Argentines move abroad as economy deteriorates

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Argentines are leaving the country in waves as the worsening economic crisis pushes thousands to emigrate for the first time in a generation.

The Latin American country has always attracted migrants from elsewhere. In the late 19th century people arrived from Europe, followed by Jewish migrants in the pre-war period and later from Bolivia, Paraguay and more recently those fleeing economic turmoil in Venezuela.

But poor job prospects, soaring inflation and a government struggling to restore public confidence appear to be slowly reversing that trend, as more Argentines choose to escape the country’s struggling finances. .

“Five years ago, nobody I knew lived abroad,” Belén Ferrari, 30, told the Financial Times. Fifteen of his friends in the capital, Buenos Aires, live in Europe, more than half of them in Spain. Some call Barcelona “BA on the Med”, in reference to the capital’s latest influx.

Spain welcomed 33,600 Argentine-born citizens last year, the most since 2008 and three times as many as six years ago, according to Spain’s national statistics institute. Those numbers are seen as an underestimate, immigration officials said, because many hold EU passports by descent.

Applications for obtaining Spanish or Italian nationality hit a record high last year. Between January and September 2021, more than 55,000 applications were filed for a “non-naturalization” certificate issued by Argentina’s electoral chamber, a mandatory condition when applying. This surpassed the highest peak of the previous economic crisis of 2001-2002, when 39,000 claims were filed.

In neighboring Chile and Uruguay, the number of residency applications by Argentines since 2020 has also reached new highs. Uruguay issued residence permits to 1,656 Argentines last year, the highest in nearly a decade. At least 10,000 Argentines have become residents of Chile since 2017, making up the country’s sixth largest group of migrants.

How and if to leave has become a big topic of discussion among families, friends and colleagues. In the wine bars of the more affluent neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, Colegiales and Palermo, farewell parties are more frequent than birthday parties.

Ferrari, who trained as a journalist, says he moved to Madrid last year due to limited career prospects: ‘I had a low salary made worse by inflation’, which is heading towards 100% this year .

Confidence in the Argentine economy has evaporated. The left-leaning Peronist government is struggling to finance itself with ever-growing domestic debt and precarious net international reserves. Political infighting ahead of next year’s elections has dashed hopes of the government’s ability to carry out reforms to bring inflation down.

Strict exchange controls are discouraging foreign investment, and rapidly deteriorating sentiment and the government’s difficulty in financing itself have banking analysts worried that an economic recovery could take years.

According to a study by Statista, the minimum wage in Argentina is the lowest in dollars, after Venezuela, among the nine major economies in Latin America. Tomas Alet Baker, 31, who recently moved to Spain’s Balearic Islands, said his last paycheck, when converted to dollars at the widely used unofficial exchange rate, was worth the same amount as when he entered for the first time in the labor market 10 years ago, destroyed by high inflation.

Chronic homelessness is evident in the more affluent suburbs and declining living standards are changing perceptions of safety. Although overall poverty levels have fallen slightly to 37% in the first quarter of this year, from 40% at the start of 2020, there has been a considerable increase in extreme poverty and child poverty, according to a report published in September by the national statistics agency. .

Pessimism and public mood are important factors that motivate overseas moves. “The numbers may not necessarily be very high, but the idea that you might be better off elsewhere is growing and resonating,” said Roy Hora, historian and researcher at CONICET, the country’s science and technology research council.

Migration statistics released by Argentine authorities are difficult to obtain, in part because emigration figures have historically been insignificant, Hora said. At one point, around the turn of the 20th century, foreigners in Buenos Aires outnumbered those born in Argentina, and successive governments therefore had little incentive to publish official figures because small groups of emigrants were not worth the hard to watch.

It was only during the pandemic that certain figures were collected as part of the Covid-19 immigration requirements. Between September 2020 and October 2021, approximately 50,000 Argentines reported leaving for another country, an average of 3,500 per month.

“There’s a big flow of creative, wealthy people leaving,” Hora said, and that could accelerate given that most pandemic-related travel restrictions have been lifted to major cities around the world.

Argentinian entrepreneur Mercedes Caamaño, 32, has seen the numbers firsthand. Argentina’s applications to its migration agency in Madrid, Cruzar El Charco, have increased by 40% in the past 12 months. “It’s a historic moment, people are leaving like never before and it hasn’t stopped,” said Caamaño, who has lived in Spain since 2016.

What many clients have in common is that they are highly skilled professionals. “The country has lost credibility with the public,” which will be difficult to rebuild, Caamaño said.

Azul Agulla, 29, moved to London a year ago with no intention of returning. Agulla said it has become easier to emigrate due to the emergence of remote working and better access to information: “We found loads of Argentinians in London, there are even a WhatsApp group for milanese [breaded cutlets].”

Estimates suggest 26,000 Argentines lived in the UK last year, 6,000 more than in 2020 and the highest for at least a decade, according to the UK Office for National Statistics.

“Living in Argentina, there are obstacles everywhere, you can’t afford to travel, you constantly renegotiate your salary to keep up with inflation,” Agulla said. “It’s exhausting.”

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