,876 in the past decade. In the UK it went from 57,770 to 127,920. And these are likely to be low estimates, as many people do not register with Spanish embassies abroad.

“We have the moral responsibility to focus our attention on those who had to pack their bags during the crisis and recover their talent for our country,” said the Minister for employment, migrations and social security, Magdalena Valerio.

The plan considers citizens abroad a resource for Spain. Many who left in recent years were young and highly educated. “Migrants have met other cultures, they have learnt other languages and have adjusted to different working methods, which are more modern and inclusive,” says the government paper.

Struggling with bureaucracy

Behind the plan there is an organisation set up by a group of Spanish living abroad, Volvemos (“We return”).

Volvemos was created in 2016 by Diego Ruiz del Árbol García, Sebastien Sanz and Raúl Gil Benito. Based in Berlin, Diego and Raúl were thinking to return to their home country, but they were struggling with the bureaucracy. So they thought to create a platform where people could share information and help each other. Later, they were joined by Sebastien, a French professional in Madrid. The group is now registered as a non-profit organisation and has 9,200 subscribers.

“We have members from more than 100 countries, especially from Europe,” says Cristina Navas, who manages communications. “All professional categories are represented, with high numbers for IT, marketing and administration specialists, engineers and lawyers. They are interested in returning to Spain. We send them newsletters with job opportunities and information about regional programmes.”

Volvemos also advises public administrations. They started with the Council of Valladolid, a city that in 2017 launched a financial support scheme for the return of expatriates. Now they are working with the government to prepare the national plan. As part of this work they have run a survey and met the Spanish community in Berlin and London

Working cultures

“The feelings of people in Berlin and London are similar,” says Cristina Navas. “They are worried about the working conditions they may find in Spain. Even in the UK, where there are concerns about Brexit, people seem more worried at the prospect of going back to Spain. This is because they are generally happy in their jobs, they feel appreciated and they are afraid of losing that.”

Navas says that different employment conditions and working cultures can make a difference when deciding to move. “It is not unusual for people in Germany and Britain to work from home, while in Spain it is not so common. Longer working hours are the norm in Spain, but salaries are lower and the environment is more hierarchical,” she says.

Difficulties to re-register for public services, to find a home without necessarily having a new job, or to find a school for children can add to burden and discourage the return.

Volvemos recommends the government to set up a website where people can easily find information about the administrative aspects of the move. “We think it is also important to have a team in place to assist on human resources issues, for example to review CVs and prepare job interviews, as expatriates who have developed their careers abroad might not be familiar with the Spanish working culture,” explains Navas. 

An asset for southern Europe

Spain is not the only country looking at how to tap into its talent abroad. Last year the French government launched a website to help expatriates navigate the formalities of the return, from employment to taxation, health insurance and schools. Italy offers tax exemptions to highly skilled professionals who decide to return after working or studying abroad.

Other initiatives have been launched by private organisations. In Portugal, the Fundação AEP, a foundation that promotes entrepreneurship, wants to use the skills of Portuguese overseas to create innovative companies supported by international networks. In Greece, the project “Bridges” aims to improve the links between the country and the Greek research community abroad.

“I think we are hearing a powerful message,” says Navas. “During the crisis, the south was the poor region of Europe. Now things are changing and southern countries want their talent back.”

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Photo: Madrid, Spain, via Pixabay.

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